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Trip Advisor reveals the 'passport' to their intranet success
By Kelly Kass
Most intranets take approximately one-to-two years to launch. Not so for Trip Advisor – the company we all rely on to provide hotel ratings and other travel information to ensure the perfect vacation.
When the travel site spun off from their mothership, Expedia, during the fourth quarter last year, there was a greater need than ever to ramp up internal communications and keep employees in the loop about the major changes surrounding them.
“When the announcement was made about the spin-off, we were really excited so we wanted to have our own vehicle for communicating with our employees in time for the spin-off. The channel would provide a clear way to communicate what was going on as well, and on an ongoing basis as well,” explains Gregg Scholz, Director of HR Operations for Trip Advisor in Newton, Massachussetts.
The biggest challenge for Scholz and his colleagues was the time frame to complete the project. They started the project in early September, 2011 and completed the intranet launch in mid-December.
The need for speed
So how did Trip Advisor roll out the launch so quickly?
“One of the things that enabled us to create the site so quickly was our ‘Divide & Conquer’ approach. We split up the project into two different workstreams. The content owners would be responsible for their own areas making sure information would be accurate and updated.
"As a project team, we set up the goals and guidelines we wanted to have in place; how we were going to achieve everything we needed to. There weren’t a lot of formal approvals in place. I think that goes along with our ‘Speed Wins’ approach - people can post content without dealing with bureaucracy. IT was particularly critical in getting the infrastructure up and running in time for us to start populating the site with content,” Scholz says.
Scholz and his team also hired a supplier, SEQUEL GROUP, to help facilitate the rollout and work with IT. They also helped Trip Advisor determine how the site should be structured since the company didn’t have a key intranet person internally.
With the new site, Scholz and his team wanted to create a seamless user experience that would effectively meet the needs of Trip Advisor staff.
“We wanted it to be a place for employees to get all information relating to the company. Expedia has an intranet but the previous Trip Advisor portal was very informal. It wasn’t kept up-to-date or used by the whole employee population. Other internal intranets were solely used for specific purposes, such as the IT portal.
"So basically, we wanted to take all that information and consolidate it into one place, making the site easy to use and easy to find. We wanted it to be all-inclusive of our full company. Trip Advisor is made up of a number of different brands in 16 countries - some of them operate somewhat independently - so we wanted the new intranet to be a central source for sharing and viewing information that applied to them,” Scholz recalls.
The site would ultimately be named Passport – quite catchy for a global travel service company – and a propos for employees traveling along the intranet for relevant company information.
Another goal of the site was to make sure it matched Trip Advisor’s internal culture. Scholz recalls:
“On Passport, we wanted to make sure we exhibited open and honest communication. That’s where everyone owning their own content without dealing with approvals comes into play. There are no filters between employees and the people updating the site. Although we have some tone guidelines put in place, our content is not edited by a central group.”
Interactivity was also a large priority leading to the creation of photo galleries to engage staff. Pictures consist of anything from teambuilding and awards photos to images from off-site meetings to photos taken at the company’s Halloween party. Of course, employee travel photos (like Gregg Scholz' at right) are also quite popular, as are images from various Trip Advisor offices to familiarize employees with colleagues and office locations.
Short surveys are also a popular tool used to engage staff.
“We like to breed a little competition between employees. On our home page, we have surveys like ‘how many employees referred candidates for open positions in the company?’ We also encourage our employees to write reviews of places they’ve stayed when traveling, as we do on our external website,” Scholz points out.
He and his team are constantly striving to keep intranet content fresh and new. One of the ways they do this is by offering notice boards for employees to start their own discussions on a particular topic, as well as opinion polls to keep the interactivity going each time someone accesses Passport.
The home page itself is updated twice a week with relevant news and information. The main and middle sections consist of external industry news and Trip Advisor mentions in the media – an essential area of the home page which is updated by the PR Department. There, employees can find articles from TechCrunch, the Daily Mail and ABC News for example.
Underneath the external news section on Passport is a consolidated news feed that pulls in updates from all of the company’s departmental pages, especially HR and Legal announcements. That type of content gets updated every day.
On the home page, there’s also a link for employees to submit feedback and suggestions about Passport.
The biggest draws for Trip Advisor employees to the site are benefits and policy information, as well as business news pertaining to the company and corporate initiatives. There’s also a popular video blog where the CEO and other senior leaders provide interviews about what’s going on at the company.
Employees also rely on Passport to access tools such as PowerPoint templates and to book conference rooms.
To measure site traffic, Trip Advisor uses Google Analytics to determine how many hits Passport gets when people are referred to the site. So far, an average visit to the site last six minutes with the most traffic coming out of the States. To encourage usage in other countries (e.g. China), Trip Advisor offers translation of some of the site’s specific content and offers it up alongside the English version.
Passport offers easy accessibility for employees via single sign-on.
Scholz explains: “Employees are logging on with the same credentials they use to log into their computers. Passport is one of the systems available with a single sign-on. Since we went live last December, we added additional systems that fall under the single sign-on umbrella. When someone logs onto Passport, they can log out without having to sign on again. You can go back and forth between the intranet and other systems without having to log on each time.”
To access Passport from home, employees are able to log into Trip Advisor’s VPN system. Likewise with iPhones and iPads. “Mobile communications wasn’t our top priority going forward but we wanted to make Passport as user-friendly as possible. It’s valuable to have access to important info when you are on the road. Some of our other internal systems such as our HR self-service system has been rolled out on iPad and iPhone apps so it’s not limited to just our intranet. We keep mobile communications in mind for all our internal systems,” Scholz says.
The preferred internal communication channel
According to Scholz, Trip Advisor is driving all internal communication toward Passport. “If we send out an email, we link it right back to Passport so it’s there in the news feed and archived as well. In any email we send out, we drive people back to Passport to get more details on whatever it is we are talking about. We also create posters around the office if the information is applicable to the site. However, because everyone at Trip Advisor has access to a computer and they’re on it most of the day, we really just communicate electronically through Passport and email.”
While many companies run their intranets on SharePoint or Jive, Trip Advisor has opted to launch Passport on the Joomla! platform. Scholz says Joomla! offers a nicer look and feel with hassle-free maintenance.
Onto Phase 2
Now that Passport is up and running, Scholz and his colleagues are looking ahead to Phase 2. So what’s on the agenda?
“We have a couple of things underway right now. One is to enhance the look and feel of the site – building more templates to give us more options in terms of how we format and display information. I think we’re going to move forward in terms of making more tools available through single sign-on and passing people back and forth to other internal systems when it makes sense. We’re also adding integration with our HR systems and employee directories which will be very useful for employees.
“One of the biggest things we’re doing is we’re going to be setting up the ability for project teams to set up their own team sites and use Passport to share documents, calendars and other things relating to a particular project.”
Scholz and his team also plan to expand translation content so Trip Advisor continues to engage staff in countries outside the United States.
As for the keys to Passport’s success, Scholz says the ability to launch the site so quickly was vital.
“We actually got done ahead of schedule. The fact we got it out there and that we’ve given people such relevant information from the very start has helped us build steam and that’s continuing to snowball with people into using the site more and more.”
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