There’s something about travel photography. It inspires. It tells stories. It helps people imagine life in a distant land. No wonder it’s wildly popular on platforms like Instagram — and become an increasingly important marketing tool for travel brands. Monica Pedraja, Content Producer with Orbitz, knows this all too well. Monica is a master of curating compelling user-generated imagery from travelers and blending it with professional photography. She developed her trained eye as a photography and graphic design major at Loyola University Chicago and honed it further while studying for her masters in photojournalism at the University of Westminster in London. Now at Orbitz, she’s collaborating with their in-house creative agency and leading the company’s visual content direction.
Monica sat down with Curalate for a wide-ranging interview — describing the perfect travel image, sharing her thoughts on influencer marketing and explaining her secrets to finding great user-generated content.
What makes a great travel image?
Travel imagery is about influencing people to go on vacation and explore. When I curate images, I ask myself the following questions: Are the images compelling? Do they tell a narrative story? Are they sensory? Are they authentic. I want these images to make people feel like they’re actually in those physical locations. They can feel the sand. They can taste the gelato in Rome. And of course, the images have to fit our brand style. UGC imagery not only feels more authentic but it promotes conversation and customer loyalty. Audiences today want to see something genuine, not staged.
I use both stock and user-generated content when collecting imagery, and that’s where I really use my trained eye. I like to walk the line between stock and UGC – stock images that feel authentic, and UGC images that feel professional. Doing this gives our feeds cohesion and uniqueness. If you stop on a photo I’ve curated and you react by saying, “WHOA! Where is that? I want to go there,” (and then liking it, of course) then I’ve done my job and it’s a great feeling.
Everyone is a photographer these days, especially when they’re on vacation. Does that create a wealth of great images you can utilize?
There’s definitely a lot of scrolling involved in my day-to-day when it comes to finding great UGC! Without getting too professor like, ever since photography became available to the masses, the amount of images created multiplied dramatically. People want to remember and want to be remembered. Now, people also want to share and they can share everywhere. And again, I think this is where an educated eye comes in. I scroll … a lot. But I can do it quickly. Having the eye and practice of constantly looking at images helps in finding great UGC.
Are there any other ways that you find user-generated content?
Everyday I’m on the Explore function on Curalate. Seriously everyday. We have our own hashtag #orbitzpic, so I make sure to scroll through those photos — but I also look at other hashtags and location tags. I request images through the Curalate process. I think that finding great UGC helps add even more awareness to our own hashtag and generates more awareness for our Instagram account. Plus we rely on word-of-mouth. We have friends that follow us and hashtag us all the time.
What were some key lessons you learned in your schooling and previous jobs that you brought with you to Orbitz?
It sounds very simple, but always know why you’re doing something. There are a thousand different ways to communicate a message, but unless you know the real objective of the message, it will come across as inauthentic. Knowing the objective not only gives me a sense of purpose, but it also allows me to look at the bigger picture and the possibility for new solutions and opportunities.
Creatively, taking a step back from your work is crucial. Pausing, even for a half hour to look at a project with fresh eyes, can often give me a new perspective and an even better idea. But don’t take too many steps back and over-think things. So maybe three steps and then turn it in.
Tell us about how Orbitz works with influencers for social takeovers?
We did a couple of takeovers with influencers and one that stuck out was with @champcameron. He’s a photographer living in Hawaii — and an all around rad guy to work with. We did a blog post, Instagram takeover and tied a giveaway to this as well. This campaign did really well for us, driving more followers and engagement.
You’ve been including Curalate-powered interactive maps in a lot of your new content. How has that helped Orbitz up its content game?
It helps in upping our visual content game and shows how creative we are, for sure. I’m really hoping that adding more interactive maps will have readers spend more time on the content, further lead them down the funnel to book a trip and see us as a resource for travel guides.
How do your strategies differ when creating paid ads vs. content like an organic blog post?
There’s a constant debate in the travel vertical — whether to feature people in photos or not. It’s important to take into consideration who the reader will be. Is it our wider demographic? Are we targeting a more specific audience? Answering different questions and knowing the goals for each help me dictate how I create paid or organic content (and whether or not to feature people or landscapes!)
What are you trying to achieve with the content you create for each platform?
Collectively, our team wants to show readers that we provide great stories and tips for your next trip. We love travel just as much as our consumers and want to share our stories and experiences. With the visual content I create, I aim to show there’s more than one angle you can shoot from, there’s more than one way to tell a story, and there’s more than way to experience travel.
Want to learn how travel brands can monetize user generated pictures and videos? Check out our free travel guide The Rise of Image Sharing & How Brands Can Capitalize.
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