Damien Mahoney, chief strategy officer at commerce experience platform Nosto, explains how TikTok, Pinterest and Instagram can add a fresh twist in a sector so reliant on visual imagery
Guest Post: How travel can tap into the power of authentic visual UGC content
Compelling images are the heartbeat of successful travel marketing. But ‘official’ photos of hotels and travel destinations can appear staged and inauthentic.
Which is why so many people are turning to images from other customers when looking at where to go.
In fact, more than half of consumers reveal they’ve made travel bookings purely based on social media images others have shared.
This visual user-generated content (UGC) is all around us on the likes of Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, and other social channels full of people happily sharing it.
Research indicates that more than one out every two holidaymakers would now give approval for a brand to use an image or video of their recent trip or excursion in its marketing.
So, how can travel marketers maximise the potential of visual UGC to drive more interest and bookings? Here are five best practice considerations on how to get started.
Start with branded social hashtags
Finding relevant images amongst millions of social media posts can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
For most companies, the start point is curating images from their customers by setting up branded social hashtags (such as #yestohotelXYZ) and publicising them widely, on both digital channels and physical locations.
When you share your customers’ visual content on your own social channels, you’ll often find they outperform your own brand-created visuals.
And crediting the customers will help encourage greater engagement and widen the reach of your campaigns.
Obviously, when creating a hashtag, make sure it’s unique, relevant, and easy to remember.
Check that no-one else is using something similar - and that it isn’t associated with topics that your brand doesn’t want to be linked with.
Move beyond social media
Visual UGC shouldn’t replace professionally shot images but instead sit alongside them in your strategy.
Interweave the two on your website and make sure you include a variety of photos and videos on specific pages.
Showcasing UGC on your home page can pique visitors’ interest and provide the inspiration for them to browse further.
Including customer images on pages about specific excursions, services or travel attractions can add additional context and provide the social proof required to encourage people to make bookings.
An important tactic is making your onsite UGC visuals interactive and actionable, so that visitors can click on parts of a photo to get more information about what they’re seeing.
You can share a description of part of your resort - or flag up that the hotel pool is Olympic-sized, for example. And to smooth the path to purchase you can add ‘book now’ buttons to customer images, so that people can immediately make bookings via UGC.
The next step is to integrate UGC throughout the customer journey, by using customer images in digital and social ads, email newsletters and even offline advertising.
Studies have shown that ads that feature user-generated photos generate 5 times as high click-through rates than campaigns relying on brand-created images.
Also remember that consumers quickly get tired of seeing the same images if you’re using them in your ads and your wider marketing.
UGC helps overcome this by delivering a regular stream of fresh images to engage people and move them through the funnel - often at a fraction of the cost of shooting professional ones.
Plus, when you use customer content, you naturally improve the diversity of the people in your marketing – which is a growing priority for most brands today.
While permissions for resharing customer images organically on the likes of Instagram or Facebook are usually covered by something called ‘Rights by hashtag’, if you want to feature UGC in ads or on your website, you’ll need to give more consideration to managing image rights.
Typically, you should be requesting appropriate permissions by asking customers to register online and agree to a set of terms and conditions approved by your legal team.
Proactively encourage customers to share their visuals
Creating a hashtag may not automatically deliver enough content, so find ways to proactively encourage more user-generated visuals.
Some companies, for instance, run themed social media competitions around specific experiences or services they offer.
These could be as simple as a ‘holiday photo of the month’ competition, a theme related to a service or part of your resort, or holidaymakers’ images of local beauty spots or events, if that fits with your brand objectives.
At the same time, make it as easy as possible for customers to share images and feedback directly on your website. Some travel brand websites have started featuring a dedicated ‘inspiration gallery page’ where customers can post their images.
Continually test what works
The most successful UGC strategies are the result of consistent evaluation and optimisation using A/B and multivariate testing to track engagement, click-throughs, and conversions.
It’s not just about testing specific images and videos, but different visual styles and formats. How does UCG in a carousel compare with displaying a large onsite image gallery?
And what is the impact of changing image placement on the page? Experiment with how specific visuals work in combination with other site elements and monitor UGC across campaigns involving multiple channels. All of this is valuable feedback to help refine your strategy.
Travel relies heavily on the pulling power of images – to which UGC can add a powerful, fresh twist.
Your strategy should start with thinking creatively about how you can encourage a flow of customer visuals that can be weaved across your website and other channels.
The key to using that content effectively is to focus on delivering an authentic experience that’s relentlessly tested and designed to make people’s travel booking decisions engaging and fun.