Today, your clients are more likely to be influenced by their peers posting on social media than by branded content – which is why user-generated content has such marketing potential, says Abra Dunsby
Is user-generated content (UGC) part of your current content marketing strategy? You’re missing a trick if it isn’t, says David Forder, head of marketing at Advantage Travel Partnership, which recently created a four-part How To guide to help its members use UGC effectively.
“UGC is often overlooked as a source of subject matter, when it may well be the best basket to put your eggs into when it comes to developing your content strategy,” Forder says.
First and foremost, using UGC will help your agency to build trust. “Content provided by your customers will instantly provide a level of authenticity you may not otherwise be able to achieve by creating the content in-house,” Forder explains.
“It might sound obvious, but your customers – both existing and prospective – will consider UGC to be more trustworthy, view it as an honest endorsement of your brand, and enjoy a better customer experience.”
As UGC is authentic – coming from real customers and their experiences – it’s also much more likely to engage potential customers compared to simple branded content.
In fact, according to research conducted by Travel Counsellors, 96% of people are more likely to trust a recommendation from another person over branded content. Other perks of UGC include building a loyal customer base, helping develop your brand identity and reducing resource costs.
For agents keen to jump on the UGC bandwagon, Forder suggests social media as the easiest way to start. “It’s the channel that was built around ‘social’ engagement, which when you consider it, is ‘user generated content’ in itself.”
Forder suggests using social media posts to ask your community to get involved and participate in the conversation.
He adds that social interactions online can now be seen as the new form of word-of-mouth advertising.
“By structuring your social campaigns around UGC, and engaging your community to share your posts, you are encouraging your advocates to recommend you and your services,” he says.
One travel agent using UGC on social media is Michelle Stammers, owner of The Travel Genius. Stammers asks each client for a review at the point of booking, which is posted to her Facebook page. “I ask for a review on booking, and then I’ll get back in touch when they come back to ask for another review and photos of the trip – 95% of the time, they end up writing one,” she says.
As well as displaying client reviews on her Facebook page, Stammers also includes trip write-ups from regular clients on her website. “The trip reviews give me credibility as an agent and also reassure potential new clients that they will get a great experience booking with me, and that my recommendations can be trusted and valued,” she explains.
Travel Counsellor Louise Banks uses UGC images on Facebook to inspire new and potential clients.
“I get in touch with clients I have a good relationship with while they’re away and ask them to send a picture or two,” she says.
“Recently, I had a couple who were on honeymoon in Vietnam and they sent a pic, as they’d been upgraded.
I asked if I could share it on Facebook and it got lots of likes. Personal posts always tend to do better on Facebook rather than offers.”
She adds that UGC images can turn into potential bookings. “I sent a couple to north Norway and shared some of their amazing pictures and got a few enquiries off the back of it.”
Building brand awareness via UGC is just as important, she says. “It makes people aware that you’re booking people having a great time, and hopefully they’ll think of you when they then come to booking a holiday.”
With ever more millennials looking at user-generated images on Instagram for travel inspiration, it makes sense for agents to be using the platform to capture their attention via UGC.
Tour operator Contiki uses UGC as part of its marketing strategy, adding photography taken by clients to all its trip pages across its site, including its homepage.
An additional stream of content is pulled from Instagram where travellers use Contiki hashtags for trips. Agents can use these images as a handy selling tool to bring the experiences to life for customers, says Donna Jeavons, sales and marketing director for Contiki UK & EU.
“UGC gives potential travellers a better sense of what to expect from a Contiki trip, and the travellers whose images we use act as ambassadors for Contiki as a brand and for the experiences we sell,” she explains.
Offline, a large percentage of Contiki’s brochure images are now also user-generated. “Our travellers’ photography does an excellent job at selling a Contiki trip and showing real people experiencing amazing destinations,” Jeavons says.
For agents considering using UGC on Instagram, the easiest way is to look at pictures their clients have taken on their trips and posted on Instagram, and then repost them to their own agency account. It’s extremely important to always ask clients’ permission beforehand to reuse imagery to avoid any potential legal issues.
Jeavons believes UGC on social media will continue to increase in influence. “With the demand for trustworthy companies with integrity increasing, customers’ expectations to see real people experiencing real trips will likely increase,” she says.
“The more customers turn to social media to make purchasing decisions, the more important it is to harness real, authentic reviews and experiences of travel within the purchasing process.”
Laura Belshaw, social media manager at Travel Counsellors, recommends considering video content as a valuable element of UGC. In the past year, the travel company has created more than 50 user-generated videos featuring footage from customers, as well as Travel Counsellors and head office staff on their travels around the world.
“These videos are the real-life adventures of our customers’ travels, and in the best way possible help tell the story of the adventures our Travel Counsellors create,” explains Belshaw.
A large proportion of the videos were filmed by clients on their travels using an iPhone. Travel Counsellors’ head office social team then edits the videos and adds the company’s branding, so that they can be used by other Travel Counsellors on their own social media channels. The videos have garnered some great results for the company, as Belshaw explains.
“After surveying our Travel Counsellors last summer, we found that by using UGC in videos, 63% felt that their reach increased and 54% felt their engagement increased on Facebook. As well as this, we have had some great success stories of enquiries and bookings thanks to sharing these videos.”
Whether used on your website, shared on social media channels or even displayed in brochures, UGC allows you to build a content library featuring real people on real holidays – bringing an enhanced level of authenticity to your marketing.