The societal connectivity that social media and the Internet provides has created a vast and ever growing amount of data, responsible for significant unmeasured economic value. From a simple Facebook “Like” to the in-depth reviews shared on sites like Yelp and Amazon, the Internet is driven in large part by User Generated Content (UGC). The business models of companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon rest almost entirely on the generation of content by users of the services. While the value of this content to our economy is undeniable, it goes unmeasured and ignored by Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In the Second Machine Age, by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, the authors describe the conundrum that UGC poses; “user-generated content… involves unmeasured labor creating an unmeasured asset that is consumed in unmeasured ways to create unmeasured consumer surplus.” UGC as a form of labor and capital is unmeasured and uncompensated, and as a corporate asset, not cultivated like traditional labor and capital. This lack of attention to such a key asset in the business model is surprising yet understandable given the flaws of current industrial age economic science.
A primary mental roadblock to simultaneously considering UGC as both “labor” and “capital” stems from the fact that industrial age labor is provided in direct exchange for capital in the form of wages. Whereas most UGC by its very nature cannot be directly compensated as labor without destroying the authenticity of the content. The lack of attention given to cultivating this essential economic asset is further limited by an industrial age mentality that human capital is easily replaced — like the parts of a machine. Industrial age work consists mostly of repetition of operations, resulting in economic metrics that treat both employees and consumers as expendable commodities to be replaced with ease.
Those economic beliefs will serve no more. UGC must be quantified and valuated as a core component of the economy. Fortunately, the knowledge age marketplace is maturing and companies are emerging to seize opportunities presented by UGC. MeSpoke, a tailored community digitally reinventing retail through mobile, uses UGC to connect consumers directly. MeSpoke users known as “Speakers” influence the popularity of brands and retailers using their own “Social Capital” to democratize the industry and motivate people to act. MeSpoke CEO, S. Khurrum Hasan recognizes UGC as the cornerstone of MeSpoke’s DNA and Social Capital as a significant and undercapitalized component of the economy.
Human capital is an essential and renewable resource that drives our information age economy the same way financial capital drove the industrial age. The same care and investment priority given to a company’s fiscal capital must now be extended to all human capital.
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