Vanessa-Sain-Dieguez, Sr. Director HR Digital Strategy of Hilton
Vanessa Sain-Dieguez
Sr. Director, HR Digital Strategy

How Hilton’s Vanessa Sain-Dieguez Uses Digital and Social Strategy to Modernize HR

Two years ago, Nadine Dietz wrote a piece on The New Breed of HR where she noted that "HR leaders are people marketers." More and more, we're seeing the lines between the HR and Marketing functions blur together in unexpected ways.  So what happens when HR recruiting meets a savvy social media strategy? Vanessa Sain-Dieguez, Sr. Director of HR Digital Strategy for Hilton, is leading the charge to use the power of EGC (employee-generated content) to amplify employee stories and drive tangible results for both recruitment and engagement. Here, Vanessa shares more about the hospitality industry's first-ever dedicated employee takeover account, why finding balance is a must, and the two words she lives by.

Tell us about your role and why you chose to join Hilton.

I’ve been with Hilton for 10+ years in digital marketing and social media. What I love about working here and what has kept me here is our endless pursuit of innovation and ensuring the best possible guest experience. Most recently, I moved to the HR side to lead our social media programs for employer brand and recruitment marketing and bring that innovation to our Team Members.

Now, I lead our social media programs globally to enhance awareness of Hilton as a top employer brand and drive qualified talent to open positions. My team oversees owned, earned, and paid media including brand reputation sites like Glassdoor and social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. We partner throughout the organization to identify, empower, and amplify Team Member advocates to help tell the Hilton story through their lens.

What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you?

I’ve long been excited about big data and personalization. Customers today want a truly unique and personalized experience – and for the first time, we can actually begin to deliver upon this. I remember staying at a hotel brand early in my career that knew my name upon check-in, the type of pillow I liked, the room I preferred, and more. This was many years ago before all these personalization tools were on the market – and this little boutique hotel was doing it all manually. I thought it was an incredible experience and I felt so cared for as an individual. This has been one of my biggest passion points in social media as it can reveal so many details about the customer’s hopes and expectations if you’re listening. Much of my work here has been using social media data to listen and enhance the guest experience as well as contribute to a holistic customer view.

The @HiltonCareers Instagram account feed featuring 100% employee-generated content (EGC).
The @HiltonCareers Instagram account feed featuring 100% employee-generated content (EGC).

How are you using social media in an innovative way?

Over the past few years, my team has built and brought to market a social media presence for our employer brand that is 100% driven by employee generated content (EGC). That means zero stock photography in paid campaigns or organic content. By shifting to EGC, we doubled our career site traffic and conversions from social media. For our Instagram account (@HiltonCareers), what's compelling is that we were able to grow the account from zero to 22,000 followers in 3 years without any paid support, and we have an impressive average organic reach of 25% (again no paid).

I firmly believe in today’s age, trust is everything – and people will always trust a person over a logo. Showcasing our people first-hand and having them share why they love working for Hilton has been one of the most rewarding projects of my career to date.

What big learning moments have you experienced during your career?  

A few years ago, I had a very serious health scare. It was one of those moments that makes you stop, put everything on hold, and fully evaluate every aspect of your life. Prior to this moment, I was absolutely a workaholic and wore that badge with honor! I loved checking my email first thing in the morning, the last thing at night, working crazy hours, and traveling nearly every other week. Then came along this health scare – almost in a moment, everything stopped and stood still, and I had such profound clarity of my priorities. From the moment I received a clean bill of health, I’ve tried to maintain this clarity (it isn’t always easy!) and live each day with intention and purpose.

"I think the workplace is starting to shift and the rise of personal wellbeing is becoming more influential in corporate America."

This experience made me a better leader, mother, wife, and all-around human being. I see so many people approaching burnout – sacrificing their health for one more meeting or a few more late night emails. I try to share my story where I can to encourage people to evaluate their priorities before they have a health scare that forces them to do so. Luckily, I think the workplace is starting to shift and the rise of personal wellbeing is becoming more influential in corporate America.

How do you pick and develop the talent on your team?

Depending on the role, I look for strong demonstrated subject matter expertise and qualities that will round out and complement my team. I’m a big believer in team fit, so this is an important element. Broadly, I’m always looking for candidates that have an insatiable curiosity, are resourceful, and relentlessly persistent. In an interview, if you demonstrate that you’ve thoroughly researched the company, my team, our work, and ask questions that get me really thinking – then you’ll definitely catch my attention. Last but not least, I’m always looking for someone who will challenge me – who isn’t afraid to disagree with me, or show another way.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My dad always told me to live by two words: “choose wisely.” It’s taken me a long time to realize the impact of these two little words and how big they really are. Everything in life really is a choice – make it a good one.

Bonus Questions

What’s something that most people don't know about you?

I’ve had a novel stuck in my head for about 15 years now trying desperately to get out! One of these days, I’ll write it down.

Favorite quote, book, movie or podcast? 

My new favorite learning tool is my library app (in addition to audible). Now with the app, I’m constantly reading something new. Recent favorites include the books Essentialism and RISE and podcast would be “Why not Now?” and “Heroine