Yet another conference I attended this summer and failed to blog: the Edelman Academic Summit in Chicago. My first post is based on a session called "Storytelling from the Inside Out," featuring Stacey MacNeil, vice president of employee communications at HP.
MacNeil said that when she first started working in employee comms, HP employees were distressed, frustrated, and downright angry – they'd had 6 CEOs in 6 years, the stock price had been cut more than in half; there were salary cuts, and they'd just lost faith. There had also been a lack of employee communications, even though the company had been talking to customers, media, analysts, shareholders etc.
MacNeil was hired in August 2012, knowing that the company needed to change. They decided to provide one central place where employees could hear news about HP first, provide context and perspective about major issues, improve employee morale, engagement and understanding of HP strategy and their critical role in the company turnaround. They hoped to personalize the turnaround for employees, connect with them and build trust. In addition, they wanted to activate the employee voice in HP communications.
HP decided on a strategy built on storytelling. This meant:
- they needed to have a marketing approach to gaining employee mindshare. As in marketing to consumers, they target the audience, sell the product, break through the clutter, be proactive and fast.
- they took a newsroom approach to content creation and execution. Have editors, product manager, community manager, production services etc. Changed role structures and job functions, organized by subject of the kinds of information they wanted to get out.
This also means talking about things the employees want to hear. They started by being visually disruptive – after first year Meg Whitman focused on future not past, and the new look tried to reflect that.
Change was also reflected in employee communications when they asked employees to share 10–second videos on the topic “I believe in HP because.…” They knew when they asked this question that the videos would not necessarily have good production, but they believed the sentiments expressed would be authenticThey also knew they were taking a risk because they didn’t know if anyone believed HP had a great future. It was the first time employees had a voice on a global platform, and they could comment on the page, unfiltered. However, they found that even after everything the employees had been through, they still had passion and commitment. MacNeil advised, "Don’t underestimate" employee commitment.
The company's marketing slogan “Make it matter” turned it into “We make it matter” for employees. As this suggests, HP doesn't just send employees the same materials it sends to other audiences. For example, the earnings story was told to employees through infographics, not just what they give the media (i.e. a 5-page press release).
Employee communications at HP also includes tactics only for employees, such as contests, video tutorials, and a "people behind the product" series (introduce employees and what they did to make it matter at HP). MacNeil says if it’s relevant to employees, they will watch or read it. …but it stays behind the firewall.
Another tactic was inviting employees (engineers, accountants, not communications people) to apply to be ambassadors to cover big HP events for the HP blog and HP News Now – a central place to get news and information, which allows employees to customize personal news feed. Employees can post on other sites like Facebook so news is integrated with social conversations. These sites are outside the firewall but secure and available to every employee, inclusing on mobile. Videos are close captioned and you can choose the language so they are worldwide. “Teachable Moments” are tough stories where things have gone wrong, but lessons were learned. Some employees don’t like, but integral to turnaround.
Now MacNeil says they are working on making content shareable. They've added a feature that allows the editor to add a share button to a story page, but internal information is scrubbed and just the public content is shared (not ratings, comments, tags, related stories).
As for measurement: HP looks at site and page traffic, visitor behavior. They also use an engagement index (actions + ratings x 5 + comments x 25 + shares x 250 divided by number of stories published) – which is used to compare results to their own previous ratings.
MacNeil said there were many discussions in the early days with lawyers. Anything published internally goes to 300,000 people so legal thinks that in essence that might as well be public. Therefore, they write knowing that it could go public. There were also discussions about security, but MacNeil said they all know that employees can upload to Slideshare, YouTube etc. so they have to rely on self-government and haven’t had a leak yet in 12 months.
Culturally, MacNeil said the company handles things differently when content is internal vs. external. They have to be conscious of whether something will work for employees in different countries. Because company leadership had been dragged through the mud, the corporate culture became more open to change. CEO Meg Whitman knew they had to be transparent to build trust back into leadership through honesty, which created an opportunity for HP to experiment with better employee communications.