Tightrope Walking: Could User-Generated Content Bring Headaches to Hospitality Brands?
In the modern brandscape where user-generated content takes a significant hold, it is inevitable to reassess all of the advantages and disadvantages that it may carry with it.
The transition from “traditional” advertising to the consumer generated one didn’t happen overnight. The internet revolution and the rise of social media altered the modern world of marketing and sales. The first “hostility” towards UGC started to wane when mass market brands noticed that classic communication with their audiences reached a breaking point. It was not an outcome of bad marketing as it was the logical tide of events when newer generations become involved in the market.
According to a survey conducted by US marketing and strategy firm The McCarthy Group, 84% of the millennials (people mostly aged between 18 and 35) expressed their distrust towards traditional advertising. The buying power of brand-oriented millennials rapidly increased over the years and made brands regroup their strategy and strive for the new approach thus including UGC even more into their backbone.
Advantages of UGC
The essence of this new approach is to include customers in the brand’s identity through direct engagement and with it strengthen its authenticity. The shaken confidence in the credibility of brands and their services could be restored by creating more room for customers to express their assessment towards certain services or items. With this “let the customers do the talking” approach, companies would bridge the gap in trust between brands and consumers, simply because people believe in reviews made by those equal to consumers.
Can UGC Backfire?
The modern brandscape molded by collective experiences brings additional authenticity and transparency, but that very same transparency could be the double-edged sword. Placing a brand’s foundation in the hands of public opinion is a long term investment, but sometimes it is forgotten that there are two extremes to it—praise and critique. It does not take long for praise to become the voice of criticism, which is something that is daunting for many companies since critiques carry more weight with them and it is what most customers will read before positive reviews.
Airbnb is considered as one of the best examples of how a brand successfully leverages UGC, but in light of recent events, much of what was built could be compromised with one negative review. One user, Zak Stone, wrote about a tragic event that took place during his stay at a home rented through Airbnb. He lost his father in a fatal accident in which a branch, that was holding a swing in the yard, broke and killed him. His review of the security omissions of Airbnb set in motion a spate of comments that questioned Airbnb and its safety measures.
If you go further back in time, you could recall the case of McDonald’s and its failed #McDStories and #UnwrapWhatsFresh initiatives planning to invite consumers to share their experiences in their restaurants. The adjective “fresh” simply didn’t align with McDonald’s then public image.
A brand’s reaction to UGC has a rather crucial impact in whether they could gain back doubtful customers.
It is essential for brands and customers to overlap. False advertising violates brands reputation and exaggerated expectations not within the competence of a brand leads to a problematic “relationship” in the public sphere.
Adopting UGC could bring potential risks of public criticism, which may jeopardize a brand’s image at some point, but avoiding UGC and transparency has a much greater risk of isolating the brand from audiences and falling out of the picture in the long run.