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Taking social media beyond marketing

Operators discuss valuable uses for the tools in HR and training

Social-media platforms have become some of the most powerful advertising and branding tools available to restaurants, but the fast-growing trend is moving beyond the marketing department, panelists said during NRA Show session.

Human resources and training executives also must embrace new social technology in order to keep pace with industry leaders in recruiting and development, experts said Monday in a session called “The Power of Social Media Inside Your Organization.”

Avery Block, social-media and brand champion for Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell, said restaurants need to think of their employees as “internal guests” who deserve the same amount of attention as customers, which is why HR departments need to learn social-media best practices from their marketing counterparts.

“In today’s world, marketing and HR have to be in alignment,” Block said. “For organizations to be successful … marketing and HR need to court each other, and then they need to start dating and get married. Social media is the kid, who is then raised by HR and marketing.”

Block said Taco Bell recognized the need to use social-media platforms in the people development side of its business because it was fielding 1 million applications a year for its workforce, which has an average age of 28 — the prime demographic for heavy social-media users.

By embracing Facebook, Twitter and especially LinkedIn as ways to gain a human resources edge, she said, Taco Bell moves toward goals of “social recruiting,” marketing its employment brand, and communicating with and engaging prospective team members.

“We actually have candidates who are recruiting us,” Block said. “You’re having people out there saying, ‘I want to work for that brand,’ and they’re coming to you. That’s fantastic, but at the same time we can’t slip into a reactive mode and wait for people to come to us. … We have the tools to seek them out as well.”

She pointed out that Taco Bell used Facebook in particular to create a separate “Taco Bell Careers” page, where it can recognize stellar performance from team members and promote perks that come with the job.

By a show of hands, audience members in the session indicated that nearly all of the operators gathered had established brand pages on Facebook, but very few of them had a “careers” tab on those pages, which Block and her follow panelists strongly recommended.

CiCi’s Pizza, the Coppell, Texas-based pizza-buffet chain, sought to connect managers and franchisees in its system through a Facebook group. That move not only got the brand leaders sharing best practices with one another, it also unearthed some business inefficiencies that created real cost savings when addressed, said Chris Patterson, director of people development.

After one manager recently polled the group to ask if they also saw unacceptable levels of food waste from a barbecue sauce container, the managers largely all agreed and took it up with CiCi’s, which worked with its supplier to fix the issue. By eliminating 1.5 ounces of wasted sauce from every packet at 600 restaurants, CiCi’s saved $15,000 in product waste, Patterson said.

So far, about 30 percent of the managers and franchisees belong to the group, but the operators — and not the franchisor — are recruiting more of their compatriots every week, he said.

“Ultimately, we’ve been pretty quiet on the page,” he said. “We don’t want it to have the corporate feel, and scare people off from talking. One of the things that’s interesting is they police themselves on the site. It’s neat because we don’t have to say anything, even though we can post polls and stuff to keep that conversation going.”

The instant nature of the networking also recently updated the system about the status of a CiCi’s unit in Joplin, Mo., which was struck hard by a tornado Sunday.

“We had a manager last night at our Joplin store post a picture of the storm, so now everybody in the CiCi’s family feels a part of that,” Patterson said. “I’m dying to get out of the session and see the comments to find out what’s going on.”

Still another approach to social-media practices in human resources is P.F. Chang’s China Bistro’s work connecting trainers to each other and to staff.

Peggy Rubenzer, the chain’s vice president of training and development, said P.F. Chang’s uses its Facebook page directed at the company’s trainers — which is accessible to all staff — to reinforce the corporate culture, recognize outstanding performance, and put previews of new culinary and operations initiatives in front of team members.

“The way we realized the importance of reaching out to our employees on social media was using Hot Schedules, which they all access regularly,” Rubenzer said. “We discovered half a million clicks per month onto Hot Schedules was an opportunity for us to communicate directly to our people.”

Preloaded benefits documents and updated training manuals are put online and distributed to employees this way, which saved P.F. Chang’s $50,000 in printing costs on the first rollout, she added.

The chain also publishes guest comments to the whole workforce to recognize exemplary customer service as well, Rubenzer said, and it also is able to reinforce training with interactive displays like a photo of a P.F. Chang’s table setting with something askew and asking, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

“You get all the different responses and you actually learn a little bit more,” she said. “At one point we thought we knew what was wrong with the picture, but somebody shared something different with us and tons jumped in and joined the conversation.”

The panelists added that other training, recruiting and development opportunities existed on several social platforms. They suggested that operators try putting welcome videos and employee testimonials on YouTube for job candidates, having the chief executive write a blog to connect team members to corporate goals, or create discussion groups on LinkedIn to foster communication similar to CiCi’s manager group.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN

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