Sounding Off Before My Send Off

I wear many hats in my role as the not-so-secret “Agent Marketing” for AirPlus International but it’s a mask I’m about to take off. Before I do, however, I’d like express my thoughts on a topic I'm passionate about - social media. As a fanatical advocate for over three years, I’ve been privileged to speak to industry groups around the globe about embracing the Web 2.0 and mobile platforms. I live the quote "life begins at the end of your comfort zone" and moved WAY outside mine to work in our German HQ for a year. I didn't speak the language and I pushed my colleagues outside theirs quite a bit on this very topic.

I learned many things from this experience, namely that this new Web 2.0 world is making people around the globe uncomfortable because of the lack of "control." As an American, who readily trades my privacy for convenience, I’ve found that I relinquish "control" quite easily too (maybe because I understood every 10th German word or that my fiancée speaks four languages I don’t understand). But one change is that I no longer take my Privacy and Security for granted.

What I always try to relay is that when we relinquish our need for "control" within these platforms, we gain the "T" word – Transparency. And this gives us more power than “control” ever could. People will find a way to do what they want, so why not empower them to do it the proper way for your company and gain in the process? It works for suppliers and travel managers alike; just look at Michelle DeCosta from Sapient who is now BTN's Travel Manager of the Year. Or Karoline Mayr from Deltek - another leader in this arena.

It’s perhaps provocative to ask you to suggest a ten minute networking break to your team instead of that smoke/coffee break. Why not empower your staff to network online as a supplement to (not replacement for) their face-to-face business? They are smart savvy people (or you wouldn’t have hired them) so why not empower them to share their knowledge? This will thereby build their (and your company's) sphere of influence, which is of paramount importance since trust is the #1 decision factor for buying decisions in the future.

Some of you may be scared (similar to when the Intranet and email were first introduced) that staff will goof off and chase old flames on Facebook instead of working. But we could argue that the Intranet/email brought efficiencies, innovations and better collaboration and I propose these platforms will as well. Start by building a social media strategy with guidelines that highlight the correct way to share your company’s philosophy (and you'll gain new "fans" because of it)! Whether inside your firewall with collaborative enterprise software like Jive (or Yammer) or outside it with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn for example.

So here comes the more fanatical bit. I propose that when this generation enters the workplace in our HR departments, they will not trust you as a candidate if you DON’T have Spring Break pictures from Cancun on your Facebook page. They’ll ask you what you are hiding. They live in a world of transparency where they share EVERYTHING. They grew up never knowing life without immediate knowledge gratification. (They don’t know Encyclopedia Brittanica, but do know how to Google it.)

They have supercharged mini-computers in their hands; using these smartphones to share everything they do (yet, they won’t answer if you call them but will be happy to text you back). Ignoring this trend won’t make it go away. But being smart about how you embrace it will only empower you to thrive within it.

Statistics don’t lie and with 800 million Facebook users, we should be actively listening and engaging. As suppliers, we have the opportunity now more than ever before to know exactly what our customers think, without the need for a focus group to tell us. As Travel Managers, you have a voice! Suppliers have never been more eager to hear what you have to say. Blogs like this one on allow us to share more than we ever could on our static web pages and when we share knowledge, we all grow.

And before I leave my role, I am inspired to turn to these platforms to seek out an extraordinary replacement. Please watch the two job recruitment videos on YouTube (and forward them on) to help us find the next “Agent Marketing” for AirPlus in the USA – maybe it’s YOU!

"The Replacement"
"Are you Extraordinary"