Six months after securing £6 million in private funding, social marketing site Where Are You Now is entering the second phase of its business with a radical departure from its original strategy.
Founders Jerome Touze and Peter Ward say the goal now is to ensure WAYN is “the best in class travel and social network”.
A slump in traffic this year and strong competition in the social media category from Facebook in particular, not to mention the advice of their investors, is behind the creation of what the pair call “WAYN version two”.
Though the WAYN model always had an element of travel, the new WAYN will act as a travel portal, allowing both registered and non-registered users to search the site for information on a range of travel-related products and services.
In keeping with this plan, Touze and Ward say they will earmark the bulk of their future marketing spend to search engine optimisation, as opposed to traditional media channels.
But a few other preliminary changes will happen first.
For starters, WAYN is scrapping its subscription-focused membership to rely more on an advertising-based revenue model. This is not a decision to be taken lightly, given that subscriptions currently account for 70% of the company’s revenues.
Under the new model, members will receive a number of free benefits, including unlimited chat, sharing, search, trip logs, and the ability to see who else is going to or has been to the same places.
For 49p per week, members can upgrade to premium-level benefits, receiving preferential positioning on search results, a dedicated support team, access to competitions to win holidays, and free international SMS messaging.
VIP members will pay 99p per week to receive top positioning on search results, no advertising, private chat boards and exclusive access to lifestyle benefits.
A number of factors are behind WAYN’s decision to alter its business model, not the least of which is the fact that the site’s traffic has been on a steady decline recently. According to Alexa figures, WAYN’s daily reach has halved since December 2006, when it received its £6 million injection of capital. The Alexa system has its detractors as a reliable measurement tool, but Touze admits WAYN’s traffic has declined in the first five months of 2007.
Part of the problem the company has faced is with e-mail delivery, mainly linked to Microsoft’s Hotmail platform, used by 80% of WAYN’s subscribers. A “considerable” amount of investment has gone into fixing the problem.
Touze and Ward concede that WAYN’s old subscription model, coupled with tougher competition from social media sites, such as Facebook, have conspired against its growth.
Whereas about half of WAYN’s database returns to the site every month, Facebook sees half of its users return to the site every day.
“Facebook is addictive and people don’t get as addicted to WAYN in its current form,” Ward concedes. He is careful to point out that WAYN is “not trying to be another Facebook,” but is aiming to fill a travel and lifestyle niche.
“We do need to catch up on the social networking aspect of the site first, but travel will be much more of a focus in the future,” says Ward.
Of course, the new business model is as much about restoring investors’ faith in WAYN as it is about boosting traffic.
WAYN’s impressive traffic level is what attracted a parade of potential patrons in the first place, so it is not without some trepidation that WAYN should see its consumer popularity dwindle.
“We are listening to our investors and taking their advice. Our recalibration is very much due to our investors,” says Ward, referring to WAYN’s executive chairman and Lastminute.com founder Brent Hoberman and Cheapflights’ David Soskin and Hugo Burge, among other investors.
With people such as Hoberman, Burge and Soskin backing WAYN, it was perhaps inevitable that the site would tweak its model to be far more travel focused.
Though the new model may not be what WAYN’s founders had in mind when they started the company, it is more likely to pay off in the long run. Would you tell the likes of Hoberman, who pocketed some £20 million from the sale of Lastminute.com, to keep his advice to himself? Probably not.