Creating content for your social intranet – smilelab review 


February’s smilelab was an immersive training day that provided a roadmap for getting started in the world of social intranets as well as a fantastic opportunity for members of the simplynetwork to get to know each other, writes Emma Mackie, Community Manager of the simplynetwork.

Presenting the framework for the day was our very own Marc Wright, who outlined the key considerations for anyone involved in the creation of a new digital workplace – or reviving a failing one. From setting the scene and making the business case, to launching the network and the rules of measurement, he emphasised the new key skills that all internal communicators should be nurturing as the new digital landscape emerges and evolves. 

Illustrating these points were our three guest speakers on the day, who gave us an insight into how their organisations have approached and overcome the challenges that present themselves with the design, launch and management of an internal social network. And not to mention the inspiring surroundings of our hosts British Airways at their Waterside HQ, where digital signposting for their intranet was already fully realised on screens that were everywhere for us to view and admire! 

We also had a look at their latest  advertising campaign – a ‘love letter’ to Britain on the airline’s centenary the content of which has been adapted for a separate video specifically designed to engage their internal audience; really squeezing the value out of that huge ad spend, what with it featuring all those celebs (including Winnie the Pooh, no less).  

So, what did our speakers have to say? 

Joe Tyler  IC Manager, Virgin Trains 

You may have already read our Virgin Trains case study on their impressive Yammer launch campaign. It’s been an undoubted success story, with year-on-year growth in adoption since its launch in 2015. But there’s far more to it than a super-cute alpaca (though let’s admit it involving any cuddly critter is always gonna help). 


Key takeaways: 

Print can be rather useful, actually 

Yes, we know this is mainly about digital – and the launch of Virgin Trains’ Yammer network saw the end of their print IC magazine. However, that final issue was key to its successful launch, being entirely dedicated to informing employees on this new way of working and communicating. We also heard that BA still have a print magazine; they have no intention to scrap it, and are instead using it to complement their digital comms. They plan to change the focus by transforming it into a feature-led publication that brings to life the stories surrounding the brand, while moving the corporate messaging over to their digital channels. 

Nurture the community 

Virgin has a full-time community manager, which has proved helpful for fostering engagement and providing timely responses. The topic of community management led to an insightful discussion between our members about the governance and oversight of digital communitiessome were self-regulating, while others appointed ‘champions’ for their network. And importantly, they discussed how they manage to balance that fine line between making sure all communications are appropriate, on message, and factual, while keeping lines of conversation open – without resorting to authoritarian censorship. 

Be flexible and ready for change as you go along 

As momentum increases, even the most successful campaigns can risk hitting the buffers (sorry!).  With Virgin Trains, their challenge was almost a direct result of their success: its fantastic adoption rate and useability meant their workforce started using Yammer for everything, including posting pictures of their dogs and family in the all-company group. While this ‘fluff’ is great for making everyone feel involved, it needs to be managed before it becomes overwhelming when it came to their main channel, Virgin Trains found the extraneous noise was silencing the important stuff:  corporate messages, important announcements you know, the kind of thing the intranet has been built for, ultimately.  

Fortunately, the alpaca campaign was flexible enough to be re-used in a brand-new video, which educated the employees on how to better use the network and post in groups, and also express gratitude to all those who had jumped so enthusiastically into using it.  Putting the strategy firmly back onto the rails (That’s enough with the train puns – Ed). 

Their results: 

Joe shared with us an example of the direct, tangible impact the intranet has had on the business – by increasing food sales on the trains. When employees heard via the digital grapevine that their beloved buffet car was facing the axe due to lack of profits, they took real ownership of the service and its on-train promotion. In just a few months, they went from 9/100 customers buying food on the train to 11/100.  

Steve Clarke  Senior Manager of Communication Channels, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays 

Steve provided a presentation on the importance of curating quality, attention-grabbing content, and how the use of better headlines and imagery has driven staff to engage with their social intranet, which combines O365 with Workplace by Facebook. 


Key takeaways: 

Make the most of your different channels, and have a clear strategy for each of them 

Each channel requires a different approach, and each one leads to another. Virgin uses its intranet and Ruby Blog for pull communication; Workplace for open communication; and Email, digital signage and print for push. 

The foundation of the method is centralised messaging: a message is published in one location, and then shared and promoted across a series of channels. This allows them to reach as wide an audience as possible, without duplicating the same message in several places. It also gives them the ability to tailor the content format to the channels on which they are being published; for instance, on Workplace the copy would be relatively short form, personal and informal. Meanwhile, Email is used for more formal, corporate messages. This system gives them greater control of the core message, and makes analytics easier to handle and more accurate. 

Create content that ‘pops’ 

From eye-catching banners to digital signage, the first thing is to push employees on to the key channels. And once they’re on there, they need to be engaged – with clear headlines, images and video content designed to capture attention and spark conversations This kind of content is especially important when the subject matter is a little ‘dull’, shall we say – such as on Data Privacy Day. And just so you know; hashtags, tagging and gifs aren’t just for Twitter.  

Make your network indispensable  

Steve recommended creating a hook – an example here was a working hours table, that had previously been printed out and put on a board. They put a digital version on the network instead – so employees had to login to Yammer to log their hours. From there they’d be drawn in to continue using the site – thanks to that outstanding content. Marc gave a further example of this, with the idea of putting the canteen menu online – give your workforce a reason to be there, and then watch them get involved. 

Get leadership on there 

A recurring theme throughout the day’s talks was the importance of getting your leaders to be advocates for your new digital workplace. In the case of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays, the leadership are mostly active in Workplace. 

As Marc described, involving leaders can be invaluable for your strategy.  Not only does it humanise leadership, it gives CEOs a direct line to employees, cutting out the middle management and the possible dilution of messaging. It also sets the tone for the brand, acting as a guide to those middle managers on how they should be communicating with employees.  

That’s not to say that getting them online is never without a struggle. While some leaders find themselves adapting immediately, the shyer ones need a little coaxing. And unfortunately, some find it difficult to cope with the transparency these open social networks create – coaching them on the risks versus the rewards can help convince the laggards. 

Steve Garvey, Moving Image 

Neatly rounding up the theme of quality content was a presentation by Steve Garvey of Moving Image, who described the power of video, and how film should be used within a comms strategy. He gave us a rundown of current opportunities and trends in brand film, and we saw some brilliant examples. 

This is surely the most excruciating recruitment video ever made by a government department: 


And at the other end of the scale is this beautifully-made, thought-provoking film on awareness of abusive relationships released on Valentine’s Day.  It was made as a pro bono piece of work for Northumberland Domestic Abuse Services and has since been seen in schools throughout the UK. 


Key takeaways: 

Authenticity is key 

And back to the importance of leadership involvement. Video is an excellent format through which leaders can communicate their authentic selves with employees, via filming themselves, or being interviewed. With Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays we saw how leadership got involved, which helped humanised themselves and the brand.  

Video content doesn’t need to be expensive 

Don’t have a Virgin or BA budget? Well, who does. But don’t worry – Steve explained that there are many ways to produce valuable video content that are surprisingly accessible and affordable. One suggestion was to train your leaders in the art of vlogging using their camera phone. And live video, which we heard leads to better audience engagement, can easily be produced on a smartphone these days, too. These lower production values may even add to that all-important concept of authenticity, when used judiciously.  

‘Rise above the content swamp’ 

Tying up that thread of quality content, Steve warned our audience about falling into the trap of employing overused effects – think stock videos and drone shots. Audiences are used to these now, and they can smell insincere cheesiness from a mile off.  Also, it just doesn’t stand out. Be more unique, innovative and imaginative to rise above it and you’ll be more authentic, too! 


No one said building a social intranet was easy. But through this smilelab we saw how, through collaboration and an imaginative strategy, quantifiable success is absolutely possible. And with the help of others on simplynetwork to navigate the way, that journey can be made significantly easier, and more rewarding. Over 300 companies have already benefitted from attending these workshops. 

Our next smilelab takes place on March 22, where we’ll be looking at taking a business-first approach to Office 365 with James Robertson, Founder and Managing Director of Step Two. We look forward to seeing you there! 

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