Hilton's Editorial Strategy for Better Engagement


Rochelle Raven

Bringing the external in: a newsroom approach to internal communications

Hear from Hilton on how its editorial strategy sparked employee engagement.

Video Transcript

– So my name’s Rochelle Raven and I lead global internal communications at Hilton. And my role and my privilege is to engage and inspire our nearly half a million team members across the world. So we’re a hundred plus year old company. We’ve got around 7,000 hotels across 123 countries, 19 brands, 400,000 plus team members across the world. And in terms of our operating model, 65% of our business is franchised, meaning that our hotels are run by third party management companies. They employ and pay their teams. And then 35% of the team are Hilton employees. So we manage the day-to-day operations and they’re our staff. So this is how we sum up communications at Hilton. So we are the storytellers for the people, places and experience that enable one of the most important drivers of human connection around the world. Travel. We have a team of around a hundred plus communicators worldwide based out of London, Singapore, Dubai and our headquarters in Washington. And the role of team member communications which is the team that I have the privilege to lead is really to ensure our team members have the tools, motivation and inspiration they need to deliver exceptional stays for our guests, every stay, every hotel, every time. That’s why we exist. To give you an idea of how we bring that to life, our ecosystem of channels, we’ve really got two focus areas. If we start firstly on my right, which is inform so we have something called the NOW Newsletter which is our home for our most critical operational focus communications. So that goes to our hotel leaders on a Monday morning and it has everything they need to know to do their job for that week. It’s self-published by corporate team members to hotels and we are able to target by region, by hotel, by job title. So it’s really everything our hotel leaders need to be successful on a Monday morning. And then the fun bit, which is the other side. And that’s all about inspiring and that’s really where Firstup comes into the picture. So we’ve worked with Firstup, I think nearly nine or 10 years, but it really came into fruition in 2020. And it’s become our main tool for celebrating and inspiring our internal culture. So we have 19 brand communities, obviously representing each of our brands. And we have an enterprise channel too. And our team members can hear about enterprise news, they can hear about leadership updates, they can share best practices and then they can follow their own brand communities to experience tailored communications for that brand. One thing I’m most proud of is we also use Firstup to power our internet which is in the middle. This was a very sad looking place about 12 months ago. And so we’ve done a lot of work at the end of last year to relaunch this as a kind of one stop shop for everything for our team members. And that is powered by Firstup. So we’re really excited about that. So when I first came on board, I had a lot of things which I’m sure will be familiar with a lot of people in this room. We are sending out too much communication to our hotel team members. We’ve got too much going to hotels at the same time, people were saying, “Do you know what? I haven’t got signups for this event or for that initiative, we need to send out more communications. Can you send out a reminder? Can you resend that please?” I also heard a lot of things about our channels aren’t effective we need to scrap these channels and we need to bring something else in. And so I decided to do a bit of an audit and this is what I found. So just on now, in Firstup alone, we were sending out 1,664 pieces of content a year.

– [Audience Member] Wow

– That’s 32 pieces a week for the mathematicians in the room. That’s nearly one every hour, one every hour. And that didn’t include emails, that didn’t include WebEx, that didn’t include Teams, that didn’t include people’s day jobs. So in the reality it’s likely to be triple, quadruple that. And the reality is if everything is a priority, then absolutely nothing is. Not only is that level of communication challenging for our team members to get ahead of operationally, but from a culture and purpose perspective it was driving down engagement and resulting in some of our most critical communications being lost. So why did I call this session bringing the outside in a newsroom approach to internal communications? Well, my background is external PR. I’m a newbie to the world of internal communications about 18 months ago. And the first thing I did after I did my audit was put into place an editorial strategy across the team. And this is how we began to solve the problem or we’re starting to solve the problem. And now this is really how we run internal communications at Hilton. So first of all, less is more. So really focusing on fewer, bigger, more impactful pieces of communication. Number two, being data driven and nimble. So for the first time we had lots of free opinions, lots of free advice, but we were able to use data and analytics to really shift that conversation. You can’t argue with numbers. And so even the numbers that I showed you before were a real wow moment for our senior leadership team. And it really started to help to build that and change perception. And then finally, which I’ve seen on quite a number of people and Nicole talks about it this morning, this idea of this team member first mentality and this employee first mentality. We moved from a conversation which went along the lines of, “We need to get this out now,” to a conversation about being team member centric. Really diving in like a journalist would. Why would a team member care? Why now? What’s the hook to get them interested? We took time to dig in with the teams, really helped get to the bottom of what they were trying to communicate and why it was important. And then help them come up with a strategy to drive engagement and really underline their communication. So I’ll give you a couple of examples that always come to mind for me when I think about this when we first rolled this out. So the food and beverage team, who are a fantastic partner of ours, they spent a lot of money developing a beautiful new internal website. They said to us, “We need to sell this out. We need to tell people about it.” I said, “Okay.” So after lots of discussions, rather than say, “Here’s the website,” we found out it’s actually International Chef’s Day which was happening later that month. And so one of the things that drives the most engagement from our content is team member storytelling. So we profiled a fantastic up and coming chef from the Middle East. We did a profile on him and then we included a link at the bottom of the article that said, “I wanna find out more about the great food and beverage resources at Hilton.” Click here and visit the site. Not only did it stop us communicating twice, it drove up engagement and really came from a team member first perspective. The second one is user generated content. So again, this is something that we know really generates the most engagement, team members love sharing best practices, hearing from each other. And so we put out a request and we are really privileged at Hilton that our team members love to share and engage. And so it was International Dance Day, it was obviously you were all big fans of, I didn’t know it existed until we did it, but International Dance Day. And we put out a simple request on Firstup and said, “Come on, team Hilton, show us your moves.” And what we got back was astonishing. People had produced full movie length dance shows from across the world. It was incredible. So much so that we packaged up the content and we had Team Member Appreciation Week which is our signature recognition program at Hilton. And we did it to celebrate our team members and our culture. So I’ve talked you through our guiding principles but I thought I’d take some time to really talk you through the journey and talk you through what we’ve learned through going through this. And I’m not gonna claim it’s revolutionary. I’m sure a lot of this stuff happens already but there have been four or five things for us at Hilton that have really moved the needle to help bring this strategy to life. So the first one was we appointed an editor-in-chief for the first time across internal communications. And my wonderful Melinda has for the first time oversight and synergy across brands, across functions. Our team, we have communicators who support across all areas of the business. They still are the subject matter experts. They still create the content, but we have somebody who’s really having that holistic oversight and it’s been really fantastic, enabling us to really focus on the editorial strategy and reduce the quantity. Secondly, we ran weekly and quarterly editorial meetings. So we work like a newsroom. People come in, they pitch ideas, we debate, we share creative, we get quite heated sometimes. And then once a quarter we delve a bit deeper. So we probably have about three hours together and we plot out key editorial moments over the next few months. And we look at the data and the learnings, what’s worked well, what do we need to tweak, how do we need to engage going forward? And we also look at best practices. So one of the things we did was the 10 Content Commandments and just reinforcing time and time again what makes good content on certain channels. We rolled out Airtable, which is a planning tool for us. And this is really the holy grail of communications. Anything, not just internal communications but all communications across Hilton all gets entered into Airtable and it enables us to have a real bird’s eye view of what’s going out. It enables us to look at where there’s conflicts. where there’s opportunities for alignment. It’s been a really powerful tool for us. On the left hand side, now data is a gift, but it’s also a challenge. We suddenly had access to Firstup to all this amazing data and insights, same with our Now platform. But what happened was now everybody wanted data and my team was spending so much of their time pulling data for small campaigns or bits of content. Not only is that challenging in terms of time but it also doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t give a holistic picture and it enables people to draw their own conclusions which were often not based in any real fact. So we shifted to a quarterly metrics report. We used a tool called Released which I used in my former life in external PR. And we created this interactive metrics report. It’s broken down by brand and enterprise wide and we can see what’s worked, what are the areas and opportunities going forward and how do we continue to drive up engagement. And then finally we used the data and insights to really stay nimble with our content. And we were challenging ourselves with this team member mindset to really look at new ways of doing stuff. One thing that I’m really excited about rolling out is we’re trying to rethink how we do CEO communications. If any of you have ever seen our CEO, Chris Nassetta, he is the most engaging, inspiring leader but we often did hour long town halls. They were live, you think across all the countries that we were, it was hugely complicated and oftentimes quite long winded. So we are trying a new approach. We’ve created a Hilton TV show, 20 minute bit of content, everything you need to know in 20 minutes. Really different engaging pieces of content. And that’s gonna live on Firstup as a prerecorded asset that people can go back to at a time that works best for them. So we’re excited to see how that rolls out. And it’s working so far. So we’ve reduced content by 80% in a year which I think is pretty bonkers. And we are continuing to drive up engagement. So I think the latest quarterly report which goes up this week, engagement’s around 16%. And the target engagement, I think is around 10% for our industry for Firstup and annually it was around 12%. So we’re continuing to see growth of engagement. The thing that I’m most proud of is the UGC. So user generated content, 73% of our content is now coming from team members. They’re really using that as a place to engage, inspire, share ideas, share their lunch. We get a lot of people sharing what they’ve had for lunch. So it’s a really interesting eclectic mix of things. And it’s also a great a pool of stories for us. We often mine it and then take the stories that we’ve seen in our communities and build them up to be enterprise wide stories on the lobby homepage that you saw our internet. And then as a result, obviously registration is continuing to increase. I think we’re probably now around 180,000 users. We’ve still got some way to, but it’s trending in the right direction. But we’ve still got quite a lot of work to go and I’ve really, really enjoyed a lot of the conversations I’ve had this morning and last night. And I’m really excited to carry on those conversations and look at how I can learn from you and you can learn from us in terms of how we’re solving some of the challenges across different organizations. But for us at the moment, until I speak to many of you, our four focus areas are for the year ahead enterprise governance. So we’ve reduced, as I said, Firstup and Now content by 80%. The biggie is email and that’s something that we really need to solve this year. So that’s a big challenge and a big opportunity. Personalization, which I know a lot of us have spoken about too. We rolled out the internet, it’s great, the lobby homepage but I would love to see a world where it would log in and it would say, “Hi John, you work at the Hampton in Birmingham, you’ve been here for however many years and it’s your birthday on Thursday. Here’s all the great content and happy birthday.” And so it really tailors to your ownership type, your brand, who you are, your interests. So that’s, we’re gonna be working with our IT team to look at the options for personalization moving forward. Increasing and improving user generated content. So we see a direct correlation between our brand heads, who lead our brands and going into the platform, engaging in people’s content, liking, commenting, and the amount of engagement that our team members have to follow. And the metric support’s been great because they’re a competitive bunch and they’ve been able to see, they’ve almost been able to see against each other which brands are doing well, which brands are less engaged. And it’s given them a bit of an oomph to get on the platform and get engaged. And then as I said to you, I’m always looking for new content ideas, using the data and the insights to really challenge ourselves to think differently and do different things. So that is Hilton in a nutshell. Thank you so much for joining me and I look forward to speaking to many of you.

– [Presenter] All right, I think we have time for one or two questions. So does anyone want to start? Yes, down the front.

– Be kind please.

– [Questioner 1] I, first of all, I wanna say that I love that your internet, I think is called The Lobby.

– Yeah.

– [Questioner 1] Clever, points for that.

– I can’t take credit for that one.

– [Questioner 1] That’s okay. It’s still clever. Do you, I’m curious how you handle having such a global organization and putting out communication that is culturally aware, especially in the hospitality world.

– Yeah, that’s a great question. So we have governance around the Lobby homepage. So to be on the Lobby homepage, you have to be globally relevant, you have to be relevant to all brands, you’ve got to be enterprise wide. We tend not to focus on individual brand stories unless they have huge enterprise significance like a new brand. When we launched Spark by Hilton that was all over our homepage. But then we also have, which I probably should have mentioned, regional channels too. So within the brands, you then have a regional channel for Europe, Middle East and Africa. You have a regional channel for Asia Pacific and you have a regional channel for the Americas. So we can tailor and target appropriate content to those regions. But for the internet intranet that has to be, there’s a criteria around what we can and can’t put on there.

– [Questioner 2] Hi there.

– Hello.

– [Questioner 2] Great presentation. Thank you. I’m really interested in, you said you’ve reduced the amount of content by 80%, so, and you’ve got so many brands to kind of cater for.

– Yep.

– [Questioner 2] How have you said no, and how have you kind of divvied up places amongst those brands? Because you know, we’re doing this the same thing as well but obviously we’re getting a lot of pushback from different parts of our business who have their own stories to tell. So really interested to understand how have you divided up in terms of airtime and sort of promotional time for those different brands?

– Yeah, we’ve not solved it yet and it’s still an ongoing discussion. But the first thing I did was publish the content that we publish ourselves and the team were just very busy doing a lot of stuff and it just wasn’t driving engagement. So the first place I looked, the low hanging fruit was the stuff that we are proactively pushing out, we need to stop because, you know, they were sending things like, tell us your favorite breakfast item or, you know, just they were trying to drive up engagement. And actually more wasn’t more. But I think it was in the phase of it was a layover from when we first launched the platforms we were trying to drive up engagement and I think they just got into the habit of always doing it. So that was the first bit. And then working with the brand leaders to show them the data, show them that it’s not having the impact that they need and then come with, but we recommend this way. So for example, for our brand leaders, rather than publish every day a different bit of news about a brand, we’ve done a monthly brand leader message and now they’ve got a brand leader corner that they can talk about all the different things that have happened for that brand. So it’s almost, no, but, here’s a better way that you can do it. And that started to shift the conversation. I think email is gonna be a different beast.

– [Presenter] Amazing. I think, do we, one more question.

– [Host] All right.

– [Questioner 3] Do I shout or do I?

– [Host] No, no, we need a mic.

– [Questioner 3] Hi. Your UGC numbers are amazing. My question on it is, is have you seen any issues or do you imagine any issues with that drowning out? Like if it is pictures of people’s lunch, does that become boring and how do you manage that drowning everything else out that you might wanna get?

– Yeah, so we’ve only really had one or two brands that that’s been the case for, and we’ve had to moderate the communities a bit more to exactly that point. So when you’re logging on, you aren’t just seeing 20 photos of people, we had a stage where people were posting, I dunno if it was educational, they didn’t realize they were doing it, but it was like multiple pictures of the same person’s lunch. So she really, really liked her Bento box but we’ve had to moderate some communities more than others. But it’s also about the featured content that we put up top. We manage that. So when you log in, we almost have the featured content upfront and then you have kind of user generated stuff. So we curate that top bit. So it’s always the most appropriate and then moderate and educate as we go.

– All right. Thank you Rochelle.

– Thank you so much.

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