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Understanding User Generated Content with CrowdRiff

December 14, 2020

User Generated Content (UGC) has always been vital to the digital marketing success of destination marketing organizations (DMOs), but it is more important now than ever. Senior Content Marketing Manager Julia Manoukian of CrowdRiff shares her extensive experience and knowledge of UGC with Noble Studios. Read on and discover what UGC is, how it works to elevate DMOs, best practices and so much more.

Learn more about how working with Noble Studios, together with CrowdRiff, can help turn dreamers into bookers.

Tell us a little bit about your role at CrowdRiff. Are there experiences that prepared you for your job?

For those who aren’t familiar with CrowdRiff, we are the visual marketing software 800+ travel brands rely on to source, acquire rights to, and leverage visuals. As Senior Content Marketing Manager, I’m responsible for building a content marketing strategy and executing against it to drive growth for the business. As part of my role, I’m constantly speaking with our customers and community to learn about their challenges and identify opportunities to help them promote their destinations and become better marketers. As a marketer and passionate traveler myself, you can imagine how rewarding this is!

As a former journalist, I’ve always held a firm belief that content marketing plays a critical role in customer and business success. I’ve been lucky enough to live and breathe this vision in my previous roles. CrowdRiff of course is a unique opportunity since visual content is core to everything we do. Not only have I been able to apply my experience to use content marketing as an engine for growth, but also to gain a deeper understanding of the role visual content plays in shaping a world-class brand.

What does user-generated content mean?

UGC is any content that is voluntarily created and shared by individuals, fans or consumers of a brand who are not associated with that brand. This could be anything from social media posts to a review on a third-party website.

How does user-generated content work?

The whole idea of UGC is based on social proof. Customer reviews are trusted 12 times more than marketing coming from an organization. But you already knew this — just think about the last time you did something because you saw a friend post about it. This is what we call visual influence at work. Visual influence is tied to the way people take action based on the images they see of places, products, and experiences. For marketers, harnessing visual influence holds an opportunity to captivate and attract customers, as well as become the go-to authority of your brand story.

Can you give us your elevator pitch for user generated content digital marketing?

People are already making decisions based on visuals. When was the last time you planned a trip without looking at photos or videos?

Social photos from Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok play a huge role in shaping what people purchase and where they go. For instance, 55% of people between the age of 18 and 65 booked trips based on Instagram posts.

Social media marketers have always understood the value of UGC, but since COVID-19 it has become a strategic asset for all areas of marketing.

Now, we’re seeing all members of the organization embrace UGC as an essential part of the marketing mix. More travel brands are using UGC to remain a trusted source of up-to-date information, power their organic channels like their website and social media, and take their marketing budgets further.

How can user-generated content enhance a company’s social media presence?

As mentioned, one of the top benefits of user-generated content is that it serves as excellent social proof. Seeing content from real customers increases your credibility and makes your brand more authentic and trustworthy in the eyes of your audience.

In the travel industry, people are cautious about where to travel and when. A key priority for folks is how to remain a trusted source of information to locals and visitors in the short and long term.

UGC is especially helpful here. It’s one thing to say your restaurants are upholding new safety measures. It’s another to show them doing that. This unfiltered content is a great way to show what’s happening in your destination or behind the scenes of your brand right now.

We’ve seen our customers use UGC to promote their local restaurants and tourism partners, show people exploring safely in their destinations, and provide socially-distinct travel inspiration for locals and visitors.

Since posting UGC on their Instagram daily, Ken Sliwa, Community Relations Administrator, Arizona State Parks and Trails says they’ve experienced dramatic growth. Specifically, they’ve increased their followers by 45% and engagement by 70% within 8 months.

“What we really attribute that to is the process of providing more user-generated content in our feed instead of stock images or something that we pay to a photographer to go out and take,” says Sliwa.

Instagram post about Saguaro cactus

How is user-generated content different from influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing refers to content where the focus is placed on particular people who others look up to for inspiration and influence. Influencers create their own content based on their experiences with your product or service.

An example of this would be if you partner with a popular influencer to drive awareness and ticket sales within a particular audience segment.

The key difference is that with UGC, the brand hasn’t actively communicated with the user to create or influence content.

Do you think that user generated content is a modern twist on the power of word of mouth marketing?

I’d push that to say UGC isn’t just a twist, but an evolution of word of mouth marketing. Typically, with word of mouth, the obvious benefit is for the brand. But with UGC, both the brand and the consumer win. Brands get to put their customers front and center in their marketing, and build credibility with their audience. Especially with visual UGC, the creator gets visibility and recognition, which helps them grow their following and showcase their work. I always love to hear how these mutually beneficial relationships play out with our customers — I can’t tell you the number of times a customer has said they’ve been able to build closer relationships with creators because of CrowdRiff.

What is one of the best UGC campaigns you’ve seen?

One of my favorites is the ‘Shot on iPhone’ campaign. This started years ago, with the release of iPhone 6. The goal was to show users the high-quality camera of iPhones, especially at a time when other mobile phones didn’t shoot well in low light. They asked users to share their pictures and videos from iPhones, which then they used in their marketing. It went viral, helping Apple show the iPhone’s superior picture quality. The campaign just wouldn’t have had the same effect if they hired professional photographers or used professional equipment (in fact, that would defeat the entire purpose); the message would be coming from the brand, not Apple’s users. The campaign was successful in restoring customer faith and driving sales. Around many cities in the world, you can still see billboards promoting the latest iPhone using a ‘Shot on iPhone’ image today.

What KPIs best measure a user-generated campaign strategy?

Since brands can use UGC across every marketing channel, it really varies by campaign, industry and company. Major consumer brands like Apple will want to measure brand or product sentiment, and sales lift. In the travel industry, our customers measure success in a few different ways.

For website KPIs, our customers might look at new website visitors, time on page/site, decrease in bounce rate, engagement or conversion rate on a UGC asset or set of assets, and traffic to partner sites.

On social media, like the Arizona State Parks and Trails example, people often look at total reach or impressions, engagement rate, follower growth, or hashtag or handle use.

Often, UGC campaigns also have an element of collecting fresh content. We also see customers measure success by how many rights-approved assets they’ve collected over a period of time.

What is the importance of building a DMO website that includes user generated content?

The most important reason to UGC on your website, especially right now, is that it keeps your website relevant and up-to-date.

Even before COVID-19 this was a priority, but the pandemic has made this even more critical. Your website needs to reflect the changes in your destination to give you credibility as a trusted source among locals and travelers.

Kiss My Turku, the destination marketing organization for Turku, Finland, created an interactive map on their website that plots points of interest and shows real-time UGC sourced through CrowdRiff for each of these points. When you click on each business, a product card comes up that has the name of the business, a link to the website and operating hours, and phone number and Instagram account (all done through CrowdRiff’s API, I might add!).

Interactive map

I think this map is brilliant for a few reasons. One, it shows website visitors (both locals and visitors) what is happening with local businesses, how they’re meeting current guidelines, what their operating hours are, and how to reach them on social media or their website. Second, it provides relevant, trustworthy trip inspiration for locals and travelers alike. Third, it’s an easy way for the DMO to stay current, as visuals are updated in real-time.

I recognize building something like this isn’t viable for every DMO, but it’s certainly great inspiration.

What is one user generated content strategy for destination marketing clients that seems to work consistently?

There’s no easy answer or one-size-fits all approach. That said, one key priority we’ve heard time and time again this year is that DMOs need to build consumer trust to get locals and visitors traveling again. UGC is the best way to do this.

This might look like what folks at Visit South Bend or Huntsville/Madison County CVB are doing to promote visuals of locals wearing masks. They’re collecting UGC from the community and sharing it to normalize the idea of wearing masks around the community and at local businesses. “The quicker we can show people we’re doing everything we can to keep them safe, the quicker we will rebound,” says Kristen Pepper, Marketing Director at Huntsville/Madison County CVB.

Upload form with pictures

Or maybe it looks like focusing only on locals, like Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism’s ‘Stay Home Year.’ The multi-channel campaign appealed to residents’ desire for unique travel experiences while supporting the industry and local tourism operators. The website — — features a CrowdRiff gallery with stunning UGC images. By promoting the #StayHomeYear2020 hashtag, the team was able to fill their content library with relevant UGC to use both throughout the campaign and in the future. The gallery also provided relevant, trustworthy trip inspiration for locals.


Or perhaps it means flexing your creative muscles, like the team at Tempe Tourism. They put together a virtual, multi-stop FAM (familiarization trip) using UGC to get the attention of future potential visitors and influential travel bloggers. The tour “stopped” at three local businesses, which also included an overview of new health and safety procedures. The idea was a huge success, generating a ton of earned media, including a reach of almost 220,000, 28 posts across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, 7 articles, and 119 Instagram Stories.

Photos of outdoors

The bottom line is you have to craft a UGC strategy that best serves the unique needs of your destination right now.

What are best practices for utilizing user-generated content?

When looking to use someone else’s content, we recommend our customers always explicitly ask for permission in a comment, or invite the user to agree to specific terms and conditions.

When it comes to using a comment, be direct but also be human. If you’re contacting someone who loves your destination, and you do it in a friendly way, they generally respond positively.

We suggest the following 3-step checklist:

  1. Leave a nice comment that shows appreciation for their work.
  2. Tell them how you want to use their photo.
  3. Give them a way to explicitly say “yes.” Let them know what hashtag they can use when they respond back to you.

For travel and tourism brands that prefer having people sign legal Terms & Conditions for their UGC, CrowdRiff offers an Advanced Rights Management option.

You can choose to link your Terms & Conditions in your profile, and direct people to that link when asking for rights before they agree.

Who owns user-generated content?

The original creator owns the content.

What if a user doesn’t want their image used by a brand as part of their user-generated content marketing?

If the brand doesn’t get permission to use the image, the image should not be used.

Are you a DMO looking for help with digital marketing? Noble Studios is an award winning digital marketing organization specializing in digital marketing for the travel and tourism industry, working with DMOs including Yosemite, The Islands of Tahiti, Newport Beach and so many more. Learn more about how Noble Studios, together with CrowdRiff, can elevate your DMO.

Julie of CrowdRiffJulia Manoukian is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at CrowdRiff. A former journalist, she has helped several Toronto startups raise their thought leadership profiles and scale their content efforts to influence revenue. She’s passionate about storytelling, traveling, and tech.


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