It takes a visit to Alabama to understand just how much the state has to offer.
From the beaches in the south to the mountains in the north and all that lays between, only those who have been have an idea of just how much there is to do and see.
“People often get a singular, narrow or inaccurate image in mind for a state. To move beyond that is the biggest challenge,” explains Sean Walsh, the Director of User Experience for Intermark Group, the Alabama Tourism Department’s agency partner.
Walsh explains that those who know the state as the epicentre of civil rights history might not know that Birmingham has emerged as a foodie destination; those that know it as a golfer’s paradise might not know that Huntsville is emerging as a tech and innovation center.
The challenge: getting visitors to share their experiences on social media
While the tourism department has long targeted those who are in the process of planning a vacation, Walsh says it has only just begun to strategically encourage its current and past visitors to share their experiences on social media.
In October of 2018, while conducting a competitive analysis in the run-up to a website redesign, Walsh began looking into the social media and user-generated content strategies of other destination marketing organizations. “I found out that Oregon was using CrowdRiff, and I really liked what they were doing and how they were using it,” he says.
Showcasing the diversity of Alabama with two unique social media contests
After signing up with the platform last October, Intermark Group wanted to encourage the use of its hashtags through a social media contest. Instead of just using one hashtag, however, the agency decided that it could better showcase Alabama’s diversity while integrating with its national brand campaign by dedicating one to each of the five senses. For example, foodie shots could be tagged with #TasteOfAlabama while landscape images could be tagged with #SightOfAlabama.
A few of the photos shared with the #SightOfAlabama hashtag.
“We used CrowdRiff to follow the hashtags throughout the promotion to see how many posts we were getting,” explains Claire Barrentine, Intermark Group’s Account Coordinator for Alabama Tourism Department. “From that we were able to select a winner from each of the five categories, who received a nice Alabama gift basket.” In the end, the contest received over 800 entries.
Barrentine adds that after the first phase of the contest all five winning submissions competed for the top prize: a trip for four to the Gulf Shores. Social media users were encouraged to vote for their favorite using likes or comments.
“The CrowdRiff platform made it a lot easier for us to handle and manage it,” explains Walsh. “Being able to keyword target and search by keyword and easily add those to the different galleries—the CrowdRiff tools allowed us to run the photo contest in a way that made it easy for us.”
The Photo ALbum contest landing page.
The contest was so successful that the team followed it up soon after with another that allowed users to build their own complimentary “Photo ALbum.” After uploading their images to a premade template, users received a hard copy shipped to them for free. The tourism department also plans to award another complimentary trip to the creator of their favorite album.
The results: more UGC, a 13% increase in social media followers, and a 48% increase in engagement
The effort ended up resulting in a significant pool of new UGC, but that wasn’t the only goal of the campaigns.
“Getting the actual assets was almost secondary; this was really a marketing concept to get people to know that we're doing this, that we're using the images in this way, and to get them excited about sharing their images,” says Walsh. “The goal was to get more user-generated content, but also to show people that if you’re going to take these photos, why not share them and maybe benefit from them?” adds Barrentine.
The contests appear to have succeeded in doing just that. During the months they were being held, the Alabama Tourism Department’s social media channels saw a 13% increase in followers and 48% increase in engagement.
Using UGC on social media and in timed website galleries to highlight everything Alabama offers
“In a state with so many unique and diverse attractions, user-generated content adds considerable credibility and depth to all our communications,” says Jo Jo Terry, Alabama Tourism Department’s Digital Marketing Director.
“On social media it’s much easier to share Alabama places and authentic experiences that may not readily occur to people,” she says. “There's so much power in seeing a real human at a place that you maybe never thought about going to.”
Today, the agency uses UGC throughout Alabama Tourism Department’s social media channels as well as in visual galleries throughout their newly relaunched website. Walsh also had the idea to expand on something unique he discovered from that initial research into Oregon.
“They would have a different picture and welcome message saying ‘good evening,’ ‘goodnight’ or ‘good morning’ based on what time it was where you were,” he says, adding that the dynamic welcome message inspired him. “On the homepage we created four different galleries—one for sunrise, one for midday, one for sunset and one for evening—and so as the day progresses that gallery switches out so you can see what it would be like to be in Alabama during that time of day.”
The rotating homepage galleries on the Alabama Tourism Department website.
Looking to the future: “we’re definitely on the right path with user-generated content”
Moving forward, Walsh says the organization is exploring expanding its use of CrowdRiff, including its API capabilities, to offer more dynamic content, especially among smaller communities lacking a dedicated DMO or whose assets are currently limited.
“We’re definitely on the right path with user-generated content,” he says, “and are actually excited about the possibilities with CrowdRiff to take us further in the future.”