Pearson uses social platform to drive change


How will you know when your enterprise social network hits critical mass? At the publishing giant Pearson, it happened sometime last year when their platform began to attract between 300 and 500 new pieces of content every day.

“Hearing that figure really blew my mind,” says Karen Gettman (pictured right), VP and Director of Learning and Collaboration. About 85% of the company’s 44,000 employees use Neo, a Jive-based network that was launched in February 2011. “We have business in over 60 countries and, at the time, people couldn’t really have water cooler conversations with other people in the organization, they couldn’t find colleagues with particular skills or experience to work with or help them,” explains Gettman, who has been shaping the project since its brainstorming days. “Neo has given us a level of visibility across the company that we did not have before.”

Don’t forget non-work groups

Employees use the platform for different purposes like exchanging information about vendors. Sales and marketing teams have set up a group that helps them answer questions from customers. “You not only get an answer within minutes but you also have a history and you can perform searches on previous queries,” says Gettman.

Neo has some 15,000 groups or communities. “At the start, we used to have many more non-work groups, now they make up around 10%.” People initially set up groups based on pastimes like running to familiarize themselves with the platform. Gettman believes in the importance of these groups as a way to bring people together: “I talked to companies where employees met, for example, in a cooking group and then began to work together.”

To drive adoption at the time of the launch, Gettman identified 500 champions, asked them to upload content and invite as many other people as they could. She got 7,000 employees to join Neo in two months. Neo has also helped Pearson to shut down 170 intranets.

The right kind of support

“You need both a top-down and bottom-up approach,” she says, explaining that you have to energise employees but you also need support from senior executives. Gettman and her community manager travelled extensively in Neo’s early days. “I would talk first to the executives. My community manager would then come in and talk to groups”.

They started training the PAs of senior executives that were slow to embrace the platform. “We taught them how to upload their bosses’ blog posts”.

A top executive who did not need convincing was John Fallon, who ran Pearson’s international business at the time and has since become CEO. “He would upload videos and use them to communicate with his people in various locations. Or he would visit a country, meet with students and blog about that,” remembers Gettman.

As well as securing senior execs’ support, Gettman and her team have seen enterprise social networking perform its own magic with particular videos and blogs going viral and attracting lots of comments, thousands in some cases.

Everybody loves a badge

Gettman believes in gamification as another way to stimulate interactions. Pearson is using a Bunchball-based badging system. Employees get badges for filling out their profiles with more extensive information than the basic details provided automatically by the system. “Our profile completion went way up after we introduced gamification”. Other badges are given to people for completing e-learning courses or for blogging regularly (Neo has 20,000 blogs). “Gamification is very popular, we will be doing much more of it in the future”.

Two simple rules

Pearson’s platform has very simple guidelines: no politics and no religion. “People were worried at the beginning about employees saying inappropriate things. But when it happened, the network was fast to jump in. Self-policing works”.

Gettman’s team includes two community managers. “We provide bespoke help, do monthly trainings and run a help group on the platform”. At the start of the project, Gettman would collect anecdotal evidence about Neo’s business case and present it to senior management every six months. She no longer needs to do that. “There is no real question about its business value any more”. The team is now using Google Analytics and Business Objects to gets stats and measure activity on the platform.

Making change happen

The future looks exciting for Neo. The new CEO was appointed at the start of 2013 and is transforming the huge publishing and education group, which comprises North American and international education businesses and the Financial Times, into a single operating company working “as one”. Neo is playing an important role in supporting this change. The platform is being redesigned to reflect the new company structure with emphasis on lines of business and geographies. All change management and communication is done through Neo. “I look back and wonder what we would have done without our network,” says Gettman.

Content curation is also on Gettman’s priority list. With as many as 500 new pieces of content appearing on Neo every day, her team is re-evaluating how to maintain it. They have been working with users training them on tagging and labeling so that content does not get lost. Neo has been helping Pearson to build its institutional memory. “If someone leaves the company, we don’t lose their work. It’s a way to maintain our corporate property”.

Gettman is also a believer in power of integrating different tools. Neo can talk to Google Docs and Google Calendar. “When something comes into your inbox, that email is connected to Neo and to the profile of the person who wrote it,” she explains. “When the conversation gets too big on email, instead of having to copy in eight people, you can move it to the network”. The future is definitely mobile at Pearson. Neo works on Androd and iPhone. “People like being connected through mobile. They feel they are keeping on top of what is going on”.