March 23, 2017

When Social Goes Beyond: Q&A With Pete Ward, CEO, WAYN (Part of Group)

As one of the co-founders of the world’s largest travel social network, Pete Ward, CEO of Where Are You Now (WAYN), is well placed to offer insight into the current state of engagement across the travel industry. Founded in 2002, WAYN offers keen travellers the opportunity to reach out and connect with like-minded members to share their travel experiences, and connect, both online and in person around the world. “I had been backpacking before I took my first job, so I immediately related to this idea. We worked on it in our spare time until we finally worked out how to make it explode as a product.” Says Ward. “In 2005 it went from 45,000 members to a million members in six months, and we left our day jobs to work on it full-time.” With an energy and growth that all start-ups aspire to, WAYN’s dominant presence within the travel industry led to its acquisition by Group in 2016, which has led to a new wave of innovation and opportunity for the company.

Leaving An Impression

WAYN is somewhat unique within the digital space for the community-focussed experience it offers, and its native digital presence. While many travel brands are seeking ways to better connect with their consumers and capitalise on that more intimate relationship, WAYN is fulfilling those consumer wants on its own turf. “We were one of the early adopters of social in travel, which was really a new concept of engaging people at the beginning of their travel experience, the dream and inspiration state. We realised there was a huge opportunity to influence travellers through other travellers, before they knew where they wanted to go.” Says Ward. The nurturing of this community has been the fuel which has driven WAYN’s customer engagement to new heights and given the company its momentum. “Where we fit in, and where we see the future of digital transformation going in the travel sector, is brands and businesses providing a unique and highly engaged experience, which is not just a commodity or a means to an end; an emotional experience, and not just a functional one.” In an interesting twist, Travel providers are realising that they are more than just travel agents now, but must consider themselves in the same way as the destinations that they sell. The more the customer experience is improved, the more travel brands can inspire a sense of customer loyalty, and become more of a destination themselves. Displaying that ‘above and beyond’ level of care and understanding “leaves that customer or traveller feeling that that they’ve enhanced their overall travel experience by making a decision to book with [your] company.” Says Ward. “We’re working with, not only to enhance the customer experience prior to booking, but also when they get back from their holiday, when they can share their experience with others, and ultimately create a  full circle experience that makes people want to come back again and again.”

Meeting The World, And New Friends

With the growth of such a diverse and mutually engaged customer base, another priority for WAYN is the curation of generous amounts of high-quality content, which will keep the platform’s already keen user base informed and engaged. Luckily though, the social and sharing aspects of the social network particularly lend themselves to the creation of User-Generated Content (UGC). “It’s not just the traditional form of content, where writers try to guess what consumers or travellers are interested in and prepare that for them.” Continues Ward. “It’s actually more on the coalface where the real travellers are sharing real experiences, and they’re authentic experiences which often are done purely out of the passion of consumers wanting to relive those experiences by sharing.” By making WAYN’s users into advocates of the brand’s vision for community engagement, there naturally results a steady stream of organic, authentic content, which strengthens the brand’s digital presence and gives its members a personal relationship with the brand and its purpose. “Being at the forefront of the social travel experience, we’ve seen that not only are customers using our products to share the experience, but they’re also reaching out to those people who have shared those experiences, building a friendship, in some cases meeting up in person.” As digital comes full circle, the social community of WAYN is going a step further, and creating real communities, real relationships, and authentic experiences offline.

Digging Deeper

So what should brands be doing to offer that valuable extra experience to their customers? Pete has broken down four main points for travel industry marketers to take away:

  1. “Provide a personalised experience that meets the needs of your separate customer groups. There’s no one-size fits all, but marketers must understand what those needs are so you can better meet them. Serve up the content and the capabilities that are relevant to the right customer at the right time.
  2. “Make sure that your strategy is as social as possible as possible, so that you can actually use other people to influence the outcomes of those decisions. It could just be through integration with Facebook, or you could be creating your own social platform. People are influenced by people, and the socialisation of brand experiences, is a key part of any strategy.
  3. “Try to create content that’s not just right time and right place, but will actually help your consumer make the most of their experience. It’s about recognising where your strengths are, and partnering with those who have different strengths.
  4. “Build a brand-loyal experience. Don’t abuse your relationship with your customers by sending them too many emails or offers. A lot of travel brands seem to think that the answer to better performance is to create more reasons for them to book, but that’s not a very sustainable long-term strategy. It’s important to recognise when a customer doesn’t want to hear from you, so it’s about getting that balance right.”

Pete Ward will be chairing the Figaro Digital Travel & Leisure Conference on 28 March. It’s not too late to secure your place, so to hear more from him and our other expert speakers, register here now!