From Facebook to TD Ameritrade, Corporate Giants Inspire Employees With User StoriesBy Molly Blake June 29th, 2015
Since debuting in 2004, Facebook’s platform has evolved dramatically thanks in part to a workplace ethos that could best be described as move fast and break things. With that type of turbulent approach, there’s bound to be plenty of new ideas from those who work at Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters. Oddly enough, a catalyst for one such idea—Facebook Stories—came in the form of a more old-fashioned social network: snail mail.
By 2010, Facebook had received countless handwritten letters from folks all over the world, thanking the social giant for opening up the world to them and connecting them with important people in their lives. And so, Facebook decided to create a platform—an app and website—to publish those stories and let users submit new ones. Thirty thousand submissions and millions of shares later, articles such as “The Healing Power of Friends,” “Paying It Forward Through Facebook,” and “How Our Town Came Together to Make My Daughter’s Birthday Special” hosted on the Facebook Stories site would melt even the hardest of hearts. Another bonus? Facebook’s employees eagerly read all of the content, albeit with a slightly different angle.
“These stories are everything to our company,” said Facebook Managing Editor Allie Townsend, speaking at the Contently West Coast Summit, held in San Francisco on June 9.
“We use them internally,” Townsend said. “The employees really want to know how the things they are working on are making a difference.” That may not be an easy task considering there are 1.44 billion people on Facebook and thousands of employees handling so many different projects, but publishing that user feedback in a creative way seems to be working just fine thus far.
Facebook isn’t alone in using content creatively in this way. In the last year, we’ve really started to see companies get more comfortable with user-generated content, since it’s an effective way for employees to get feedback on their projects and organizations as a whole.
For Kim Hillyer, the director of communications and public affairs at TD Ameritrade, generating user stories, like this recent piece about retail investors, can be challenging due to strict regulations in the financial services industry. Interviewing clients about personal investment strategies or unearthing market trends among users can be tricky, but Hillyer has been determined to capitalize on the important perspectives clients can offer.
Her team created a collaborative workflow with the company’s compliance and legal partners that minimizes gridlock whenever customer information is involved. It starts with an idea: How can the data be presented in a more personal and engaging way? Hillyer also makes an effort to include partners in the ideation process.
“We say, ‘This is the problem we’re trying to solve, will you help us?’ Rather than, ‘This is what we’re doing, please don’t say no,'” she said.
TD Ameritrade may not have a need for handwritten letters from its clients, but customer feedback has really refined the company’s internal publishing process. In addition to the storytelling benefits for the company blog, information about how clients feel, coupled with trading data, helps advisors do their jobs more effectively.
“At the end of the day, we’re all working toward the same goal—making TD Ameritrade a better place,” Hillyer said.
Meanwhile, back at One Hacker Way, Townsend’s team continues to pore over stories from people like Sheena Sharma, who, after moving from India to Virginia, discovered her largely luddite mother joined Facebook just to keep in touch. Sharma’s story, among others, proves to employees that their work serves a greater purpose than just driving likes and shares.
“We want great characters and great stories that resonate,” Townsend said. “That’s what we care about.”