Relying on user generated content (UGC) in social media marketing can be a gamble.
It can work if you have a great creative idea, a sizeable existing audience and a brand that people want to engage with.
But if you’re lacking any one of these elements, you could find it’s a steep hill to climb.
Despite this, there are those that would have you believe that UGC is the future of social media for all brands.
There are a number of tech vendors in the space that have made it their raison d’etre – Olapic, Duel and Chute are all examples I’ve come across.
These vendors seem to be gaining most traction in fashion and commerce, where UGC makes total sense. As a potential customer, seeing other customers trying on clothes adds authenticity.
But there’s another sector for which I think UGC is an even more ideal fit, and where we’ll see it really explode over the next year or so — travel.
As someone who cut his teeth specialising in travel, I’m very aware that the use of UGC in the industry is not new.
In my very first PR job I was eager to get the agency’s high profile tourist board, airline, tour operator and hotel clients on Facebook and Twitter because it made total logical sense to me.
Particularly in the case of a tourist board, you’ve automatically got a large bank of advocates — your ‘customers’ (visitors) are more likely to be enthusiastically sharing via social, but you’ve got residents too.
No one sells New York better than New Yorkers, London than Londoners or Azerbaijan than Azerbaijanis.
In the relatively early days of Facebook marketing back in 2008 one of the most successful initiatives I ever implemented was a simple open album on a tourist board client’s Facebook page.
People living or visiting the region would more than happily upload their shots, and we would share the best on the main feed, with that content often being far better received than the more polished official tourist board stuff.
Landscapes to fit
Nearly nine years later and technology has evolved to make this easier to do at even greater scale.
I recently attended a great event as part of Bristol’s recent inaugural Social Media Week with VisitBritain at which I heard that the brand’s social media plans for the coming year centred around Instagram and the hashtag #OMGB (oh my Great Britain) — encouraging people to use it on their uploads, from which the brand handpicks the best to share on its official feed.
Startlingly simple, but effective. It’s easy to see why this is increasingly becoming the approach for destinations worldwide.
Mainly because I love where I live and work (I’m an advocate!), but also because like any self-respecting social media professional, I am addicted to likes — massaging your followers’ egos is a key part of a UGC strategy after all.
If anything one is left wondering why it hasn’t more commonly played a central role in the tourism industry given this is just an evolution of what some travel brands were doing nearly a decade ago.
There’s also an element of the reactive here. An unofficial Instagram community exists for virtually every destination — #IGersUK, #IGersUSA, #IGersBath etc.
It would be silly for any destination not to want to capitalise, and many do so by partnering with their respective unofficial community (Visit Bath has just hosted an IG meet up with #IGersBath).
It’s been said before that as an industry travel can be a bit behind the curve in terms of marketing maturity comparative to the more forward thinking worlds of tech or even retail.
I’ve always thought with social media in particular, travel brands have an easier job than most — leaving aside airlines which perhaps don’t generally have the bank of social goodwill or content to cash in on. So they should be ahead of the game, and they aren’t.
But for whatever reason, I think we’re starting to see them push ahead.
Bursting the locality bubble
There is one small impediment to the UGC approach in travel however. By encouraging a community in a set locality, you run the risk of creating a bubble — residents and existing fans that are great at sharing and interacting with each other, but not with a wider audience.
There are a few things you can do to try and counteract this:
1. Be creative with your branding.
#OMGB is social by nature, a playful tag that I might want to share on my posts and that translates internationally to any followers I have outside of the UK.
Sorry Yanks but the same cannot be said for #VisitTheUSA — however good the content I’m less likely to use or browse that hashtag as it’s clearly a commercial message. Be creative and come up with something that lends itself to being social.
If you’re marketing a destination, try to remember people love the destination, not the tourism department’s brand.
Another thing VisitBritain is doing right is pulling #OMGB through into its other marketing — print, outdoor, etc. It’s not a standalone social thing.
The UGC tech vendors I mentioned earlier are all about pulling UGC into advertising and ecommerce platforms and this is where the approach can really take off, when it’s not just a simple tactic for growing an Instagram community and nothing more.
3. Play to other trends.
A recent campaign AgencyUK implemented called Secret Somerset played heavily to the strengths of local knowledge and UGC, but packaged in a way to appeal to a wider audience.
The trend of ‘secret’ things to do and see was another acknowledged by VisitBritain at SMW Bristol, and in this campaign we pulled together the top 50 ‘secrets’ as voted for by the public into a digital resource for visitors, with an interactive map and downloadable itineraries.
This both played to a trend, and turned the UGC into more than just a tactic — it became material to share with media, and for visitors to use as a resource.
We’ve come a long way since the days when seeing someone else’s holiday snaps meant sitting in a darkened room while your boring uncle clicked through slides on a projector.
With 80m images shared to Instagram alone per day, clearly our appetites are insatiable and the content is abundant. With some creativity and a bit of clever strategy, travel brands have a huge opportunity to capitalise.
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