Sunday, April 28, 2013

Balancing Act: Editorial vs. UGC in Travel Media

Have a passport and Internet access? You’re well on your way to a career in travel journalism. At least, such is the promise of the digital age. Once the professional turf of a handful of hospitality experts and sociopolitical commentators, today the proliferation of free blogging and desktop publishing tools have transformed the travel writing trade (and all journalism, for that matter) into an egalitarian industry. Wordpress. Tumblr. Blogger. Even Twitter. With these content management programs and more, it’s easy—and free—for just about everyone with a camera and a sense of place to offer up their own travel-related musings to the vacation-planning set.

The Bottom Line

Mainstream publishers, too, have seen the bottom-line impact that fostering such user-generated content (UGC) can have on their brands, many of which still struggle to monetize digital content. In a time when consumers have come to demand free digital content, and media outlets have yet to develop a widely accepted pay-wall strategy for premium content, it stands to reason that any publisher encouraging UGC within the walled garden of its own domain would benefit from this flood of free content.

But are we losing something in the process? Can we really trust hotel, restaurant, and destination reviews from such a deep and rising well of unknown authors—particularly when shilling on behalf of marketers has become so commonplace across review sites such as Yelp? According to an American Express survey of U.S. households, most families spend between 5 to 7 percent of their total household income each year on vacations. Additionally, the U.S. Travel Association reports that the global travel industry accounts for more than $568 billion in direct spending each year, a figure based solely on leisure travel. With so much at stake, can we really afford to trust the tidal wave of unverified travel information circulating online today?


Digital marketing firm RankPop published a recent piece on its blog entitled User Generated vs. Editorial Content—Who Wins?, which takes an in-depth look at the strengths and weaknesses of both UGC and editorial content across verticals and topics, calling it an “epic battle” and asking “who will stand victorious when the dust has settled?” It’s a question that I, and many of the travel and lifestyle writers and publishers I know, certainly share. The blog continues:
In one corner we have User Generated Content and in the opposite corner we have Editorial Content. Both are fighters in their prime with many positive things going for them; UGC has speed and variety on its side, but Editorial Content has the weight of experience and expertise.
It’s a succinct summation of the key benefits of each method. UGC offers fresh, free-flowing content, and it can also be a great barometer of social preferences. But what it delivers in volume, it lacks in accuracy and quality control. Editorial, on the other hand, is traditionally a more validated source of information—though admittedly, that’s arguable in today’s misinformation age, when even venerable outlets like CNN regularly fire off unverified Tweets just to break news. In the realm of travel journalism, at least, such risks of unchecked content are somewhat quashed, as most travel content is assigned in advance, researched, and not beholden to the news cycle.

Explore the Debate: 12 Best Practices for Content Marketing


The tug-of-war between editorial and UGC is far from over. And in truth, both types of content offer a range of benefits to digital publishers. So perhaps the question isn’t which one is more beneficial to adopt—but instead, how best to manage the volume of content pouring in from both sources? Amid the debate, the current landscape of travel writing and publishing begs for the growth of one key position: the travel curator. A few digital outlets have begun to create such roles, while others are struggling to define just what that means for their brands. But however the position shakes out for each publisher, it isn’t hard to imagine the benefits of employing reputable content curators from serious editorial backgrounds who are equally comfortable contributing original content or hand-selecting UGC for prominent site features. So keep those passports current, and go ahead and splurge for the WiFi on your next vacation. You just may be writing the next great travel feature after all.

Do you agree? Leave a comment and let me know what you think about the future of travel publishing.

Reagan Johnson is a digital media professional with 10 years experience in travel journalism and content strategy, and is currently a graduate student at Northwestern University's Medill School studying Integrated Marketing Communications. Follow her on @byreaganjohnson.

Image courtesy 123rf

No comments:

Post a Comment