Fast-food giant whets workers’ appetites for its social network

How Yum! Brands enticed its staff with an internal marketing campaign.

How Yum! Brands enticed its staff with an internal marketing campaign

Your company is launching an internal social networking platform, and you’re hoping it will catch on. So you set a six-month target for participation; 40 percent sounds respectable, maybe even a little ambitious.

Want to know which company hit 70 percent in six months? Want to know how it did it? Read on.

Yum! Brands is the largest restaurant corporation in the world with the fast-food brands including Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver’s and A&W.

Yum! Brands, parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and other major chains, built a Facebook-like internal social network called iCHING to connect its global staff.

Because Yum’s employees would have to change the way they accessed information once the network caught on, it was essential to pique their curiosity. So, the comprehensive promotional campaign included: a mysterious, 5-foot-tall letter “H” placed at key locations; videos showing the same letter “H” interacting with employees; buzz from a test group; and various other visual media.

Now that most employees have signed up, the new challenge is in getting employees to log onto iCHING rather than sending e-mails and scheduling meetings, says Toni Ewton, tech manager.

“Associates are used to having information sent to them,” Ewton says. “Now we’re asking them to change a little the way they do business and the way they talk to one another. We’re asking them to go out on iCHING, search for something, use it as a resource for spreading and gaining know-how.”

A conspicuous presence

Communicators and IT workers began work on iCHING in January 2009, releasing it to a small pilot group last March and to the rest of the company in June. The buzz about the network began with the test group—which rapidly grew from 200 to 500—and continued with a teaser campaign that began a few weeks before the full site launch. The goal was to introduce the name and logo and incite curiosity without revealing details.

iCHING's homepage
iCHING has changed the way employees communicate at Yum! Brands. View larger.

Communicators placed a half-dozen 5-foot-tall renderings of the “H” in the iCHING logo at all the major company branches. The “H” is a visual representation of connection, with two people facing each other and holding hands. “Ching” is a part of the Yum corporate culture, and it means making connections and building relationships.

Who wouldn’t be curious about a giant “H” showing up in the hallway? So employees started asking questions. They also started to see stickers, flyers and even signs on restroom mirrors with sayings such as, “iCHING, do you?”

“We took a whimsical look at it to engage folks so they’d be excited about the network,” Ewton says. Pilot participants wore themed T-shirts, and Yum’s global workforce wondered what the fuss was all about.

Virtual visuals

The “H” was also featured in a kick-off video. With the song “Happy Together” playing in the background, the H is pictured in a meeting, in the dining center getting lunch, helping an employee look for a misplaced item, and in the exercise center.

“The ‘H’ has become a part of the way you work,” Ewton says.

As the launch neared, communicators delved into the “how” aspects of the social network.

Communicators built tutorial videos on each section of the site—group, discuss, search, share, create, work, and dig—that explained technical aspects of the site. Testimonial videos, available to staff via e-mails and on the site, feature employees discussing the network’s benefits.

iching's group homepage
iCHING’s group home page. View larger.

Company leaders appear in some videos to explain how iCHING has become part of their everyday work. “With them involved, it helps the organization understand it, that it’s something that’s significant and something you definitely want to be a part of,” Ewton says.

iCHING helps connect workers with similar interests and projects, foster brainstorming sessions and discussions, manage group efforts, and help accelerate processes. For example, iCHING can be used in place of meetings. Ewton says the number and duration of meetings have decreased.

“We encourage people to not call a meeting when they can call a discussion on iCHING,” she says. Employees can “collaborate across the globe in whatever time zone they’re sitting in, and there’s always discussion going on.”

Interpersonal connections

Yum had an army of employees singing iCHING’s praises. The test group was excited about the network, says Ewton, and their enthusiasm spread to their colleagues.

“We hit hard at the very beginning, because the concept was so new from the way we normally worked,” Ewton says. “From a grassroots level, that’s where it gained speed. Using success stories, and people sharing with their co-workers, it blossomed and grew.”

To encourage employees to sign up, “brand activation squads” were formed. They’re composed of 10 social-network-savvy employees at each branch. At the beginning, the squads helped people set up and use the network. Then they set about persuading reluctant staffers.

“It’s important that all these people understand that this isn’t to be taken lightly,” Ewton says. “It’s something we’re required to complete by the end of the year.”

Now, the goal of the activation squads is to identify and sign up the last 1,000 or so employees who haven’t joined. Their job is to find a reason for the employee to log on. For marketing, communications, and HR, uses for iCHING abound. Finance workers are more wary of how it could help them.

“Some people are still struggling with the concept, or they haven’t found the ‘golden nugget’ that helps it come alive for that individual,” Ewton admits. “Collaboration is different for different people.”

The squads have already been successful in converting some holdouts. For now, the company is targeting its 5,000 office employees. It will focus on the thousands of restaurant employees, managers and franchisees next year.

Yum’s ultimate goal: 100 percent participation. Stay tuned.

Kentucky to Australia: Just a click away

iCHING has already seen its share of success stories; one began with an innocent comment about a home town and ended with a possible new product.

A Yum! Brands employee in Kentucky wanted to learn how to make gelato at home. She noticed that a colleague in the food development in Australia happened to be from a small town in Italy that’s famous for its gelato.

The man’s family was in the gelato business, though he didn’t know how to make it himself. They got to talking about cooking, and the home cook mentioned an idea she had for an Italian recipe, perfect for Pizza Hut. He took the idea into the test kitchen and is working on possibly making it into a new menu item for the chain.

A personal connection turned into a business connection, all made possible through the new network.

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