TripAdvisor's announcement last week that it will introduce
a social media-like component to its website positions the company at the
beginning of an uphill battle to win consumers away from Facebook and other
platforms, analysts cautioned.
But president and CEO Stephen Kaufer maintained that
TripAdvisor will build the social component from its hundreds of millions of
monthly users; it will not try to lure them away from other social media sites.
"Then the question is, 'Well Steve, it sounds like you're
building social functionality. Why is someone going to take time out of their
day while they're on Facebook, Instagram, whatever, and go over to TripAdvisor
to create this new network?'" Kaufer said. "My answer is 'They're
The CEO contends that TripAdvisor's current users will
organically visit the site and start engaging with social content. The site has
450 million monthly visitors, he said, "some percentage of which are going
to like this new social assistant."
They will naturally start to follow users posting content
they like, Kaufer said.
He likened it to Twitter: While Kaufer himself doesn't tweet
a lot, he often uses the social media site to follow others, slowly building
the number of people he follows.
"It's completely painless, easy, frictionless," he
said. "I follow two more people, I don't get 100 more pieces of email
spam. Nothing happens other than my feed is usually enriched."
Kaufer said the same will apply to TripAdvisor users. The
number of existing visitors is key, though, he said: "If we didn't have
that, yeah, God help us or anyone else trying to build up a brand new social
network from scratch."
Maggie Rauch, senior director of research at Phocuswright,
said TripAdvisor's planned overhaul is "ambitious," and she cautioned
that it's a space a number of startups entered several years ago, creating a
social media site for travelers.
In those early attempts, she said, they faced issues with "stickiness
and monetization." TripAdvisor, she said, does have an advantage in that
it has a large existing community.
"Still, do travelers want another social destination
for sharing trip photos and video?" Rauch asked. "If not, will the
publisher content that TripAdvisor brings in fill that gap?"
Industry analyst Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere
Research Group, credited TripAdvisor for helping to create the modern social media
"It was one of the first websites that invited
consumers to share their own ratings and reviews of hotels, restaurants and
other travel businesses and, in a way, deserves credit as a pioneer in travel
social media," he said. "We can't overlook that."
Even so, he continued, "The challenge that TripAdvisor
faces in creating this new type of platform with a look and feel that seems very
similar to Facebook is that we already have Facebook, and TripAdvisor is
launching this now 10 or so years into the Facebook revolution."
It's not an impossible task, he said, but "I
have to objectively say it would be very difficult for them to compete and
encourage a change in consumer behavior."
Along with announcing its new social media component,
TripAdvisor said it is working with some 500 brands, influencers and publishers
in beta testing to add content to the platform. They don't pay to participate
nor are they paid for their content, Kaufer said; instead, they benefit from
That's what attracted the Travel Channel to the platform,
said Vikki Neil, executive vice president and general manager of Discovery's
Lifestyle Studios, which includes the Travel Channel's digital content
operations. She called TripAdvisor's online following "massive."
"For us, it is a great way to experiment with a new
platform and continue to get our content out there to unique and relevant
audiences," Neil said. "We are no stranger to trying out emerging
spaces like this, and we are eager to see how it helps enhance Travel Channel's
brand awareness among TripAdvisor's audience."
Dan Wasiolek, senior equity analyst at Morningstar, said
TripAdvisor's move to introduce a social feed is part of a string of recent
initiatives to monetize its content, something the company has struggled with
Wasiolek specifically pointed to recent user experience
improvements and a multiyear TV ad campaign announced last summer aimed at
educating consumers that TripAdvisor is a booking site not just limited to
reviews and ratings.
Harteveldt said time will tell if TripAdvisor's initiative
will pan out.
"I'm not sure how long it will take to determine
whether this is a success," he said, "whether we'll be able to tell
in six months or less or a year or less, or whether it's going to be what they
call a slow burn and potentially take a couple of years to hit its stride."
Time will also tell if TripAdvisor will be the only site to feature its own social media component.
Wasiolek said he believes it's likely that, at some point,
Booking Holdings and Expedia Group will introduce similar platforms.
"Really, what these companies are trying to produce is
a one-stop shop for travelers to research and book everything that they
possibly would want, and anything that can enhance that goal I think is likely
to be pursued," he said.
Harteveldt, too, said that is a possibility in the future,
but he questioned if the money required to create such a platform would lead to
a great enough return on investment.
And, if TripAdvisor's fellow online giants were to introduce
their own social media platforms, Harteveldt said, "I'm not sure if there
is room for more than one to survive and be prosperous long term."
TripAdvisor has a long road ahead of it after introducing
what is essentially "version 1.0" of its social platform, Harteveldt
said. Winning consumers will be "very hard," and "there are no
guarantees here," especially considering that the influencers and brands
that will be contributing content typically have large presences on other
social media sites.
But he did see room for agents to use the site to their
advantage when it is officially launched later this year.
"For some travel agents, it may be a better environment
in which they can share their own expertise with the traveling public,"
Harteveldt said. "You never know, maybe some travel agents will be lucky
enough to win some new clients as a result. I see lots of potential and