When do consumers seek out UGC in the buying cycle?

Social Media Strategies Travel 2008 SpecialOnline travel researchers use UGC throughout the buying cycle.

Published: 06 Mar 2008

Social Media Strategies Travel 2008 Special

Online travel researchers use UGC throughout the buying cycle.

According to JupiterResearch's Travel Consumer Survey, 2007, 32% of online travel researchers who used UGC did so early in their research process while 56% used to verify their hotel choices prior to booking.

With social networking inherently encouraging the sharing of information among the user community, how are the expectations and the attitude of the consumer changing accordingly?

Sharing her perspective, Diane Clarkson, Travel Analyst, JupiterResearch, a speaker during Social Media Strategies Travel 2008 Conference in San Francisco, said, "Let's start with some definitions because the word "social" appears in a variety of contexts. Social networks are a community of users who create and post content on a website - usually in the form of profile pages - to communicate with each other across a network. These social networks are just one of the many social medias including blogs and UGC."

"I wouldn't say that social networking has inherently changed travelers' expectations or attitudes at this point. However, the explosion of UGC has changed expectations around travel planning content and the ability to share travel experiences both during and after a trip. This, in turn, has created a growing role for social marketing among travel marketers, specifically encouraging user engagement or viral communication by leveraging social media."

On how UGC can help in creating a dialogue with customers and provide a platform for communication, she said UGC is all about dialogue.

"This dialogue is not exclusively between travelers but, in fact, can inspire a dialogue between consumers and marketers. Our research has found that the most compelling means to solicit feedback from travelers is e-mail: 42% of online travelers who contributed content did so because their received an email inviting their feedback. This feedback – in reviews, blogs or photographs – offers a wealth of market intelligence, both in terms of how travelers are interacting with your brand and with your competitors. I know of one property that revised its promotional content after reading UGC reviews and discovering that a feature they didn't find notable was actually highly commented upon by their guests."

"Travel companies should formalise scanning and responding to travel UGC. This should include utilising blog search engines such as Technorati, responding to travel reviews on websites that allow this dialogue, and developing partnerships with buzz monitoring companies. Additionally, travel marketers must ensure the market intelligence gleaned from UGC is communicated to the appropriate people within their organisation," added Clarkson.

For user-generated content sites to be successful businesses, they need to facilitate a purchase decision making process. On how the industry has focused on this, she said, "Ultimately every marketing effort is measured against its ability to generate revenue. Part of the challenge with UGC is that online travel researchers are often engaged early in the purchase funnel. Many travel retail sites offering UGC, such as Expedia, Travelocity or Orbitz, are well-placed to leverage this content towards a purchase decision, particularly for accommodation bookings, because UGC enhances their key business proposition of selling travel. Other websites are using advertising-based business models where success can be measured by click-throughs, sales, or brand lift. The early days of UGC were preoccupied with achieving content critical mass. Now the travel industry is becoming sophisticated and looking at how UGC can drive sales. This will be the key focus for UGC in the coming year."

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