Making a ConneXion Count

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2008-10-30 Print this article Print

American Express Business Travel has built an industrywide community where anyone in the travel industry can exchange information and interact with others in the value chain.

Making a ConneXion Count

It’s no secret that social networking has flashed onto corporate radar—and computer screens—in recent months. As the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites has mushroomed in the consumer space, business executives have recognized that the power of people can propel their products and services to new heights.

That message rings true for American Express Business Travel. In October 2007, Tillman and other executives began to ponder ways they could better connect to their network of travel agents, travel managers, hoteliers and others. Virtually all of them already had Facebook and LinkedIn accounts—a fact that convinced the executives that social networking had arrived.

“We wanted to create something more valuable than another static Web site,” Tillman explains. “We set out to assemble a robust community where anyone in the travel industry could exchange information and interact with anyone else in the value chain. The idea was to move beyond American Express and build an industrywide network.”

Of course, building a premier site for an entire industry is extraordinarily challenging. So Tillman worked with Charles Petrucelli, the president of American Express’ Global Services Division, and Lisa Durocher, global marketing director, to develop an initial strategy and business plan. Along the way, they had to define a content framework and build relationships and connections with others in the industry, including bloggers and content creators.

“It was an enormous job to handle the core planning tasks,” Tillman recalls. “It took the team more than 10 months to sort everything out.”

Early on, American Express decided to forgo a company-centric approach. As a result, it had to recruit subject-matter experts from all avenues of the travel industry, and take a neutral position about the content and posts on the site. Currently, about 60 percent of the material is user-generated, and about 40 percent originates from American Express and its publishing division.

It’s essential for American Express to find topics with universal appeal. For example, a featured topic of the week examines a general issue or trend affecting the industry, such as the impact the current economic slowdown is having on the way companies allocate money for travel.

Achieving widespread acceptance required devoting a good deal of time and attention to designing a premier site that would be readily accessible and usable. So American Express turned to development firm LiveWorld to construct the technology foundation.

LiveWorld developed the site using Java, Ajax and C++ code, along with a MySQL database. Built-in APIs from LiveWorld’s platform allow American Express to integrate content modules from the Business ConneXion site into other Web sites inside and outside the company. LiveWorld hosts the site on shared Unix-based Sun Solaris and Apple servers.

Peter Friedman, CEO of LiveWorld, says that social networking sites like Business ConneXion bring back the type of social relationships that were in place for hundreds of years, but were previously centered on public marketplaces and general stores. Today’s social networks rely on technology to accomplish this task on a global scale. “The reality is that people are living in an environment that’s increasingly tied into online relationships,” he explains.

Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.

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