The pandemic highlighted how essential it is for destination marketing organizations (DMOs) to build strong relationships with partners, locals, and visitors through user-generated content and storytelling. And this strategy will continue to be central as tourism begins to recover.
CrowdRiff, a marketing platform that helps destinations find and leverage visual content, recently launched Story Network to improve coordination between DMOs and their tourism partners. SkiftX spoke with Dan Holowack, CrowdRiff co-founder and CEO, about how user-generated content — specifically visual stories — created by locals, visitors, and partners can enhance destination storytelling.
SkiftX: Why are stories a particularly important format for destination storytelling at the moment?
Dan Holowack: Destinations have always sought the best content possible to engage travelers, transitioning from text and photos to videos and stories. Over the past few years, every major social media platform, including Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and even LinkedIn, has launched its own story format.
Stories allow travelers to dive deeper with a swipe — they can learn more, see a map, go to a partner website. There’s no other content format that can move a viewer to the next step so easily. Many people are discovering travel ideas on their phones, and the story format is perfectly suited to mobile.
SkiftX: How can DMOs take advantage of this format to reach travelers?
Dan Holowack: DMOs should start creating stories that cover their main themes and experiences. We’ve seen great road trip stories that connect points of interest across a destination into a story arc. We’ve seen deep-dive stories that cover the local experience at a brewery or a pizzeria. We’ve seen behind-the-scenes stories that highlight a small business owner, especially in the context of the pandemic. Everybody is reconnecting to their community roots. Locals and travelers alike want to know what an authentic experience really feels like.
SkiftX: Stories are often associated with mobile social platforms. How can they be utilized within a destination’s website?
Dan Holowack: The thing that makes these stories different from any other format is that they live on the DMO’s website. For the first time ever, stories are easy to embed, easy to discover, and do not disappear after 24 hours. Additionally, the DMO has rights to use them through CrowdRiff, so they are unshackled from Instagram, WhatsApp, or Snapchat — which means that Google can index a DMO’s Stories so they appear in organic search results. This way, the DMO has access to data more powerful than what they get from their own website pages alone.
SkiftX: How did DMOs use user-generated content and web stories to build trust and confidence among locals and visitors throughout the pandemic?
Dan Holowack: Stories have provided destinations with an incredibly flexible content format during a challenging time. We saw a lot of really effective stories focused on supporting small businesses and that feature local people. And we’ve seen stories about hidden experiences outside of large cities, which have been important for engaging locals and regional travelers. DMOs have been focused on making stories about more nuanced or community-oriented experiences, which will help them gain more exposure as tourism recovers.
SkiftX: Why will user-generated content and web stories be important for destinations throughout the recovery process and beyond?
Dan Holowack: The story content that destinations have created during the pandemic provides an intimate view focused on the authentic community, people, and values, which are really resonating with travelers as they return. Many of these stories are a beautiful reflection of what is truly at the heart of a destination.
The other thing that’s great for recovery is the data. Destinations can learn a lot about their travelers from the data on how people consume stories. DMOs can use stories to get the pulse on what is interesting to their visitors at any particular time and use that to shape traveler demand by either promoting specific experiences or refocusing visitors on different regions or partners.
SkiftX: Can you give a specific example of how a state-level DMO could optimize user-generated content and web stories to create a holistic message throughout the region?
Dan Holowack: CrowdRiff’s Story Network is defined by collaborative storytelling in which every destination and every partner plays to their strengths and their most intimate, local knowledge. A state-level DMO can set key themes and can define tagging. Cities, regional DMOs, and associations can produce beautiful stories in alignment with those key themes. Those stories are then surfaced to visitors across the state, helping to promote a holistic message for the region. It’s the first ecosystem of stories where everybody is contributing based on their local knowledge and storytelling strengths while in alignment with state priorities.
SkiftX: How does data come into play here?
Dan Holowack: Social media platforms are engineered to surface personalized content quickly by drawing viewers to watch a lot at once. Once you’ve watched a bunch of TikTok videos, the system knows a lot about you. In comparison, you might read two blog posts on a DMO website. But, if the DMO can get a visitor to consume their stories with detailed tagging, they get far more data to rapidly learn about travelers’ priorities. And this data is invaluable to DMOs, especially when it comes to deciding where to focus their marketing messaging and spending.
SkiftX: What are some other destination marketing trends you expect to see as travel begins to build back up?
Dan Holowack: Destinations have taken a more leading role working for local economic development in partnership with communities. Leaders were shaken by all-time-low resident sentiment scores. So at a time when tourism stood still, destinations reconnected with their local people. They started focusing on how they are strategically driving spending that benefits those communities.
Destinations are realizing that their intimate knowledge of their place, people, and values is their competitive edge. Seeing how destinations embrace this local knowledge and use new technologies and approaches to share that insight with visitors and locals has been, and is going to continue to be, really inspiring.