User-Generated Content: ‘The Stuff of the Medium’
Launched in May 1995 as the online sibling of Successful Farming magazine, Agriculture Online (www.Agriculture.com) has been a popular Internet destination for the farming community ever since. Aside from having the foresight to land such a prominent URL, the editors of Successful Farming—Meredith Corporation’s flagship publication launched in 1902 and the largest paid-circulation farming title in the United States—continue to offer a model to other business-to-business publishers for compelling community content.
Today, Agriculture Online plays host to a “couple hundred thousand uniques” per month, according to John Walter, director of multimedia for both Successful Farming and Agriculture Online. The site also boasts robust content offerings in virtually every multimedia format b-to-b publishers are utilizing these days. The site touts frequent news updates and—a farmer’s favorite—continuously updated weather information. But what sets the site apart from most others in its space is a wealth of interactive features, including video, podcasts, slide shows and, most notably, huge amounts of user-generated content.
In fact, Agriculture Online served as a sort of social network for farmers long before the phrase became the buzzword it is today. “The whole idea of user-gen content is kind of old hat here … and maybe we just stumbled into it, but it looked like the stuff of the medium [when we launched],” says Walter, who has been with Successful Farming for 23 years and Agriculture Online since its inception 12 years ago. “We’re still learning how to do it right. And I think it’s really changed journalism in having that kind of relationship with people out on the land who we can really listen in on to get better story ideas and interact with people on a daily basis.”
Among the site’s most popular elements is “Top Talk”—more or less a discussion board where farmers post ideas and questions to which other farmers respond. The feature is not only popular among site visitors, but also a favorite of Successful Farming’s editors who are able to glean story ideas and gauge public sentiment from its posts. Walter adds that Successful Farming’s editor-in-chief, Loren Kruse, has been known to print out “Top Talk” on a daily basis for ideas in developing the magazine’s editorial calendar.