With increasingly discerning consumers, hotels and brands might be more able to build trust by repurposing photos and reviews from other guests, experts said.
NASHVILLE, Tennessee—Potential guests want content they trust when making their booking decisions, and more and more frequently that means content created by other guests.
Speaking during the “Feeding the content machine: Make it easy for your guests to be ambassadors” panel at the Hotel Data Conference, Rachel Kaplan, director of digital marketing for Dream Hotel Group, said brand-generated content still has its place and will never fully go away, but the rise of Instagram and social media as a whole has changed how people look at travel booking.
“On Instagram, people are looking up hotels’ geotags and their friends (photos), and because of that, social media has changed the entire journey,” she said.
What was just marketing material is now “a two-way communication channel,” said Ross McAlpine, director of client services for Vizergy.
“Now there’s far more integration of user-generated content,” he said. “Now it’s not just a section of your website showing the most appealing images.”
Aimee Cheek, director of ecommerce for OTO Development, said the rise in user-generated content comes down to it having a high built-in trust factor for consumers.
“It’s the authenticity part,” she said. “It’s what the rooms really look like. It’s what the food is really like.”
That mentality, especially among younger travelers, has also led to a decrease in consumer trust in social media influencer content or other marketing messages that are clearly bought and paid for.
“Millennials are a lot more skeptical in a lot of ways,” Kaplan said. “They’ve seen paid sponsorships and posts, and they might not trust a brand if just influencers are posting about them.”
She said the right marketing strategy will incorporate both content coming from the hotels and consumers, and hoteliers should think about what they are doing to encourage user-generated content that encourages people to make flattering posts—either reviews or social media images.
“Our (strategy) is a marriage of hotel branding and user-generated content,” she said. “We have a rotation at one of our properties—the Dream Downtown (in New York) where we create content around artists (coming) in. We’ll have mural photos that get 2,000 views. People are coming in and creating content with our original piece of content. It evolves past that and has a viral impact.”
How to best integrated user-generated content
Cheek said marketing efforts built around user-generated content should be approached with the same level of detail and planning as any traditional marketing, and that starts with determining who the targets of the efforts are and what the ultimate goals are. She noted it can be easy to overlook the planning process because actually executing on these campaigns can be much more fun.
“The fun part is how we help people create content for us,” she said. “Some things are as simple as do they know how to tag us or if they see things like a (social media) icon, but it doesn’t say what your (handle) is. That’s like saying ‘call me’ without giving them a phone number.”
Kaplan agreed, saying that any strategy around user-generated content has to be built with specific goals in mind. That helps when taking plans to revenue and sales teams. She said this is vitally important with any influencer campaign, as well, which can also be viewed as a type of user-generated content.
“By the time it gets to (presenting to revenue and sales), we’ve set so many goals and done so much research … we can usually name 25 reasons why we should do this,” she said.
A lot of sharing user-generated content takes place on social media, by rebroadcasting guests’ posts within a brand or hotels’ channels, and that’s a relatively straight-forward process.
But sources also said user-generated content is a valuable tool outside of social media, in other marketing campaigns or on websites. Taking that content into different contexts can present legal issues due to copyright law, and hoteliers need to be careful in how they handle it.
“It’s so easy to share (user-generated content), but that doesn’t mean you’re legally able to without some ramifications,” Cheek said. “So it’s about making sure you understand the rules and set best practices in place.”
McAlpine said there are increasingly more third-party services to make sure businesses have the proper copyright permissions in place in using this content, but increasingly rigorous data rules in the European Union and California put the onus on companies to make sure they’re doing everything the right way.
“If content will be displayed on ads or in print, you have to be very careful with the approval process,” he said.
Kaplan said her company reaches out to people through direct messages on social media to get approval to use them and they make sure to get formal agreements in writing before using anything in ads or “any paid opportunity.”
“It’s important to do you due diligence and follow the appropriate steps,” she said.
Cheek said the “million dollar question” in the space is currently how hoteliers can translate social media success into direct return on investment. While lots of people would like to see a direct correlation between social media efforts and revenue, she said that type of thinking is often misguided.
“Everyone wants to tie a dollar value to each post, but it’s just like customer service where you can’t tie a dollar value to a great front desk person even when you know they’re incredibly valuable,” she said.
Kaplan said there are some workarounds for this, like putting rate codes directly in social media posts, but that can sometimes erode the value of using user-generated content.
“Influencers don’t want to do that anymore,” she said. “They’re hesitant because they want to appear authentic.”