Leveraging Technology to Create Collaboration Across a Community of Thousands

Gina Valenti
Vice President, Owner Services, Hilton Worldwide
Vice President, Brand Culture and Internal Communications,
Hampton Hotels

Making personal connections is a cornerstone of the hospitality industry. Connecting with guests, team members, colleagues, and hotel owners is part of what we do every day. A few years ago at Hampton, many of our 1,850-plus General Managers were feeling isolated, without avenues to connect with other hotels. As a brand, we collected various best practices, but collaboration across the lines was limited. General Managers wanted the ability to electronically share best practices, ask questions, and learn from the experiences of their peers. Being a franchise organization, however, it was a challenge to connect people who work for hundreds of different employers in hotels spread across 49 states and 10 countries.

Sharecast

Our solution – called Sharecast – was two years in the making, but well worth the effort. It has quickly become an invaluable resource for our General Managers and Team Members, and a great success story for Hampton. Sharecast is an example of the power of leveraging technology and innovation to celebrate the best in people, scale ideas, and enhance performance and engagement. One of our General Managers predicted it early when he said, “I personally think that Sharecast has the potential of being the #1 tool for all hotels. We become the encyclopedia of knowledge between us and our combined skills of 1,850 teams!”

While Sharecast is a fresh and exciting tool for our hotel managers and teams, it’s not the technology alone that makes it truly innovative for our brand; it is the development process and user-centric approach we used in creating the site. We employed an eight-step approach – that we now apply to everything we develop – that centers around the user perspective. Every detail of the site, every feature we included, came directly from our users.

Our first step, and the foundation of this process, is listening. Working with Root, we listened to our owners, operators, and General Managers and talked to them about the need to leverage the great things that were happening in their hotels. We asked them what they would want to share with the rest of the Hampton community and what information they would like that they couldn’t currently access. We also spent time listening to key stakeholders within the brand to get their input and buy-in from the very beginning of the process.

The next two steps in our process, ideating and generating, were done carefully and intentionally around our design philosophy. An innovation in its own right, our design philosophy was a set of guidelines that we used to manage the Sharecast project to solve the business problems identified through insights from users. Basically, we laid out the tenets and principles that we would stick to until the site was successfully up and running. This sounds easy, but it wasn’t. We created a really robust document that we came back to again and again as we developed the site.

The next four steps in our development process, generate, test, evaluate, and refine, were done over the span of a few months. We developed a prototype site and did three rounds of testing, gradually building out the features that our users said they wanted. This rolling development was a differentiator because it gained us buy-in from all of our stakeholders, and, equally important, it began filling the site with content. We knew that Sharecast, just like any website, would only be successful if it had content, so it was critical that there be plenty to look at and browse through when the site was launched. To start collecting content, and establish the “culture” of Sharecast (what’s appropriate to post and what’ not), we invited our top- performing hotels to be part of the testing. By the end of testing, Sharecast was well on its way with 216 users and over 200 posts!

We officially launched Sharecast at our General Managers’ Conference in October 2011 to over 2,500 people – General Managers, Brand Team Members and franchise partners. We partnered with Root to do media, an e-mail teaser, and a “commercial” at the conference.

As of press time, Sharecast has over 3,000 users, and there have been close to 30,000 visits since its launch. The site has even taken on a life of its own beyond General Managers; Team Members in every position have found the site valuable. What makes Sharecast work so well is that first right step: focusing on the user. We didn’t impose a new set of behaviors on our teams – we gave them an easy way to do what they already wanted to be doing.

Six months later, Sharecast is driving performance and engagement by scaling best practices and creating a community across our 1,850 hotels. Team Members who wouldn’t have been connected to each other now have a place to meet 24 hours a day – and they are! It’s created a world of peer-to-peer learning that has united our community and sparked connections that wouldn’t have been possible before. One front desk agent captured it perfectly in a note she sent to a General Manager she had never met, in a Hampton five states away: “I’ve been following your posts on Sharecast and I just wanted to say thank you. My goal is to be a GM of a Hampton Inn one day and I love your enthusiasm and the ideas you have shared with us. I’ve written many of your ideas in my journal so I can one day implement them on my own at my own property.”

For the brand, Sharecast continuously delivers insights. We are constantly looking at the analytics, tracking traffic to the site, demographics of users, what pages they are viewing, the average amount of time spent on the site, and much more. The last of our eight steps, measurement, tells us how successful we are, and where to begin looking for enhancements and improvements to make.

We’re experimenting with opening Sharecast to strategic dialogue with the senior leadership from the Hampton Brand as well. Not long ago, Phil Cordell Global Head, Focused Service Brands and Hampton Hotels, asked in our weekly newsletter that people help him with an issue through Sharecast posts. A guest had sent a letter claiming that a General Manager had given him bad service. Phil asked the community, “What do you do when you’re under pressure and still have to give great customer service?” Because of that request, that post, Sharecast got more than 915 visitors the following day! To give perspective, our average at that time was about 130 visits a day. That week alone, more than 400 new users registered. The unprecedented response to Phil’s post has us brainstorming other strategic conversations to open with the Sharecast audience.

Ultimately, Sharecast has succeeded in making our entire network of General Managers and Team Members into curators, experts, and anthropologists in hotel operations. By staying true to our process and putting the user at the center of every decision we made, we have used the best of technology to ignite our community and create connections beyond what we could have imagined!