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How Visit Pittsburgh Transforms Old Perceptions of the City with User-Generated Content


When people’s perceptions of a place don’t match its reality, it helps to do more showing than telling.

That’s the strategy of Visit Pittsburgh, the destination marketing organization tasked with replacing the old Steel Town image with the reality of an exciting urban city on the rise.


“Pittsburgh has always had a negative reputation as a smoky steel city, so why would anyone want to go there?” asks Molly Allwein, the Digital Marketing Manager at Visit Pittsburgh. “We’re always working on overcoming that perception, and once we get people here they’re always astounded.”

Though many associate the city with smoke stacks and steel workers, Pittsburgh has been collecting countless awards and accolades over the past couple of years that tell a wildly different story. In the first few months of 2017 alone it’s been named one of the best cities for architecture, one of the most kid friendly cities, one of the best foodie cities, a top 10 budget destination, the most underrated city in America, a top 10 city for STEM professionals and many, many more.

“If we can’t get someone physically to the location to show them how beautiful it is, than we want to show them virtually as much as we can.”

The Visit Pittsburgh website aims to put that more accurate picture of the city on full display. So their site is packed with eye-catching images, ranging from skylines captured by professional photographers to meals and events captured by everyday locals and visitors.

“What we really like about CrowdRiff and user-generated content is that it’s other people talking about Pittsburgh. It’s not coming from us as a sales and marketing organization, we’re giving the platform to people who have been here and want to rave about the city.”

Leveraging user-generated content on the blog

The mantra of sharing the website with locals and visitors goes well beyond photography. One of the websites’ premier features is its blog, and each post is packed with photos and visuals. Many are even written by guest bloggers.  

“We don’t change a lot of the information on our main website and our landing pages that frequently, so blogs allow us to be more nimble and agile and talk about the new exciting and upcoming things happening in the city,” says Allwein.

“The blog allows us to have a personality, and use guest writers in the community who just want to talk about the city.”

Though Visit Pittsburgh’s staff still contributes about half of the posts it leans heavily on guest bloggers and user-generated photos to give it more personality. The organization identifies local influencers in specific categories like food and family entertainment, and invites them to share their passion and expertise on the website.

“We write content for our website, for our visitors guides, for our events publications, and if the same people write the same content it’s all written the same way,” says Allwein. “This approach really allows us to shake things up and figure out what other people want to talk about.”

The goal, explains Allwein, is to bring the influencer’s audience to the Visit Pittsburgh website, while exposing its own visitors to local influencers. “We give them that platform to expand their audience and bring their audience over to our blog, so it works really well both ways,” she says.  

While the expertise of her staff and guest bloggers is a vital component of the blog, Allwein says that visuals are equally as important. As soon as a blogger submits a story idea Allwein gets to work sourcing photos using CrowdRiff. She’s incorporated galleries of user-generated content into as many posts as possible since first discovering CrowdRiff three years ago.


“Everything is pointing to lower and lower attention spans for people reading digital content, and they spend more time on pages that have compelling visual images. CrowdRiff gives us unlimited access to photos that are new and relevant.”

Next steps for Visit Pittsburgh’s website

Allwein and her team are now hard at work at rebuilding the site, incorporating even more visuals and user-generated content to display the most up-to-date picture of what the city has to offer.

“We’re thinking of having some HTML5 video running in our large header images, we’re going to use the CrowdRiff Calls-to-Action in different locations on our new website, which we’re not really using right now, and along with that we’ll have related content modules, which will be image focused,” says Allwein.

Though the destination marketing organization is already using CrowdRiff quite heavily Allwein adds that she looks forward to exploring even more capabilities when the new website launches this autumn.

“We’re excited about the innovations that CrowdRiff is working on, because they’re always trying new things and staying ahead of the curve.”