Build it and they will come

By April Bridgeman, Managing Director

“Build it and he will come” is a famous line from the movie, Field of Dreams. If you’ve seen it, then you know that it motivates Kevin Costner’s character to turn his cornfield into a baseball field to attract the sport’s legends for the ultimate dream game. I am sure it was this month’s All Star Game that got me thinking about the movie and feeling nostalgic about how relevant (an adapted version of) this line and America’s favorite pastime are to our industry.

Build it and they will come.

What’s “it?”

Every baseball team has “it.” “It” is the team’s group of fans. You don’t have to see their team jersey or sit next to them at the ballpark to know they exist. Their voices can be heard on sports talk radio, in op-ed pages, arguing around a bar, in a debate on Twitter or measured in broadcast ratings. What bonds them is their love of the game and intense passion for their team. They watch, listen, talk and attend regardless of how well the team is playing or their distaste for management decisions. It feels like a subculture, but it is community.

This is similar to the type of engaged community every travel manager wants to cultivate for their program. In our industry today, “it” is no longer built just around the hotel product you negotiate or the preferred suppliers in your program. Your travelers are consumers and the products they consume don’t bond them as a community. Just like Nike builds community around running and not the products people buy, your “it,” or community of travelers, is created around the shared experiences they have while using your negotiated rate, preferred hotel or mobile app.

Creating community begins with putting your travelers first and servicing their needs. “It” means providing accessible content your travelers care about and stimulating conversations that improve their business travel experiences. Your travelers really do care about saving the company money. They just need you to push the right information to them when they need it, so they can.

The value of community increases the more this information connects your travelers and allows them to be more productive, more efficient, happier, and less stressed. And when you offer them this help, you encourage travelers to want to make better purchasing decisions on behalf of the company. Without “it,” you have not yet cultivated fans for your program. With “it,” you can give your travel program a tremendous boost in compliance and advocacy.

Make them come to you or go to where they are?

Attention spans are short and people are inundated with content. They don’t want another place to go for information. They want to use the sources and networks they already subscribe to or follow. So it makes sense that a community is found in the places where people already are, and their conversations happen naturally.

In the office, employees can be found hanging out at the water cooler. The water cooler has come to represent a place to chat and connect with peers, but also a place where productive discussions occur. To me, the water cooler is as iconic to company culture and employee bonding as a baseball stadium is to raving fans.

But, as organizations look to involve a dispersed workforce more collectively, how can you replicate the value of the water cooler? How do you create a digital water cooler for employees that are mobile, traveling and located across multiple continents? Go to the places your travelers depend on today and already use to communicate. This will ensure you are part of the discussions they’re already having about your travel program. The knowledge they share with others and the feedback they give you will help you refine and build a program they will want to use. Join them where they already are; don’t create a new place for them to go.

Build it or nurture it?

When a company revamps its travel policy, do travelers or fans rush to the “field” and eagerly use the program, find value from it and encourage others to do so?  Not necessarily. In fact, from Advito’s experience, not so much anymore.

Today, business travelers think more like consumers, are part of a global workforce and depend on ever-changing digital technology. They want to be nurtured and know someone has their back when on the road. And, they want to feel valued and a part of an organization that is successful and stands for something.

It’s human nature to crave a sense of community. This need intensifies the more you travel and the further away your office is from corporate decision making. The explosive growth of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. – for business and personal use – is a testament to this. Social tools offer travelers a way to connect, share, boast, complain and, most importantly, be recognized by fellow travelers. And they also keep you, as the travel manager, in the loop about money-saving tips and experiences from your road warrior community so you can adjust and continually evolve your program.

Today, you must embrace the social community of travelers that exists in your company, shape the discussions they are already having and support the goals of your travel program. And it starts with traveler engagement. Traveler engagement uses the principles of marketing and the power of social media to connect, communicate and influence travelers at critical moments in the trip life cycle.

It is using social platforms to join and influence the conversations your travelers are having. It is inspiring travelers to give feedback, share experiences and discuss solutions to travel issues. And, it is communicating how the travel program is relevant to them and how their actions impact the company. Traveler engagement is the glue that brings remote teams closer, connects traveling employees and guides travelers to form a social connection, not an obligatory attachment, to your travel program.

The rules of the game have changed.

Your travel program is about much more than procuring the best travel deals. It is about engaging travelers wherever they are, influencing them to interact and nurturing the culture behind the social platforms and tools they depend on to communicate.

It’s time to play ball!

So how do you create a social community of engaged travelers in your program? Stay tuned for Lesley O’Bryan’s next Out Front blog post to learn more about our proprietary approach to traveler engagement and how it measurably impacts travel programs.