Four Social Lessons from Hilton Worldwide: Beyond the Front Desk

A few years ago, Virginia Suliman, the VP of Digital Design and Development at Hilton Worldwide appealed to the CEO about social media. She said she didn’t want the function to live only within PR and marketing and wanted to have a hand in planning how it would integrate with the company’s overall creative strategy.

The CEO agreed to let the planning and organization role of social media sit within her online department, while marketing handles most of the execution.
The first thing Virginia did was evaluate the landscape.

“I wanted to understand what was happening in the social realm,” she said. “What were people saying and doing? We contemplated how social and mobile impacted the entire customer experience. But how much opportunity is there? How could this impact customer experience? Is it worth it?”

She found that service was a great area social media could impact given that 70% of companies ignore customer complaints on Twitter. With founder Conrad Hilton’s motto in mind, “To fill the world with the light and warmth of hospitality,” Virginia asked herself, “How do I put my customers front and center again while moving forward into the new era of technology?”

A big idea woman, Virginia wanted more than just to have her department see through the social media planning and ensure that customer complaints on social media were being addressed. She wanted to launch new initiatives that would take the company’s social media presence above and beyond where its customers expected it to go.

“Our job is to take care of customers and give them good service,” she said during a presentation at the eTail Boston 2012 conference. “But I wanted to know, ‘what else can we do?'”

That’s when she launched @HiltonSuggests, or at least conceived the idea. It was a pet project of hers whereby employees in certain offices would recommend local places to go like restaurants, museums, bars, etc., without any inference that they need be a Hilton customer to take advantage of the advice. Soon after it began to take off in the New York office, the New York office closed. The wind was taken out of her sails, but not completely. She wanted to figure out how to make it work – and ended up motivating internal staff members to pick up some of the slack. The program is now back and she thinks it’s an important, influential piece in Hilton’s social media game. The employees that champion this effort, “The @ Team,” are recognized with executive support and various small, morale-building incentives. But Virginia said they want to do it – they like being able to serve as potential guests’ “friend in town,” via social media.

From all this, Virginia has learned four valuable lessons, which she left with the audience:

Lesson one: Find your focus. Don’t be distracted by shiny things. In social it’s really hard to find your focus.

Lesson two: Engage others. We all like to over-complicate things, said Virginia. Reach out to departments who can help you achieve your social goals.

Lesson three: Define success. Write it down so that you know when you’ve achieved it.

Lesson four: Have fortitude. This is huge if you’re in emerging technology, Virginia said. She’s worked in mobile from 2001. “If you don’t have fortitude you’re not going to survive,” she said. “Start small but think big to achieve your goals.”