Kristen Hall, Local Measure recruit and user generated content (UGC) expert, talks to us about the payoff of UGC for hotels. Based in Los Angeles, Kristen fills a new role as Head of Business Development, West. Previously, she was based in New York as Director of Brand Strategy at Olapic.

How do you see UGC helping hotels increase guest engagement?

One of the things that’s interesting about the social space is that there’s this real push for people to get their social shine, to get recognised – whether it be by friends or followers or brands – to be able to boost their profile within the social media sites. What’s really cool about interacting with guests via UGC, is that it’s a great way to reward your fans and loyal followers by giving them a shout-out, whether that be through posting their content on your social sites, saying thank you, or by responding to requests they have. It also shows their followers that you are a brand that engages on social and it encourages them to post content of their own so that they can be part of that process.

When brands feature user generated content from their guests, what we see is that the user’s friends and followers get a little jealous – it’s like social FOMO – they look in and say ‘How did XYZ brand find you, I’d love to be featured, what do I have to do to also be featured by the brand’? It’s a nice way to not only drive engagement but also give a bit of that social vanity plate to the followers who are really loyal to you.

How can hotels identify the type of UGC that will be most effective?

I think what is always really effective is looking for authenticity. Some of the issues that brands have when creating their own content is that it can feel a little bit sterile, a bit pre-packaged. If you can capture the cool things that are happening on your property, the conversations that are occurring amongst your guests – that really lends some social street credit if you do it well. It’s a nice way to show that, beyond being a sterile box where there’s a bed and a wall-mounted TV, actual events happen there, people celebrate things, they share a meal, they gather together. By showing that and the experience that a person would have, rather than commoditizing what a room looks like, you’re able to reach out and speak to the potential guest on a different level.

What would you say to hotels that have concerns about privacy?

Luxury brands tend to be very conservative in their approach to featuring anything in which a guest can be identified. The great thing about Local Measure’s platform is that it has a fully functioning rights management system that allows for brands to cover any of those concerns. They can actually reach out to the user who posted the content and ask them to confirm ‘yes, it’s okay for you to use this photo’, ‘yes, it’s okay for you to use my likeness’, etc. Not only is it a way for them to be able to cover themselves legally and get explicit consent to use the content, it’s a really nice way to again reach out and alert the user, saying ‘Hey, we loved your photo so much and we want to use it on our social page’. It’s a way to get them to be able to brag to their friends a little bit, but at the same time for the hotel to cover themselves from a legal aspect.

How do you recommend hotels balance brand content – having a recognizable look and feel – with UGC?

I think they need both. You need to have those beautiful photos of your hotel and of your property, especially in an age where OTAs have become increasingly important. You need to be able to compete with everyone else, so there’s no question that specifically branded content is important. But that doesn’t mean it needs to compete with UGC. I think UGC is something completely different but also very necessary. What we know is that shoppers trust their peers significantly more than advertisers so it’s a way for brands to boost consumer trust in what they’re presenting while adding a bit of life to their social pages, without having to compromise the brand standard within their branded content across the different distribution networks.

Is user generated video equal to user generated photos when it comes to generating engagement? Should video be used or treated differently?

What’s become very clear, with all the social networks opening up to allow video, is that it’s really difficult to create good videos, whereas it’s relatively easy to take a good picture and then play with the editing to create a really beautiful image. As a result, a lot of the video content out there is probably not content that most brands would want to feature on their social channels. That being said, a really great video can certainly be a worthwhile tool for brands to ask for rights for and engage followers in creating. It’s just that there is significantly less great video out there than there are photos.

What opportunities do you think hotels miss out on most often when it comes to UGC?

I think there’s a prevailing notion that it’s really important for companies to protect their brand image and I think that as a result, brands shy away from UGC because they don’t know if it’s going to speak to their ideal messaging. But there’s a conversation happening across social media regardless of whether or not the brand itself is engaging in it. Brands have an option to either dive in, become part of it and help shape it and learn from what their guests are saying or completely ignore it and let it happen without checking in. There is a story occurring whether or not the brand is participating; it’s really up to them to take the reins and help craft that message for their larger public audience.