Philips connects employees with new online community

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From the company that introduced us to roving reporters comes another innovative internal communications channel: a social-powered community launched on May 2nd, 2011 aimed at helping employees do their jobs better.

As Philips’ Senior Global Internal Communications Officer at the time, Cameron Batten explains the ideas behind the innovate tool:

“Employees need people to help them do their jobs. One of the telling stats we have from this community is that when you ask a question inside of it, you can get on average, 3 answers. More than 25% are from a different sector (Healthcare, Lighting and Consumer Lifestyle) and approximately 38% are from a different job function. That right there tells us this is a true help line for the community.”

Within 8 weeks of the launch, the site saw an impressive growth rate of 2000 per cent. At the time of this writing, the member count was up to 12,423 employees. Not bad for a target rate of 10,000 for the year.

Of those 12,423 members, several of them consist of Philips executives, who Batten says, usually require a 3-4 week learning curve to get comfortable with using the site.

“It all comes down to training. What time are executives going to use the tool? What are they going to speak about and champion? How are they going to use the site?

“Our leaders are full of great stories. If they can go in and share one great story a week or start listening to one story a week, that in itself is an accomplishment. But it will take time for them to embed it as part of their workload.”

Getting the buy-in

Batten credits Bret Furio – CEO of Philip’s Consumer Lifestyle Sector in North America – as a big reason why the internal comms team was able to get the enterprise social network into the boardroom. As an avid Twitter user, Furio understood the social aspect of communications and why an internal resource was needed to help staff connect across multiple regions.

“He was using Twitter internally to stay connected to his employees as part of a culture-building program inside North America. If you think about our consumer group and what they were facing in terms of the economy last year, they had to have special attention. Brett was able to delicately combine all of the elements of the program and still use Twitter seven times a day from his BlackBerry to post updates which would then go live on the intranet. His engagement scores were quite high but what is really remarkable is that he was one of the few people in North America to actually achieve a business plan. In that respect we were able to show how a culture building campaign could work really well,” Batten recalls.

Before introducing the site company-wide, Batten and his team conducted a 2-month test period of the online community, trying it out on PR and Marketing (the “voice” of the company) to get ahead of the curve and influence others to come along.

“For the first 2 months, it was a matter of anything goes. It’s personal, it’s professional, it’s pictures of people’s dogs and cats, family reunions, all the way up to the President’s speech. You name it. All of a sudden it trends and becomes strictly professional,” Batten explains.

To ensure content stays as work-related as possible, employees are met with the question, “what are you working on?” the very first time they log into the community. Once they respond, it automatically tags as a work log getting people into the mindset that this is a place for work.

Taking the ice off

While the site strives to be a valuable business tool, the social aspect is not forgotten, adding a more personalized and human side of corporate communications.

“Our CIO shared inside the IT Group the other day that Family Day was coming up and that he hoped to see everyone and their families there to celebrate the great accomplishments the group has had this year. He brought engagement and work-life balance to life in a platform, whereas normally he would (as Chief Purchasing Officer) advocate saving money and converting to one platform. So rather than focusing on the technical, having these forums takes the edge off and enables a more human face to internal communications.”

Another strong appeal of the site is its ability to foster collaboration and knowledge sharing around the world. It can also be accessed from anywhere.

“We have it in a private cloud where employees can access it from home or at work. If your network goes down or if there is something that is not being retrieved on your BlackBerry or via email, the community can be a lifesaver. I’ve had people turn to it while they’re away in the Hamptons and can’t get access from x, y or z but they are able to get onto the site if they have a web connection. They’re able to share the information in real time,” Batten points out.

If he has his way, logging onto the community will become part of employees’ daily routines and will also ease workflow.

“You can pull your BlackBerry out and stroll through your stream so you know what is going on in the landscape. That way you don’t have to walk back in on Monday morning and be hit with a rush.

“It’s funny, when you introduce social communities, it’s kind of like looking inside an aquarium to see what has changed or grown. I go in every day to see the membership and see what’s new, see who’s connecting. It’s what I do each morning before I get on my bike and come in to work.”

Integration with other internal communication channels

At 12,423 users, Philips’ enterprise social network is no longer viral; nor is it an experiment. It has become a formidable internal communications channel, according to Batten.

“We plan to embed it in our intranet in the coming weeks and connect it with our search engine, Autonomy, so people can search conversations that are taking place.

“With the intranet, we’re going to use a new product which allows you to stand out from your own private cloud. The conversations still take place in the community but they will stream back into the intranet in real time. I think that’s the strength of this platform – it’s always syncing in real time whether on your BlackBerry, iPhone or Desktop. They are always linked in real time and nothing is ever out of date.”

The social platform has also become a major source for Philips Netcast News (PNN), a global broadcast presented to employees every Monday morning. Roving reporters frequently collaborate on the site and share ideas about what they plan to cover on the program. Videos are then posted inside a special folder uploaded by the comms team for inclusion on PNN.

“We are introduced to news that is happening all around the world. It’s almost like having instant leads so our content has gotten three times richer,” Batten says.

Mirroring Facebook’s hack-a-thon which gives users the opportunity to experiment with the platform and find new ways to innovate, Batten and his team plan to look at the primary business systems used by Philips employees every day and how the systems “can connect with the enterprise social network in a way that can stream information to people’s groups so employees can collaborate and become faster at completing tasks and finding solutions.”

Achieving a solid ROI

While the site enables collaboration and conversations, its true ROI lies with the ability to power your business. Batten explains:

“It’s about achieving business objectives. If your community can’t support that, what good is it? Right now we have some unique case studies that I think have probably reduced some calls to the help desk. All of those things are great but what we really wanted to do was change the way we go to market and change the way we are working.”

To do that, he says, it all comes down to leveraging your employees.

“I was really struggling with how we were going to support a community of 90,000 online users. How were they going to adopt this social media tool? Use your employees to help you and to help each other and find ways to do that. For example, ask people to send photographs and videos and embed those into your formal channels of communication. That’s instant help, that’s instant engagement, and it’s free.”