Sabre holdings: the great community race

On March 29 I attended Sabre’s presentation at Blogwell in NYC.

a presentation by Susan Via, Manager Community Marketing and Engagement & Lorie Robinson, Product Marketing, Sabre holdings

Sabre is a major player in the airline reservation industry. Passenger reservations, cruise schedules etc. Some years ago, Sabre went on to embark on a community programme. There is a Sabre community portal, password-protected and a hub, which is Sabre’s Facebook-like business networking portal. The hub is a tool that Sabre’s customers had asked for. The objective was to increase employee engagement to improve customer experience. Yet, some of the engagement they got from employees was not always up to scratch.

This is why Sabre took a step back and launched the Great Community Race! The races stretched over a period of 3 months.  A minimum of 3 tasks were assigned to each team. Bonus points were granted and at the end a judge awarded prizes. The aim was to get over the “I don’t have time to do that” syndrome.

The result was pleasantly surprising. Some teams had given themselves  names, and the sense of competition and camaraderie was high. 4 awards were granted: 1) highest cumulative score 2) product suite with highest score 3) team with high score (not highest) but consistent approach 4) teams new to community

The result is seen by the team as an overall success:

  • 23 teams fully engaged
  • above 3,000 portal content items published and created
  • average blog posts/ month up 573%
  • portal accounts increased by 7%
  • hub accounts increased 9%

Lessons learned

  • having fun is useful in that process
  • so is Executive involvement
  • assigned tasks was appreciated
  • Sabre thinks they should have done this even earlier
  • it’s not a one-for-one return (“because we engage more doesn’t mean customers will”)

some of the next steps include:

  • community certification programme
  • strengthening of community interaction to increase sales’ understanding and participation
  • develop detailed external social media plan in order to decide how to best use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other tools.
  • the race ended recently, and the Sabre team wishes to move forward with was is going to be next.

Joe Bloggs still puzzled over blogs

The question stunned me I must admit. While walking down the aisle of the yearly event of the Confederation of French Industry Medef – equivalent to CBI – I was getting ready for a session of live blogging in front of a panel of ex ministers, worldwide banking experts, and other celebrities such as former Poland’s premier Lech Walensa when a seated person stopped me by putting her hand on my arm. “Tell me”, she said while eyeing my “blogger” badge which signalled that I was one of the 50+ Internet experts invited by the confederation in order to cover the event, “what is a blogger?”

I must admit that I must have looked pretty flabbergasted. As the media is awash with blog reports and web reviews, and even mainstream Hollywood films like the recent State of Play feature blogs as a main contender in the online/offline press battle, I had surmised that blogging was an established fact of modern life. Let’s face the fact readers, it is not! Joe public still doesn’t know what it is about, or not quite.

Blogging is still exotic to many, and not just across the Channel. Judging by the frequent questions I have on the same lines in England and even in the United States, I can assure you that we are not there yet. So how long will it take for everyone to understand? Judging by what happened with core Internet activities, one started talking about the information superhighway as it was then known in England as early as 1994 but things only took off seriously towards the end of the 1990’s.

Will blogging follow the same trajectory? Maybe it just won’t happen like that. It is highly probable that people will all use blogs/microblogs (such as the outstanding Posterous service) and other Social Media gadgets even before they understand the weird names we have given them. To a large extent, this is what this Social Media revolution is all about, i.e. forgetting about the buzz-words and just going ahead with it.

Yes Madam, you are right, not everybody knows what bloggers are, yet they are truly here to stay anyway.

Internet Information glut: a case of pearls before swine

miraculous fishing

 Poor is the substance, alas! and yet I’ve read all the books(1) was Stephane Mallarme’s introduction to “Brise Marine” a cryptic yet exalted poem in which the author was venting his Baudelairian ‘spleen’ (i.e. in its archaic sense something like the modern ‘blues’ or existential malaise – Merriam & Websters meaning 3), and the urge to flee towards new horizons as if a refreshing breeze from the sea (hence the title) was enticing him to leave his home, everything mundane and above all his new-born child who kept him awake at night and prevented him from creating. Such was the thought that came to my mind when I came across Michael Kinsley’s article in Time magazine entitled ‘too much information’.

Some of Kinsley’s comments were laying the stress on a real issue which we have all – more or less – felt and witnessed. At a recent seminar I was facilitating at Insead on the subject of Marketing in the digital age, and in which I was advocating the use of Corporate blogging, one of the members of the Executive mba made that comment that there was already too much stuff out there, and that the collaborative web was responsible for “letting stupid people write about anything”. Kinsley’s approach is on that same wave-length: “the opportunity for us all to express an opinion is wonderful, having to read them all isn’t”.   

I have indeed thought a lot about that and it is true that freedom of expression is a licence for idiots to express themselves. And god knows there are many. Yet, this is also the very definition of freedom, i.e. the feeling of being “free of restraints” (American Heritage – meaning 1) but also the “exemption from the arbitrary exercise of authority” (ibid – meaning 2), be it that of a famous journalist. Freedom! Sweet freedom! Freedom to write what is right and be praised, but also freedom to write what’s false and be publically contradicted.  

“how many blogs does the world need” Kinsley adds at the end of his inflamed essay on page 56 of the celebrated American weekly (of which I am admittedly a long-term subscriber). That very sentence is resonating very badly I should say. How many people does the world need? How many graduates do we need beyond this or that school? how many countries do we need beyond the G8 members?

Countless blogs, I would respond. Countless countries, people, colours of skin, languages and ideas etc. Let them flourish. Let them flourish Mr Kinsley, for goodness sake, and if any and even many of them aren’t to your or anyone else’s liking, let the plain truth be told: it doesn’t matter as long as these ideas have been expressed freely in whatever language has been made accessible. Should there be a sense of urgency, then let’s gather as many Internet voices as we can to comment, and contradict these bloggers and prove them wrong. Should even 90% of that content be considered as drivel, I still don’t believe that you can find at least one page worth reading. And even that one page is worth fighting for.

I agree with Michael Kinsley though, when he criticises “aggregation”, which “has become the hall of mirrors”. But there are a lot of clever people out there too. Just because 99% of TV programmes is made of junk, doesn’t mean you should miss the 1% that is going to make you smarter. That rule also applies to the blogosphere.

Michael Kinsley, like Mallarmé is hitting the wrong nail. There isn’t a surfeit of Internet junk out there, there is a lot of material in which wheat has to be separated from the chaff. And this is not different from the rest of cultural sources.

But no worries, time (no pun intended), and history will sort this out for us, just as it wiped out most of the books that Mallarmé had read at the end of the 19th century and which he deemed so bad in the introduction of his poem.

Even though I agree with many if not all of Michael Kinsley’s points, one must resist that temptation to define what is right and wrong, even before one has debated the issue, for fear of making sweeping statements and missing a few gems. Freedom of expression can produce interesting results too, although there is no sure bet. At the end of the day, chance plays a major part in creation. That freedom which we have been granted, courtesy of Mr Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf and friends, is so sweet that it shouldn’t be looked at as pearls being cast before swine (2).

Ironically enough, Kinsley’s article is posted online at and a digg link has been inserted (the article does not look that popular by the way) , therefore contributing to yet more Internet chaos. Maybe that suffices to prove my point.


(1) several translations of Mallarmé’s Sea Breeze (1865) are kindly made available at but as Jack Foley points out, none of the translations – and even possibly his own – are satisfactory. I tried my luck with a less literal choice. If a clear example of how beneficial the web can be as to giving free rein to cultural debates and creation, Foley’s columns can certainly be bookmarked. Hats off to the poet!

(2) “give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” – KJV, Matthew 7:6. Which also reminds me of the subtitle of God Bless You Mr Rosewater by my favourite author, the late and much regretted Kurt Vonnegut.