L-Soft Interviews Kristi Hughes, Director of Communications at WorldWIT.
Q: How and when did WorldWIT get started?
A: A Chicago-based executive, Liz Ryan left data communications manufacturer U.S. Robotics (now 3Com) after a long and successful tenure during the company's enormous growth in the '90s. Ryan's next step was to found ChicWIT, a Chicago-based networking organization and email discussion group that offered a forum where women could share information and advice and get recommendations that would help them reach their career and personal goals.
Other chapters quickly followed and soon the cluster of communities, joined together under the name of WorldWIT, had expanded to Canada, Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia. Today, there are over 70 chapters worldwide, providing networking, mentoring and support to nearly 40,000 members in 25 countries around the planet. In fact, WorldWIT was hailed Woman's Business Association of the Year at The 2004 Stevie Awards for Women Entrepreneurs.
Q: The backbone of WorldWIT is certainly its email discussion groups, which boast more than 35,000 subscribers in 25 countries. Which of the lists has the most members and which one has the most daily traffic?
A: Our original chapter, ChicWIT, is currently the largest list, boasting 8,000 members. Thus, ChicWIT has twice the traffic of some lists, three times more than others.
Q: How did you get started at WorldWIT? How has the community benefited you personally?
A: Three years ago this April, I began a new job at a Public Relations firm in Philadelphia, PA, as an account manager. WorldWIT quickly became one of my favorite clients. The WorldWIT story was easy to 'sell' because it had so much to offer professional women around the world in a very unique way. With the success of my WorldWIT media relations efforts came a strong relationship with the company's founder, Liz Ryan. After about a year and a half, we both agreed that we'd both be better off if we worked more closely and that I come on board full time with WorldWIT.
Although I am several thousand miles away, working out of my home office in Philadelphia, I seamlessly stepped in to the full-time position of Director of Communications for WorldWIT because of the previously established virtual team that was already in place.
It is my job to work with national and international media to secure high-impact coverage for the unique global WorldWIT community in print, online, and on TV and radio. Past placements include Time, Fortune, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CNBC, CNN, CNNfn, Comcast and NBC. In addition, I am responsible for establishing partnerships, securing speaking opportunities for our founder, producing our weekly Radio show, developing content for website and more.
Q: What else does WorldWIT offer besides email discussion groups?
A: WorldWIT offers a great deal of content and resources to both the individual businesswoman and corporations. WorldWIT holds seminars and events in major metropolitan cities around the world that offer female professionals the opportunity to meet face-to-face with industry leaders. In fact, this May, WorldWIT will bring its worldwide membership together at our second annual three-day conference, Camp WorldWIT: Women in the Lead.
Our newly designed Website includes a customized page for each of its chapters, an events section for members to learn about upcoming events in their cities as well as advertising vehicles for the organization's growing number of sponsors. The site also includes additional content and services from WorldWIT's resident experts, subscribers, partners and sponsors.
In the last year, WorldWIT has also launched WorldWIT Radio, a weekly Internet radio show featuring industry top brass as well as Thinking Aloud, a weekly HTML newsletter designed to provide in-depth information and articles on trends and current events taking place around the world that have an impact on professional women.
Finally, WorldWIT offers a private online community to corporations. The Bridge product provides a powerful communications tool and vehicle for sharing advice, contacts and materials internally across departments and geographies. This powerful community-in-a-box enables webinars, live chats and teleseminars and creates a seamless avenue for conducting surveys, creating white papers and building and distributing content within a corporation.
Q: It's amazing to find so many free resources for working women on a website that displays no advertising. Where does your revenue come from?
A: Indeed. Throughout our evolution, WorldWIT has never charged membership dues and has no plans to change that policy, as corporate sponsors support the free membership. WorldWIT has been able to create a vibrant, real-time, effective networking forum and proprietary sought-after content with no dues and no outside funding, an unheard-of proposition! Today, WorldWIT is the world's largest moderated discussion community of any kind, as well as the largest online networking group for women in business, with free chapters in 25 countries.
Q: Can you tell us about Camp WorldWIT, which is coming up in May? Any other events of interest?
A: Camp WorldWIT was conceived in 2003 as our answer to the question: How can we take the great knowledge-sharing and networking that take place in the best business conferences and transplant them to a friendly, non-stuffy, physically and emotionally enriching setting? Camp WorldWIT 2004 took place at the Appel Farm Arts & Music Center in Salem County, New Jersey, outside of Philadelphia. We gathered for two and a half days of world-class keynote presentations, outstanding topical panels and incredible networking and learning – including sunrise yoga, painting, Crabtree &a,p; Evelyn spa night, the Intel Wireless Networking pavilion (complete with cushy lawn furniture, wireless laptops and lunch al fresco) and belly dancing classes!
Camp WorldWIT 2005: Women in the Lead takes place in May, 2005, at the beautiful Conference Point facility, a lovely Victorian retreat facility on the shores of Lake Geneva, 1.25 hours from Chicago and half an hour from Milwaukee. Sleeping in one- or two-person rooms in cottages nestled in the huge trees and surrounded on three sides by lake views, we'll share meals in the community Dining Hall, and gather in meeting spaces throughout the grounds to hear speakers, network, relax, and stretch our minds and bodies. Registration is now underway at www.worldwit.org/Camp.aspx. Throughout the year, most WorldWIT chapters around the world host quarterly events. To find out more about local chapters and events please visit: www.worldwit.org/Chapters/.
Q: Why do your lists automatically subscribe in digest mode as opposed to the receiver's getting individual messages as they are sent?
A: Bill Phillips, WorldWIT's Technology Director says, "When WorldWIT first began, and before we started using L-Soft, messages were sent out individually. Over time we learned most of our members preferred receiving digests and many of them didn't want or care to manage their settings themselves. Our moderator received tons of customer service requests to change individual settings from regular mail to digest. So, when we designed the list configurations in L-Soft we made the switch from default regular mail to default digest. This change has cut down on customer service queries tremendously. Our digests are set to cut at either 350 or 450 lines depending upon the list's traffic. We cut a digest based on lines of text rather than once per day for two main reasons: (1) so we don't overwhelm our members with too much to read in one message and (2) sponsorship purposes."
Q: Have you had any problems with viruses on your lists? Do you know how many viruses have been stopped by the F-Secure anti-virus feature that L-Soft provides?
A: Bill Phillips, WorldWIT's Technology Director continues, "We haven't had problems distributing viruses to our subscribers, but we block and destroy an incredible amount coming in every day. We currently have an unconventional set-up using a combo Unix and Windows environment to utilize LSMTP and on top of F-Secure we have an additional AVS. However, before installing the additional AVS in October 2004 F-Secure did a great job. In September and August 2004 (when the viruses really peaked), F-Secure stopped over 10 million virus-infected messages from being delivered. Many of these messages were directed to our subscribe-listname addresses."
Q: Liz Ryan, your founder and CEO, seems like an amazing individual. What is it like to work with her?
A: Indeed, Liz Ryan is amazing! I am very fortunate to work for a woman who knows how to lead and listen.
Since founding WorldWIT, Liz has been featured in TIME magazine, Fortune magazine, The New York Times and on CNN, CNBC and CN8. Her sharp, edgy, humorous and very current observations on the new-millennium workplace, the role of corporate leaders, entrepreneurism and women in business have been highlighted by USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, Entrepreneur, Essence and Pregnancy magazines.
In addition, Liz writes a weekly workplace column for BusinessWeek Online and is the resident on-air career expert for her local 9 News-Denver, Colorado's NBC affiliate. She has had articles published in The Wall Street Journal's Career Journal, HR Innovator, Computer World, Business Watch, Minorities and Woman In Business and on About.com, and contributes regularly to Balance magazine. For her role in helping professional women reach their career goals, Liz was honored by Enterprising Women magazine with a 2005 Enterprising Women Advocacy Award.
Q: Reportedly there are some men that participate on the WorldWIT lists. Why do you think they are there?
A: Interestingly enough, our membership does include about 5% men. I think the men on our list are smart and insightful. They are keen on the fact that our local chapters offer an intimate glimpse into the world of area decision makers. My brother is a member, for instance, and he's in sales. He enjoys being a WorldWIT member because there isn't a group like it for men. He likes to have the opportunity to connect with influencers, locally and globally, and knows that WorldWIT is the place to do that.
Q: List members have sought advice on such topics as jobs, homes, and childcare – what are the more unusual requests that you have noticed?
A: Yes, we've had members request such things as advice on childcare, marketing, financial planning, selling a home and more. However, some of the more unique posts on the lists have been for such things as translators for new clients overseas, advice on receding gums, bachlorette party ideas, Japanese wedding traditions, legal and supportive advice on custody issues. There has not been anything off the wall to my knowledge, but that is why we have moderators – to keep all questions and answers up to par.
Q: What are the future goals of WorldWIT?
A: WorldWIT plans to welcome over 100,000 members in 2005, to publish a book, to reach $1 million in revenue and to appear on Oprah! We want to 'know' our members and their needs in order to offer them and our sponsors sought-after proprietary content that informs and inspires. The millions of business women in hundreds of industries around the world are invited to connect with each other and encouraged to meet their personal and professional goals with the help of WorldWIT. And reaching those professionals is a challenge we are up for.
Kristi Hughes is Director of Communications at WorldWIT.