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Why Real-Time UGC Matters More Than Ever

I’ve talked to multiple folks in tourism who are on “marketing plan #14” for the year, and it’s only May!

Consumer sentiment around travel has changed dramatically over the last 2 months. Almost half (43.4%) of American travelers agree that they'll probably take more regional trips (near home) while avoiding long-haul trips (further from home) in the coming months. 

As a result, the way travel marketers plan, execute, and scale their efforts has to shift. 

Social media marketers have always understood the value of user-generated content, however people higher up in their organization often saw UGC as a fun thing to share on social channels, rather than a strategic marketing asset.

That is, until COVID-19 happened and travel as we knew it came to a standstill.

David Peacock, Senior Advisor, Future Tourism Group, Simpleview, sums it up nicely:

“Ten years ago the concept of user-generated content was hardly a blip on the radar for most tourism marketers. Today, it is an essential part of the marketing mix and arguably far more powerful than its advertising cousin.”

I’d like to expand on David’s point with four reasons why UGC has moved from a nice to have to a must-have to engage locals and future travelers. 

UGC will make your message more trustworthy

People are understandably cautious about where to travel and when, even if it’s just within their local community. One of the key priorities for the industry is how to build consumer trust both in the short and long term.

It’s one thing to say that your trails are open for socially-distant hikers. It’s another thing to show people doing exactly that. UGC allows you to tap into the content people are posting on social media about the experiences they’re having. This content is unfiltered, and it’s a great picture of what’s actually happening in a neighborhood or destination.  

By showing real-time visual proof of your destination, you are reinforcing your trustworthiness as a DMO sharing that information. 

Louisiana Northshore is doing just that on its business operations page, where real-time UGC (it even has datestamps!) shows website visitors (both locals and out-of-towners) what is happening with their local businesses. 

UGC gives you the tools to amplify and support your partners

There’s no doubt this crisis has been devastating. But it’s also created an opportunity to rebuild the industry using the learnings of the past. For DMOs, that means a chance to get back to their roots as destination builders.

More than other city organizations, DMOs have the privilege of being able to communicate with people in a way that’s distinctly human.

That means sharing messages of health and safety, but also promoting the experiences locals can have in their communities. 

As a DMO, UGC gives you the tools to amplify and support your partners by:

  • Showing locals social proof of the latest information around your local businesses, who’s open, how they are meeting current guidelines, etc. 
  • Showing your support by promoting special offers and updates and driving traffic to them
  • Staying top of mind and build trust with future visitors as the economy reopens

Especially as traveler confidence builds, you’ll want to let people know how they can support local businesses and your partners.  

“It has made it extremely difficult for local voices/small businesses to break through all the communications noise and feel confident that they’re being heard,” says Russ Jester, The Marketing Communications Manager at Fort Smith CVB. 

“CrowdRiff has been extremely helpful to me during this crisis, because it has helped me source localized content that I otherwise would not have seen.”

Fort Smith uses this localized content on its website to drive business from locals to its partners. Promoting special offers, like this gift box service, helps give small businesses who have been hit hard extra exposure.

UGC can replace gaps resulting from budget cuts 

Many DMOs are marketing with fewer resources, whether it’s people or budgets. 

Nearly 90% of travel marketers have reduced their marketing budgets due to COVID-19, according to a Skift Report

UGC gives you access to an unlimited supply of beautiful, engaging visuals you can use to power more than social media - this content can be used as the creative for your emails, your ads, your digital travel guides.

I was recently on a webinar where Dan Rosenbaum of San Francisco Travel said his team relies on UGC to power their website, email, and social media, making it more valuable than ever before.

At a time when you may not have the budget to shoot videos or license new photos, as Dan pointed out, UGC supplies affordable and effective creative for multiple marketing channels. 

UGC is the voice of your community

Now more than ever, DMOs need to put their communities front and center as the face of their destinations. 

Visit Mesa ran a photo contest to capture UGC for a music video called “For the Love of Mesa”. In the past, they created this video with professional photographers and videographers, but this year they wanted the content to come from locals. 

To easily collect these photos from locals, they used CrowdRiff’s Public Uploader, which allows people to directly upload their UGC to your CrowdRiff library. This is great for photo contests, like Visit Mesa, but also for capturing high-quality photos and videos that aren’t shared via a hashtag.

Their goal was to capture 200 photos from the community, but it didn’t take long to exceed it. 

“We were able to not only get content for our project but also get great content for future use. Essentially we got almost 500 user-generated photos in a matter of two weeks. We didn’t have to do a lot of asking around or searching for it,” says Kate Eckstein, the Digital Strategist at Visit Mesa.

“Visitors will be able to see why locals love Mesa and why they can too.”

Using UGC to tell the story of your destination

The travel industry is one of resilience, creativity, and dedication. 
As we shift focus away from the crisis and start to think about recovery, it will be critical to connect with your community in a way that will propel you through the final stages of recovery. 
User-generated content provides you with influential, timely, and affordable visuals, while playing a vital role in amplifying your partners, and, most importantly, telling the story of your destination.

Image credit: @kortfoto

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About the author

Amrita Gurney is the Vice President of Marketing at CrowdRiff, where she leads a team responsible for brand, content, product marketing and demand generation. Amrita loves contemporary art, museums, drinking tea and travelling (of course!).