Guest Post: Why UGC builds emotional connections in the era of TikTok

Guest Post: Why UGC builds emotional connections in the era of TikTok

The Social Element’s Chloe Mathieu-Phillips says travel brands should use new platforms and content creators to talk to customers with authenticity

Chloe Mathieu-Phillips, director of brand and strategy at The Social Element, says travel brands should use new platforms and content creators to talk to customers with authenticity 

After a long period of restrictions and uncertainty, there is optimism on the horizon for the travel industry.

Recent reports find that travel bookings will return to about 75% of pre-pandemic levels this summer.

Combined with the news that the UK government is easing COVID-19 testing for travellers – the landscape for travel brands seems to be returning to a much more familiar, and stable, shape – finally.

But the long term impacts of the COVID era will continue to influence consumer decision making for a while yet.

Planning and booking holidays was never easy – but in the last two years, consumers have had to answer entirely new questions. Is it safe? Is it relaxing? Have I followed the right procedures? Am I at risk of last-minute changes? Do I still get joy out of travelling?

As things return to normal – travel brands can’t risk thinking that what worked before will simply work again.

Pretty pictures of dreamy coastlines, happy friends and hip adventures are not enough to influence decision making.

Brands need to make their audiences feel heard and supported. They need to feel like they are on a journey with them – not just through them.

Travel is a highly emotional product: we spend so much energy planning our trip and invest so many emotions in the outcome; every detail matters.

This is especially true now, with many people still being nervous about their travel experience.

We, as consumers, need kindness. We need smooth operations, attention to detail, and when we travel, a smile and kind words go an even longer way than usual.

Brands need to acknowledge that things are not “normal”.

Personally, travel brands that celebrated “freedom day” last year made me cringe: I don’t want you to celebrate and make me believe that it’s 2019 again, I need you to be aware of my worries, and respond to them in a trustworthy, accepting way.

Easy as UGC

To get consumers to where they want to go, travel brands must meet them where they are.

And increasingly, where we are is online. As the world shut down through COVID, our smartphones became our primary gateway to the globe.

Almost 50% of UK consumers said their smartphone usage increased significantly in the months following lockdown –  with social media platforms like TikTok astronomically surging in growth.

These behaviours are sticking around. And they are immensely valuable to travel brands.

As someone who started their career at TripAdvisor, I know that consumers are extremely aware of when they are being marketed to – with many preferring to make decisions based on word of mouth and peer recommendations.

And so this is where leveraging the power of social media, and in particular User Generated Content (UGC), is key.

UGC is already a hugely influential tool in other sectors. A recent survey found that 58% of Gen Z survey respondents bought beauty, health or wellness products as a result of UGC.

And some brands are already effectively leveraging these qualities in hospitality – Premier Inn enjoyed a 65% sales spike (a 400% YoY increase) following a viral trend involving the brand’s pillows.

The pandemic highlighted consumers’ craving for more authentic, untouched content from brands and creators.

By encouraging followers to submit UGC, you can give your audience a more personal, behind the scenes look at your experiences, helping to build trust between you and potential customers.

The power of new platforms

We only have to look at the domination of new social platforms and the brands that activate on them to know that authenticity sells.

Platforms like TikTok work because they are authentic. Top-performing posts spark creativity, laughter – and often action. Why? Because the content is true to the community it appeals to.

Brands should ensure that their messaging does the same – look at how Ryanair has successfully tapped into the zeitgeist on TikTok and amassed a significant, attentive audience.

Even if TikTok isn’t where you want your brand to be right now, keep an eye on it.

Monitor mentions and content, and remember that automated tools might fail to bring trending conversations to light.

Be sure that you’re weighing any TikTok chatter against other brand mentions and communities. It never hurts to know your memes.

Prioritising human connections

Many brands consider deals with creators as a key way to reach their audiences.

However, consumers understand how influencers work. Some will doubt their intentions and question the bias involved in any form of sponsored content.

This doesn’t mean they aren’t effective. It just means brands need to invest in identifying the right talent – and even more importantly – understanding their audience and how they engage with their content.

Do they have credibility and authority in this space? Do they share your brand values and tone of voice? Do people respond to their content authentically?

Finding the right creators – those who are credible, trustworthy and authentic – does not always mean finding the ones with the most followers.

Travel brands should look beyond reach – some micro and nano influencers will deliver some very genuine, in-depth interactions which can pay dividends in both the long and short term.

So, as new behaviours get stuck in the sand, it’s really an exciting time to be a travel brand looking to appeal to those of us with wanderlust.

By striking the right emotional balance, communicating with authenticity through channels that celebrate it, and building genuine, human connections between your brand and your consumer, you’ll create meaningful, long-term relationships that live on after the plane touches down back home.