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Show Business on the Web

With all this talk about invented media, what about the "new media?" Can the Internet be used to create an engaging experience for customers? Certainly the early attempts by companies were mostly failures: graphics-loaded sites that crashed dial-up users' computers and had little to say about the brand. As the dust settled after the Internet crash, most of the corporate sites that were still "sticky" (bringing customers back repeatedly) were ones that focused on valuable information and easy portals without a lot of frills—think of eBay, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or the best travel sites.

To find sites that really generate enthusiasm, interactivity, and community among consumers, it's best to look at sites that consumers have built themselves. Popular sites like televisionwithoutpity.com or the vastly popular slashdot.org have leaders who have organized the forum, but it is a large community of visitors who drive their content and direction. These are the kind of sites where you can find people connecting to each other more deeply via the Web.

One company we've seen tap into this kind of close-knit online community to add show business to their brand is the Swiss mobile phone company Orange. Orange discovered an existing graphic chat community that had been online for a long time, called Habbo Hotel. With a huge teen following, Habbo had grown from a web designer's pet project to a real online community by the time Orange offered to adopt it and sponsor the show.

The graphic design of the Habbo Hotel allows you to use an animated character to represent you as you move from room to room chatting with others from around the world, your instant-messaged words appearing as dialogue balloons as in a comic strip. Visitors dance or walk their way among the lobby, the Orange Cinema, and the game hall; walk up to other characters to meet and interact; or check into private hotel rooms to hang out with the friends they've already made. Visitors use the Hotel as an online messenger, email system, or chat room—which makes it a perfect compliment for Orange's brand and communication services. The Hotel is now linked from Orange's web site, and Orange customers can use SMS (mobile phone text messages) or Orange PrePay to buy their Habbo Credits—points used to decorate their hotel rooms and enjoy other perks. Orange not only gets to sell the site's premium services, but by tapping into an existing online community, it has extended its brand to a large and tech-savvy group of young mobile communicators. Just the kind of customers a mobile phone company's show should reach.

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