Opportunities Abound in Virtual Communities

Hannah Kahn
Director, Global Brand Management
Hotel Indigo

Today, it’s not unusual to be part of a work team that’s scattered not just across a building, but across the world. That’s why online communities are becoming the optimal way for people to connect and communicate. Yes, it’s a bit intimidating, but there’s also a great deal of value.

The drive for online communities is a natural extension of how people choose to spend their free time. Today’s workers don’t want to read manuals or listen to presentations. They want quick snippets of information that are easily digestible. Time is precious and share of mind is hard to capture. Think of all the information that touches you every day. People spend so much time on Facebook because there’s always something new. We need to make this happen in the workplace, to make people want to visit our websites. We want it to be our new “water cooler.”

On a brand I worked on previously, we developed a virtual world for our employees. As part of the development team, I found many benefits, including ease in training thousands of people at the same time. We conveyed the new training, our new look and feel, and our core proposition for every hotel at the same time – which would have been impossible in person. It was cost-effective, fast, and fun.

The Benefits

In a “virtual world,” communication is peer-to-peer, tends to be nonjudgmental, and inspires honesty. Unlike company intranets with blogs from executives and perhaps a calendar or announcements, a virtual community offers a level playing field where everyone can air opinions and ideas. It’s a great way to get the best of people, providing a sense of equality.

There is tremendous opportunity for grass-roots sharing of best practices. People question processes and better ways to do things. Someone may say, “I know we were trained to do it this way, but here’s a twist that really works well for us.”

People can retrain themselves or even explore training in a field other than their own. It’s a great way for employees to develop themselves, pump up their portfolio, and increase their chances for promotion and possibly a bigger paycheck.

It’s also a good way to compare what’s happening locally with what’s going on in other locations. An idea that works great in New York may work equally well in Hong Kong. Another benefit is that a virtual community may attract new employees and set you up as a hip, forward-thinking company to work for.

Of course, there’s a chance that someone might spread inaccurate information or say something negative. But we’ve found that this self-corrects. If a misstatement is made, someone else usually points it out. If something negative is posted, another person mentions other ways to look at the situation. It is a true conversation of ideas.

Getting Your Virtual Community Started

  • Set clear objectives; without them, it will fail. In the community I helped to build, our goals were communication, training, and best-practice sharing.
  • Find a business partner with the expertise to bring your ideas to life. Think of your target users and what they need and want.
  • Keep it fresh. Constantly provide new content, new options, new ways to get involved. Teaching and encouraging users to generate content is the best approach to make any e-community come to life.
  • Find a way to draw people in. Get them hooked, and then harness the energy to solve other problems, share methods and tips, and forge strong teams within your company.

Hannah is responsible for designing guest experiences for Hotel Indigo, a branded boutique offering of InterContinental Hotels Group.