Internal Communications

Sharing stories at HSBC

HSBC NOW is a powerful platform to share employee stories and build engagement

The revelation last year that HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary had helped more than 100,000 clients avoid paying taxes was yet another blow to public trust in financial services, but within the global banking giant morale was severely rocked. In the aftermath of the scandal being revealed, an internal survey of more than 24,600 HSBC employees – representing around ten per cent of the global workforce – revealed a dramatic drop in employee pride and advocacy levels in the first quarter  of 2015.

It was time for HSBC’s global content and employee digital platforms team, the makers of HSBC NOW, the bank’s global internal video series, to spring into action and create an impactful campaign that would serve to encourage transparency and boost pride within the global banking business.

Building on its strategy of ‘empowering employees through story-telling’, the team decided it was time to give staff their own voice. It created the HSBC NOW Share video crowdsourcing app, available in six languages, and encouraged employees to upload their own video content outlining why they were proud to work for HSBC  and how the the media coverage had affected them, under the campaign umbrella Our People, Our Story.

‘We found that videos consistently performed better when authentic user-generated content was featured,’ explains Jenny Varley, global head of content and employee digital platforms at HSBC. ‘In only four years we had successfully moved from a top down ‘tell’ approach that was highly censored by the top of the organisation, to a ‘voice of the people’ ‘show’ approach, created by us. But by 2016, that’s no longer relevant. We need to think in terms of ‘share, interaction and dialogue’ – created by everyone.’

It took eight weeks to create the app, but there were issues along the way. ‘We spent most of that time lobbying stakeholders to get the app signed off from a legal and compliance perspective. We had to find a way of enabling thousands of employees to create their own content about their organisation without sending data security teams into an early grave,’ says Varley.

Employees also had to be educated on how to use the app. Video user guides were created to show employees how to use the app and the type of stories HSBC NOW producers were looking for. The team also had to fight to get the app on the public app stores and Google Play. It took nine steps to download from the internal platform used to test customer-facing apps before launch.

We had to find a way of enabling thousands of employees to create their own content about their organisation without sending data security teams into an early grave

More than 4,400 clips were uploaded within six months of its launch, generating 57 hours and 19 minutes of footage. The team edited this down into a film lasting less than  ten minutes. Varley adds: ‘Our People, Our Story was our highest viewed content: we received hundreds and hundreds of emails about it. We’re putting [employees] front and centre of everything we do within the employee insight and communications function.’

More than seven in ten employees who used the app in its early months viewed it as symbolic, claiming it strengthened communications and relationships across the business. And by the final quarter of 2015, the dip in employee pride and advocacy had stabilised.

Another important factor in rebuilding pride was Raj’s Story. Last year, bank employee Raj Bhuller was diagnosed with leukaemia. He urgently needed a stem cell transplant to save his life, but because so few Asians were on the register, his chance of finding a donor match was only 20 per cent. HSBC NOW embarked on a series of videos, starting with a call to action to employees. The campaign prompted 33 donor recruitment events across five countries, and 6,100 employees signed up as potential donors.

Such was the popularity of these videos that the series was expanded, not only to celebrate the news that Slough-based Bhuller had found a donor, and was on the path to recovery, but also to celebrate connections between HSBC colleagues across the globe. In a survey of more than 24,000 employees, Raj’s Story was cited as the number one reason that employees are proud to work at the banking behemoth. HSBC NOW was created in 2012 with a remit to rebuild trust, and ignite a global community.

‘The culture of our past meant that people didn’t feel safe to call out bad behaviour,’ says Varley. ‘[We had to] reconnect our employees with a shared sense of personal responsibility and make them feel safe to speak up.’

The HSBC NOW team creatively and editorially manages a weekly stream of films, telling the stories of the bank’s 257,600 employees. The content focuses on triumph over adversity,  such as one Mexican colleague, paralysed after a basketball accident, participating in London 2012 Paralympics, or a breast cancer survivor’s two-way swim across the Channel. The films are broadcast on the bank’s intranet and were quickly averaging 48,000 views, a whopping 1,200 per cent higher than the previous corporate videos produced by the bank.

‘We were bold in our choice of stories and it shows in the audience numbers. No subjects are off-limits,’ says Varley. ‘But, if we want our employees to be courageous then we have to be courageous and cover stories we would normally avoid.’

As an apolitical bank, for example, it would be easy for HSBC NOW not to cover how political instability and violence affects its employees. In 2012, the team told the story about how colleagues kept the bank operational at huge personal risk during the Arab Spring Uprising. This year, HSBC NOW tackled the topic of sexuality, producing a series of films featuring the bank’s LGBT staff, who shared their experiences of being out at work, which was posted to coincide with Pride Month.

‘HSBC NOW shows our culture in action through stories like this. They bring humanity back to the workplace, and they create environments where it feels safe to bring your whole self to the office,’ says Varley.

It was not long before employees asked to share these stories with friends and families, creating an external audience for what had been an internal project. In 2013, HSBC NOW launched its own YouTube channel and Twitter account, which now has more than 52,000 followers.

‘HSBC has seen the value in employee stories being seen externally,’ says Varley. Initially, the move was designed to reach those colleagues who faced technical and cultural issues when they tried to access content internally. But it has also given the bank’s brand a ‘personality’. About 90 per cent of HSBC’s content is shared externally, which has brought its own challenges. Content has to be adapted into short-form to make it social media ready.

HSBC NOW shows our culture in action through stories

‘We want to create different content for social media. Our content strategy has quickly developed into a mobile-first approach,’ says Varley. But social media trends also act as a ‘litmus test’ for what employees want to see. There are currently plans to launch on Facebook, and HSBC is updating its employee social media principles to accompany that.

‘We’re about to launch new principles to show that it’s not something to be scared of,’ says Varley. With more than half of HSBC’s workforce made up of millennials and Generation Z, Facebook is a necessary addition to the HSBC NOW family. It is thought that the programme will have a further knock-on effect, attracting future talent by showing the ‘human side’ of HSBC.

‘It gives us the capability to be truly global, with non-English language content, square format, immersive and 360 degree video,’ says Varley. ‘It’s speaking [employees’] language and meeting them where they are.’

The more stories that are told, the more people come forward, getting in touch via email or through their country’s communications department.

‘Every one’s got a story, everyone’s got a voice,’ says Varley.

This article first appeared in issue 109