Two years ago E.ON successfully launched a social collaboration and communication platform, bringing together the tools colleagues need to do their job with the social features they are used to using in their home lives. Alison Boothby caught up with Andy Bacon, Internal Communications and Engagement Digital Channels Manager at E.ON, to learn about the joys and challenges of running a social network that is approaching maturity.
Andy says, “Late on in 2015 the team in the UK and our teams in Germany acknowledged that in order to achieve our strategic goals we needed colleagues to collaborate more. It was a great opportunity to ‘go digital’ internally and replace our old, crumbling SharePoint portal.”
E.ON is one of the world’s largest investor-owned energy companies with a strong focus on energy solutions. Based in Essen, Germany, it has around 48,000 employees on the platform across nine countries.
Andy tells us, “As with our collaborative intranet, it was a truly collaborative team effort that delivered this – Internal Communications, the Change Team and IT in the UK and at Group in Germany.” The Internal Communications team has been driving E.ON’s vision to be digital-first with a digital strategy focusing on culture, engagement, innovation and analytics. As part of this, Connect– the name of their (not so) new social intranet – was launched in November 2016 after extensive business involvement in what Andy describes as ‘a totally insight-driven implementation.’
Connect is built with COYO, which claims itself to be ‘a digital home that is loved by users.’ For the time being it seems to be a fairly well-kept German secret, that has several large German-owned global brands on its customer list. It certainly ticks all the boxes for internal communications supporting corporate news, social collaboration and team messaging in one unified platform. With beautiful design and an exceptionally good user experience, COYO has developed into one of the leading companies in the intranet software market and this year ISG have highlighted them as a Rising Star in the Social Enterprise Networking Suites category.
Andy again: “Connect basically works around Pages (ideal for corporate news, and centrally curated content) and Communities, or Workspaces (perfect for team, department, project and interest groups.) Everyone can post to digital bulletin boards, upload documents, photos and videos and comment on, like and share posts. It’s very similar to well-known platforms in the consumer space. We have everything we need built in to the home page so what users need day-to-day is literally at their fingertips.”
So much of what we write about on simply-communicate.com concerns the selection, implementation and initial adoption of social platforms and like any organisation, E.ON has learnt lots along the way. Perhaps the most impressive thing about their implementation was that they migrated absolutely nothing from the old intranet and started Connect from scratch! Appropriate content owners for the agreed corporate content were brought on board early in the process and tasked with the responsibility to populate their pages. There is a system in place that monitors and reviews pages to ensure content remains relevant and fresh, but it is not the comms team’s responsibility for this – that lies with the business-based content owners.
Whilst pages can only be created by the comms team, communities can be set up by anyone. In the early days it’s fair to say that Andy’s team had push back on the set up of non-work focused communities and after some debate they stepped in to address this. “Essentially we applied a bit of censorship, were the communities relevant to our business strategy. This doesn’t mean that there are no interest groups at all – we value employee wellbeing for example – but we don’t have a Joke of the day community! It’s more about the discipline of what gets shared where and with whom,” explains Andy. Taking this tough decision early on and facing the initial push back has proved correct. He continues: “The noise quickly died down and the message landed. Two years on and we have c4500 communities across the group and Connect is really helping us work together and collaborate in a business only environment.”
Significant wins and favourite moments
“people like to see the whites of their leaders eyes and they like having a voice. It now feels like it’s something for everyone and not just for management”
At the one year mark, a group-wide survey offered up some impressive statistics. There were 23.7 million views on the site with 723,000 actual social interactions (posts, comments, shares, likes). 69% said they preferred the new platform over the old and 80% of users surveyed had been active and posted on it. After recently hitting the two year mark a second survey is currently taking place, but so what? While these figures serve to support Andy’s view that Connect was doing some good in the business, there are certain use cases that better reinforce its value.
- Since Connect launched, they have run three 3 major group campaigns. “It’s been brilliant to show employees that they are all in it together, and much easier to build excitement around the campaigns because everyone gets the information at the same time. For example, our new brand launch went out as a simultaneous broadcast across the group and got people talking about it immediately.
- This was followed up with a campaign about their solar generation with a partnership with the band Gorillaz. Gorillaz had a user profile on Connect, and shared updates from there supported by an online advert and video. It created a real buzz in the business and certainly helped engage people.
- Internal Communications has moved all strategic comms channels to Connect. The quarterly ‘Big Chat’ conference call which shared and discussed business results used to be a fairly dry affair. Utilising the benefits of Connect, a short video update was released on Connect a few days before the live Q&A call. Viewing figures rocketed and over 400 people were on the live calls – double the number it used to be. This has evolved again, it now has a studio audience and is live streamed on Connect, seeing figures taking another jump! Andy believes that, “people like to see the whites of their leaders eyes and they like having a voice. It now feels like it’s something for everyone and not just for management. It’s great to see employees at all levels getting actively involved in the business successes and challenges.”
- There has been a focus on Leaders as Communicators, coaching leaders to get involved on Connect with a simpler, more timely delivery of messages written by themselves. “When leaders share their own thoughts on the platform it has an authenticity and immediacy that we could never achieve with the old-fashioned comms team crafted messages. Gradually more and more of them are embracing it and can quickly see the impact it has on the people who work for them. Getting involved in the conversation on Connect is a great way to gauge the mood of the business in an instant.”
- One of Andy’s favourite moments was the creation of a particular community created by relatively new employees as a hub to discuss inclusion, fairness and diversity. Andy explains: “With a hashtag #awkward this was, without a doubt, a brilliant campaign! It was even more powerful because it was entirely user generated content. The concept and the delivery came from a number of graduates and in true E.ON style, they used the power of Connect to elevate our colleagues’ voice within the organisation. In a series of short video clips, employees tackled all sorts of issues and topics – the sorts of things that frequently lead to intentional or unintentional bias or discrimination like having tattoos, or a disability, or a certain background, accent even. It was totally authentic, real and extremely valuable.”
Keeping the dream alive
Once the initial enthusiasm is over it’s important to find ways to keep any social intranet fresh and exciting. This is as much of a job as the implementation and user adoption phase. Talking to Andy I think he has the secret! “You have to love it!” he exclaims.
There’s a real knack for curating content on social platforms that draws your people in and gets them involved. Here are some examples that have worked well at E.ON:
- Gamification – if there’s something big happening in the world, jump on the bandwagon if you can. Last summer’s football World Cup was a good example. In actual fact, COYO created a special app for all their customers to use and it proved extremely popular. Each day users predicted the scores of the matches, with points awarded for correct predictions, correct goal differences etc. As the competition gathered momentum, people were keen to see who was at the top of the leaderboard and who were the eventual prize winners. Over the month this community saw some 300,000 views. It was brilliant for engagement and creating a real buzz around the business. It also brought colleagues – especially operational teams – onto Connect for the first time.
- Having a bit of fun – the Internal Comms team are responsible for curating the carousel content which is at the top of Connect’s home page. As well as the headline corporate stories, it is also excellent for polling – another quick and easy way to get people engaged with the platform. A little Friday fun and humour can be very welcome so for example one Friday poll asked colleagues to say whether they would be watching the Royal wedding or the FA cup final back in 2018? They also ran pools over the quieter Christmas period to search for E.ONs favourite Christmas song and movie of all time. Again, bringing the outside world in, and using something that was happening anyway can create a real energy about the place.
- In another example, Andy’s team were keen to communicate the weekend the clocks went back. They could have just stated the fact but decided to have a bit of fun with it, using it as an opportunity to build engagement. They posed a question: If you could turn back time, who would you have dinner with? Ideas like this draw people in and can encourage some of your more reluctant users to get involved – it’s then just a small step further to get involved at a deeper level within the platform, contributing to wider business conversations.
Into the future
What keeps Internal Communications at E.ON excited about Connect is that there is still more to do. A particular focus is on the Top 100 leaders in the business to encourage them to all be active on the platform. This involves some one-to-one coaching sessions as well as a campaign timed around the 2019 leaders’ conference using a best practice idea from our friends at SWOOP analytics: the 1-2-3 model. It’s a simple and very tangible way to get people active on your platform. The idea is that each week they post 1 item, comment twice and like or share three times. Yep: it’s as easy as….
Andy summarises: “We’re now working on improving our social maturity within E.ON. That means maximising current tools and innovating exciting new digital channels that benefit our Internal Communications team and the wider business. We will continue to use film and video and lots of imagery on Connect – it definitely gets more engagement. We are also focusing on tailoring communication to specific audiences, improving senior leadership visibility with their digital brand and ensuring colleague and customer voice is raised throughout the organisation.
“And as for our 2000 ‘hard to reach’ colleagues out in the field with limited access to digital channels, we have just built a dedicated solution for them and early feedback is extremely positive. But that’s probably a story for another day…”
By Alison Boothby