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With 2.22 billion social media users around the globe, the world of user-generated content (UGC) is officially exploding.

Nowadays, customers aren’t just buying travel products and services; they’re taking and sharing pictures of their experiences at an unprecedented rate. With Instagram currently beaming ~60 million new photo uploads into smartphones and computers around the planet every day, the pressure is on for brands to make the most of that abundance of content to both tell their story and connect with their target market.

While professional photography has been long relied on to present a brand in its best light, studies now show that consumers often trust UGC more than branded imagery because it seems more authentic and unfiltered.

So how can you, as an activity or local tour operator, really soak up all the benefits of your user-generated content to attract more new visitors, fans, and followers?

Here are 3 steps to help you make it happen:

Step 1: Decide what kind of story you want your user-generated content to tell.

For this first step, it’s important to get back at the foundations of your brand. What is your unique value proposition? What do you want to be known for? What is your personality like? What kind of experiences do you want to offer your customers?

If you’re a tour company, also consider: what key moments in your activities or tours do you want to highlight?

Start thinking about what locations you want to feature, whether you’d also like to showcase your customers or staff, and what mood you’d like your photos to convey. Do you want to position yourself as a haven of serenity and calm? Do you want to pique the interest of thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies? Take time to get clear on this before you begin.

For inspiration, see how Totem Skateboarding tells an authentic story using UGC content:

Step 2: Get proactive! Go out and find the visuals.

Staff social media photos are a great place to start finding UGC for your company’s digital presence. Make sure you follow your staff on social media, and encourage them to take and share photos while at work (within reason!).

There’s a whole world of UGC possibilities beyond your staff, however. Don’t be shy about checking out visitor social media content to collect more images related to your destination and organization.

If you are interested in using UGC, make sure you get permission from the person! No one likes to see their photos used without their consent and credit.

Instagram photo credit

Step 3: Get creative with how you share UGC.

Ready to start sharing UGC to tell your company’s story? Here are a few ways to do just that:

Share the images on your website: Having an updated series of user-generated photos on your website can be a really easy way to keep your homepage fresh and exciting and offer casual visitors a taste of what your destination is like.

Tourism Photo gallery

Use UGC in more of your ads: Studies have shown that 63% of consumers trust user-generated images and reviews of products over professional photos. Additionally, UCG can be crazy eye-catching when compiled well, so don’t hesitate to make the most of it in your Facebook ads, banner ads, and beyond with Instagram photos and more.

Hold contests with your social media audiences or partner organizations to get great images created for you: Inviting users to take and share photos of your tour for a shot at prizes is an awesome way to get your visitors and audience members excited and actively taking pictures to share on social media. Not sure what to give away as prizes? A free pass to one of your tours, a swag bag with your branded t-shirts & stickers, or a gift card to a local venue are all great ideas. You can also try non-financial incentives. The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto Canada runs a social contest, inviting people to apply to visit the ROM before it’s open to the public. Using the #EmptyROM hashtag, they’ve generated excitement from both locals and tourists.

But whatever you choose to create — make it your own!

The best way to help your organization stand out online? Experiment, and find out what works best for you and your audience. The more you post and create, the stronger your online presence becomes, and the closer you get to becoming an unforgettable, unmistakable brand your customers love to follow.

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