News | Distribution | OnlineBusabout revs the UGC engine with StacklaThis article was originally published onBy Pamela Whitby | October 17, 2018 When coach travel specialist Busabout embarked on a mission to put user-generated content (UGC) at the centre of its sales and marketing strategy in 2016, it had no idea how much customers were already sharing on social media.Duncan Robertson, who joined the firm three years ago as managing director, told tnooz: “Our big content discovery was that we had around 20,000 Busabout tagged images on mainly Instagram and Facebook, but also some long form videos on YouTube."Share this quote Busabout, which sits within the “family of brands” owned by US-based The Travel Corporation (TTC), provides a guided hop-on hop-off network of buses across four continents – Europe, the US, Southeast Asia and North Africa.“It’s the best of both [bus travel] worlds. Customers get the social aspect of a guided trip as well as the flexibility to change their itinerary,” Robertson explains.It’s hardly surprising that Busabout users - typically women in their mid-20s travelling solo - are snapping and sharing their trip experiences which often take in 12 to 15 cities. Sharing on social has become the norm for Millennials, as a recent survey of 18 to 34 year-olds by currency exchange firm WeSwap reveals. Among its findings are that 61% of people want to share beautiful or important holiday experiences online, while 31% said posting images was almost as important as the holiday itself!However, for the growing number of brands such as Busabout, which have taken a strategic decision to source all marketing content from UGC, making sense of the vast numbers of images wasn’t straightforward.Says Robertson: “We recognised that we had all this great content and beautiful travel experiences but the question was, how do you aggregate this across [so many] different systems.”For example, how do you sift through thousands upon thousands of images to distinguish a mountain experience of solo women journeying through the Swiss Alps from one on the Cinque Terra, a string of centuries-old seaside villages on the Italian Riviera?“We recognised that we need a platform, which aggregates content from social web and allows us to search for and curate content in an interesting way,” says Robertson.There are plenty companies out there including Crowdriff, Curalate and Shortstack, Busabout chose Stackla, which is using artificial intelligence (AI) to help travel and hospitality brands discover, manage and display content. Stackla already had a four-year relationship with Busabout’s parent company, TTC, and its many big name customers include Expedia, Air France and Flightcentre, as well as around 130 destination-marketing organisations (DMOs), hotel groups and more.Peter Cassidy, Stackla’s founder and chief product officer, says Stackla has come a long way since it launched as a workflow process tool back in 2012.Today, the Stackla platform is driven by artificial intelligence, which it uses in two main ways, initially to allow for hyper-granular content aggregation and curation.Using visual recognition, Stackla is able to scan every digital asset, be it an image or a video, and then apply different labels to it. It can detect themes that include emotions, sentiment, and even objects within the content and can even do language analysis. A simple #busabout, or combination of a hashtag with location, casts the content net wide, but Stackla allows you to apply different rules to truly hone this down.Cassidy explains: “With AI, it becomes much easier to text search for an image. You can be hyper-granular with requests along the lines of ‘show me photos for people in the Swiss Alps on a particular type of bus, that have a general positive sentiment,’ and it [the AI] will find that content.”Share this quote Elsewhere, Stackla uses machine learning and AI to power its proprietary recommendation engine, Co-Pilot which Busabout implemented 18 months ago. Not only can Stackla sort and categorise content using visual recognition, Co-Pilot goes a step further by monitoring everything Busabout publishes, and in doing so trains the algorithm to make better decisions in the future.It also tracks how published content has performed, and this data too feeds the algorithm so that AI becomes smarter and smarter.So, instead of having thousands of pieces of content to review, Busabout can look at just 20 to a 100 really relevant pieces of content. Keeping the content engine running It has been a step-by-step process for Busabout to get its UGC strategy in place in order to drive brand awareness at the top of the funnel, while also achieve cost savings and efficiency.One of the first steps was to use a net promoter score (NPS) tool to gauge the loyalty of the target audience. These were sometimes as high as 98%, but Busabout understood that clients don’t care about ratings; they want to understand the experience.“We needed to find an achievable strategy that allowed us to show traveller experiences in a unique, authentic and transparent way,” Robertson explains.Using the content of already engaged users seemed a no-brainer, and is part the wider goal to reinvest all Busabout’s digital assets and grow the operation between 2016 and 2020. Although there “hasn’t been a magic key to switch on the engine,” during the past quarter, in particular, the results have been promising.In the goal to become a brand with 100% UGC content, the numbers look like this: 95% of images at its brand dotcom are UGC99% of the visuals in the travel brochure were taken by real customers120,000+ photos make up their interactive UGC map In addition, the number of tour page views has increased by 72%, time spent on page is up 40%, and there has been a 33% lift in direct web bookings in the UK.And while the costs of content have been slashed by 65% have been made, Busabout is still paying for some content.“For any piece of collateral that we use in print, we speak to our users direct and ask them for the rights to use it. In some cases where it it’s a high profile piece of collateral, we pay for it,” Robertson explains.For this internal process, a real person is still needed. “Somebody actually does this - talks to clients and acquires the rights,” he adds. Squad numbers Now into its second year, Busabout’s Ultimate Travel Squad social competition has been another way to tap and amplify content from its existing audience, and “gamify” the process. Applicants were asked to submit a one-minute video explaining why they should make the squad. The competition went viral, with more than 2,200 video entries submitted from 98 different countries. Nearly 50,000 people voted on the entries. This year four users (two were chosen in the first year) were given the keys to Busabout’s social paltforms, and asked to blog, vlog, snap and Instagram their way across Europe.So far, engagement from Busabout’s users, who appear to want to be part of the UGC experiment, has been good, but the challenge is ongoing. Robertson acknowledges: “It’s very nerve-wracking to say we are just going to listen in and curate content because you lose an element of control. You have to trust in your experience, and the actual delivery of your product has to be perfect. If it isn’t, then you won’t generate usable content.”Share this quote Travel is never going to be perfect but for the moment it seems, the UGC Busabout engine seems to be running smoothly.