By Gloria Lombardi

After the merger and re-organisation of three leading hotel brands, Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel, the parent company FRHI Hotels & Resorts (FRHI), was facing a challenge: building the vision of ‘one’ for 45,000 employees in 120 properties around the world.

In theory, from an employee engagement perspective, the re-organisation required “creating the feeling of one family across the three brands,” as Executive Director of Communications and Strategy, Andrada Paraschiv (pictured left) puts it.

In practice, together with Internal Communications Projects Manager, Alexandra Zeifman (pictured right), they helped to launch FRHI Talk – the Beekeeper-based mobile communications platform was rolled out across the entire organisation in April 2014.

One year later, FRHI Talk is the central hub for over 16,000 employees who interact with each other on a daily basis while “feeling part of the same international group,” claims Zeifman. And because of it, they have recently received the Internal Communications Award at the Employee Engagement Awards in NYC.

Why Beekeeper

Back in 2013, Paraschiv met the Beekeeper team who had worked on a small project with a few Swissôtel hotels in Switzerland. In her view, they just satisfied all of the requirements for the success of a wide-company platform. “The Beekeeper team was very dynamic. They had lots of ideas. They were able to adapt the tool to what we wanted specifically.”

Unsurprisingly, in her research, Paraschiv saw other products too. But, by analysing those technologies over time, she discovered some peculiar patterns: they “were too complicated.” Plus, she felt uneasy with the thought that “the flexibility from the vendors to adapt the tool to what we were looking for was not going to be there for us as much as we wanted.”

Communicating the launch

How should the organisation communicate the existence of FRHI Talk to everyone? The answer was crucial for Paraschiv and Zeifman. It was also of pivotal importance to leadership who was very keen on getting this right.

They started from the intranet portal and emails. Yet, it is easy to see the problem that results, as the majority of employees in hotels do not necessarily stay in front of a computer or even have an email address. It is much harder to understand how best to react to this condition.

The debate about online versus offline is an old one. But, using the two means of communication together helped FRHI to solve its problem.

Hotel staff without email or PC can use the platform in two ways. First and foremost, through the mobile app, which has all the same functionalities of the web version. This mobile formula is remarkably good also for managers who travel frequently.

Moreover, the cafeteria of every hotel can run a continuous stream of FRHI Talk through monitors. “Our people always have lunch or other meals in the cafeteria; all the internal communications are displayed there through big screens. So, they can see what is happening across the company all the time.”

Using the platform

One thing that Zeifman has noticed is the frequency of how much staff like posting. “At all times of the day people all over the world share new content and there are always new colleagues who want to join the conversation.”

Posts can range from team outings, to important guests who visited the hotel and celebrations. Employees get creative too: “There are lots of different contests that hotels run among themselves – they create their own hashtags and tags and post pictures to ‘compete’ with each other. Many times colleagues take a picture of what they did for a guest such as making a very nice room for them. They feel empowered to share what they did at work and want other colleagues to see it.”

Turning moments into memories

Sometimes FRHI Talk becomes a source of inspiration. A good example comes from a hotel in Boston where a family had to spend several weeks while their son was undergoing hospital treatments . The child was feeling down and sad most of the time, but his parents realised that when he was with the hotel’s canine ambassador dogs – very friendly dogs that greet guests and live at the hotel – he was in a much better mood.

The dog caretaker (also a hotel employee) made a secret plan with the boy’s parents – to buy him his own puppy that looked like the hotel’s canine ambassador. When the staffer asked the child how he would like to name his new friend he replied that he wanted to name him ‘Copley’, which was also the name of the hotel, The Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston.

The PR and Marketing Manager at the Fairmont Copley Plaza posted the story on FRHI Talk. Not surprisingly, it sparked a huge number of interactions. “Hotels from all over the world started to comment on how important the story was; they also started to share similar stories of their guests being assisted and feeling at home,” says Zeifman.

Another positive outcome from the Boston Hotel narrative is that it helped staff feel good about working for the company.

As Paraschiv puts it, “The Fairmont brand promise is to turn moments into memories. This story definitely shows that this is what our hotels are actually doing.”

A community of one

As any other enterprise social network, FRHI Talk can allow users to create groups tailored to their specific purposes. But, “we do not have groups that way,” says Paraschiv.

In fact, they do not have groups at all. “We just have one general stream – the whole idea is to create a community of one.”

“It is not possible to keep up to date with everything,” explains Zeifman. “But, when staff go on FRHI Talk, they probably scroll down to see the last 20 to 30 posts. Then, they would comment, like or post something new themselves.”

The monthly video

The curation job of Zeifman and Paraschiv has an important role to play. They deliver monthly highlights through ‘ONE Connect’, a video that embeds around 40 popular posts from FRHI Talk.

“We try to get a very good selection of posts from all the three brands and all the regions. Then, we insert them into a video with music,” explains Zeifman.

All the posts are organised into categories such as colleagues’ activities, rewards and recognitions, work with the communities like participating in charity runs, and general hotels news and highlights.

“The goal of ONE Connect is to illustrate the connectedness among all our colleagues globally. But it is also effective in prompting new employees to join the platform.”

Pinning important news

FRHI Talk offers more opportunities: to some extent the platform can serve as a publishing tool for important news, although in a very limited way. For example, “when a new hotel opens we do the ‘Welcome to the family’ – we make an announcement on the forum and ‘pin it’ so that it stays at the top of the newsfeed for a few days for everyone to see,” says Zeifman.

This activity supports the awareness of the important changes inside the company. Plus, it stimulates peer-to-peer interactions and feedback from everyone. “We don’t want just the CEO to say something. We are trying to avoid the traditional top-down communication – we want to open up the discussion.”

Saving resources

Zeifman and Paraschiv believe that FRHI Talk is meeting the challenge of creating connectedness, which is the main reason why they will continue to champion the tool.

In the same way, they appreciate the saving of resources such as time and money that comes from using the platform. “In the past we used to make quarterly videos to highlight the exciting news taking place at each property. This was at a cost of $15,000 per video. Now we are able to leverage content from FRHI Talk to create videos at a cost of $1,000. This savings allows us to produce ONE Connect monthly instead of quarterly, ensuring that that the information we give to employees is timely,” says Zeifman.

Additionally, since the content is employee generated, the internal communications team have significantly reduced the time involved in coordinating photos, music and video footage.

FRHI Talk around the globe

It may seem obvious to think that the social tool would be most popular in America and Europe. Yet, as for many assumptions in business and life, the presumption turns out to be incorrect. “FRHI Talk is used more widely in the Middle East, Africa and India region,” says Zeifman.

In terms of the type of content, Paraschiv recalls how at the beginning there used to be many more differences as people were not sure about what to post. “In North America, PR and Marketing would take the lead sharing stories about their hotels (e.g. the opening of a new restaurant, or some volunteering work in the community); in Asia, HR was more visible (e.g. celebrating colleagues’ birthday with pictures of beautiful cakes); in the Middle East staff would constantly share pictures of their hotels.”

Today, there is more homogeneity across all the regions. “They get inspirations from each other on what they can post. They mostly like to celebrate their achievements, congratulate their teams for a job well done and share good customer service stories.”

Yet, specific posts are surging during national holidays or celebrations such as the Chinese New Year, or Ramadan in the Middle East, or Christmas in the western countries.

So, the beauty of every culture remains intact and shows itself proudly. After all, diversity in experiences and perspectives seats at the core of FRHI’s business.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate