Building Internal Communications

In 2010, I was tasked by Julian MacQueen, CEO & Founder of Innisfree Hotels to launch a Facebook page for the Holiday Inn Resort, Pensacola Beach. Julian also asked me to talk to a group of Innisfree leaders about how we might use social media as a marketing tool.

My plan was to show up with a mind blowing power point presentation, point out that Facebook had 400 million users, and then lead the happy dance while a room full of hotel General Managers eagerly jumped on the bandwagon.

Seven years later, Facebook has two billion users and Innisfree Hotels has a in-house marketing agency with thirteen team members sitting two to a desk in a cramped office. Today, our agency is both a sizable revenue generator and a key competitive differentiator in attracting investor capital in our company.

In hindsight, it is tempting to say this was our plan all along and that the road from exploring social media to building a full-service digital marketing agency was smooth. Not so much. First, this was never the plan. Like most innovations, it happened incrementally.  Secondly, despite the quality of my power point presentation, some members of our company leadership team were hostile to the idea, others were ambivalent, and the rest were too busy to engage.

I had to convince our operators that jumping on the digital marketing bandwagon would generate a return. Doing so required a sustained internal marketing campaign with an impact on par with our public-facing initiatives. Multiple (painful) failures later, I’ve learned a few lessons about internal communication.

Lesson One: Don’t Wing It

A well planned and robust internal communication strategy smooths the pathway for innovation. In fact, one cannot happen without the other. Without a shared understanding of ‘what and why,’ resistance and acrimony will escalate. Once that happens, it is a long road back to harmony.

Lesson Two: It’s Going to Be Harder Than You Think

Building shared understanding is no easy task. For instance, email announcements, formerly the most common tactic in my arsenal, are appallingly inadequate. They generally cause more confusion and anxiety than they resolve.

Lesson Three: They Will Not Come to You, So Go to Them

Thirdly, internal (like public facing) marketing strategies need to be executed seamlessly on multiple channels. Our team members (like consumers) are distracted, inundated with information, multi-generational, and have varying access to and comfort with technology.

Today, our in-house marketing agency manages a robust internal communication strategy that employs a variety of tactics that include:  

Most recently, we invested a lot of money into a ‘social’ intranet called Jostle with cool features like two-way searchable news feeds and discussion threads. Our marketing agency supports the intranet with ongoing one-on-one and small group training sessions, an engaging content strategy, and incentives that drive daily engagement.

Lesson Four: Marketing Team Must Lead

Even though it was never the plan, in hindsight it was a natural fit for our in-house marketing agency to manage internal communications. With great internal communication, like all marketing campaigns, content is king and content production sits in the marketing department. Innisfree is likely the only hotel management group in the US with a Lead Storyteller, Photographer, and Videographer on the company payroll.

Lesson Five: It’s Not Cheap, But It’s Worth It

Growing our internal communication strategy and sustaining it with amazing content requires a significant investment and we expect a return. How we measure this return is yet to be determined, but we can already see many business advantages.

We have active communication channels we will leverage to smooth the implementation of future innovative projects. Our team members are getting to know each other better and this is improving camaraderie and collaboration. They are also able to communicate their ideas and pain points with their peers and leaders. Most importantly, they are learning about our company history and values, which enable us to scale and sustain our culture.

All of this leads to improved employee engagement, which we all know results in more productivity and a better experience for our hotel guests.

-Jill Thomas

Chief Marketing Officer, Innisfree Hotels