Likes, comments, shares … repeat!

As marketing becomes more digitally-focused, destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are exploring different approaches to visual storytelling that allow their stakeholders, partners, locals, and visitors to play a role in marketing for the community. Ready for the challenge? Take a step back and ask yourself:

  • Have you checked your destination’s Instagram feed lately?
  • What type of user-generated content (UGC) is there?
  • What are people posting about your downtown nightlife, scenic hikes, foodie scenes, and cultural attractions?
  • Most importantly, are these posts a visually compelling story of what your destination has to offer? 

These simple steps might spark some new ideas for upping the destination's UGC game on Instagram. It did just that for Visit Tucson — and the destination is not the only one reaping the benefits. The team at Visit Tucson came up with a new initiative called “The Desert Lens,” where local photographers capture the true essence of Tucson. Their masterpieces are displayed on The Desert Lens blog on Visit Tucson’s website, as well as on the DMO’s Instagram account.

Tucson is known for its vibrant sights and skies, so by engaging the community and utilizing UGC, Visit Tucson’s content is strong, visually striking, and above all, gives a raw and local perspective of the desert destination.

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The DMO reports that the local artists it has connected with through The Desert Lens initiative have responded with overflowing enthusiasm, so of course, we wanted to hear all about it. We chatted with James J. Jefferies, social media manager at Visit Tucson, to learn more about the branded content initiative that took the desert by storm.


quote from James J Jefferies social media manager at Visit Tucson “Our efforts have generated a strong, ongoing dialogue between us and the community of photographers here in Tucson.”


What inspired the branded content initiative at Visit Tucson?​ 

Destination Q&A AnswerWhen I began here nearly five years ago, it was rapidly apparent that we had a hugely talented local following on Instagram who were extraordinarily passionate about sharing Tucson’s beauty with the world. We cultivated a vibe that encouraged people to tag us in their work, and our followers got really excited about being featured on @visittucson. The Desert Lens initiative was a natural extension of that — a move to create a curated celebration of the very best and most consistent contributors in that community. 

How is the partnership between local artists beneficial to both the DMO and the creators?

Destination Q&A AnswerWe regularly hawk The Desert Lens page in our organic social media offerings as a means for people who follow us to obtain prints from those photographers directly. It gives us a path to a steady flow of content, and it gives the community more incentive to continue capturing Tucson’s best side. 

Are the showcases rotating? How long does an artist stay featured before switching?​ 

Destination Q&A AnswerThus far, we’ve continued to add to the page in the fall and don’t have plans to take anyone down. We want it to feel a bit like a growing Hall of Fame for local photographers. 

Where do they display the photography? 

Destination Q&A AnswerBeyond The Desert Lens blog page on our website, their work filters into our feed in a variety of ways on different platforms, and sometimes, when a particular need arises, the work will be something we’ll purchase from them for use in other marketing campaigns. 

Are there plans/hopes to expand the program past print artists?​ 

Destination Q&A AnswerWe’d love to do something to evolve this initiative to include local painters and other kinds of artists, but no definite plans as of yet. We also plan to do something similar very soon with a group of celebrated local makers (think food, chocolate, whiskey).

What kind of feedback have you gotten from the community and from the artists themselves? 

Destination Q&A AnswerOur efforts have generated a strong, ongoing dialogue between us and the community of photographers here in Tucson. They have been incredibly supportive and the feedback has been very positive. It’s been an overwhelmingly good move for us and them, and we’re still looking for ways to make it work better. 

Do you have any advice for other DMOs who might be interested in implementing a similar concept in their destination?​ 

Destination Q&A AnswerThink about your community, those who stand out consistently, and always keep that dialogue flowing with a lot of questions, especially if you aren’t sure about a choice you’re about to make with their content. The axiom about it being better to ask for forgiveness than permission is the exact opposite in the world of user-generated content. If your actions come from a place of respect, and you’re always intent on honoring their work with proper accreditation, you’d be surprised how many will go a long way to collaborate.

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