The power of Barclays digital ambassadors


Turning employees into digital advocates is a challenge many corporates are not yet ready to face. Too many risks, too much potential for crisis. Or so they think. One of the UK’s leading high street banks has done it and is already reaping the benefits – and not only from a comms point of view.

Barclays has turned 20,000 of its staff worldwide into digital advocates and over 12,000 in the UK. The Barclays Digital Eagles are employees with a passion for online and social media who volunteer their time to explain technology to their colleagues and and the public.

They work in different parts of the bank, in branches, offices or telephony centers. To join the Digital Eagles, all they have to do is register on their intranet. They don’t need approval from their line managers for that. What they will need approval for is the amount of time they want to dedicate to the different activities the Digital Eagles run.

Internally, these volunteers are in charge of helping colleagues deal with changes in technology. Branches hold huddles every morning, shortly before they open to the public. If there is new technology that applies to products and processes and needs to be explained, the Digital Eagles will step in and run the session.

Care for Tea and Teach?

They are also responsible for a number of initiatives for customers and the public that Barclays has developed. It all began with Tea and Teach sessions. People can drop in at a branch, bring their questions about technology and sit down for tea with a Digital Eagle who will help answer them. These range from “how do I download Skype on my iPAD” to “how do I get an app to work on my mobile phone”.

Tea & Teach events are also held in schools, community centers and care homes. Helping elderly citizens bridge the digital divide is high on the Digital Eagles agenda.

On December 1st, the UN’s International Day of Older Persons, Barclays ran 233 Tea & Teach sessions simultaneously in 93 care homes in different countries. “We had homes in London connected via Skype with homes in South Africa and New Zealand,” remembers Luke Daniel Christoforidis, Frontline Help Manager.

A similar initiative was organised on 3rd December, on the occasion of the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Tea & Teaches were held in homes for the disabled in cooperation with charities like Leonard Cheshire Disability.

Not your usual branch
Barclays has also teamed up with Young Rewired State (YRS) and invites young adults working on tech projects like apps to use the Wi-Fi and spaces in its branches. The bank’s relationship managers will also be available to provide business advice. “We have worked out that for young adults the traditional tools of funding don’t work,” points out Dave Shepherd, Head of Frontline Help. “They are developing software in their bedrooms, what they need is mentoring and business skills”. The bank will be hosting “tech accelerators” together with YRS in 1,500 branches throughout the UK in 2015.

“This activity complements well our life skills app which we have also developed for young adults,” adds Shepherd.

Accrediting digital skills

In January, Barclays launched another app that people interested in having their digital knowledge certified can download for free from the app store. The Digital Driving Licence (DDL) has been created in cooperation with partners like Microsoft, Cisco, IBM and BT, which contributed content that Shepherd’s team “curated and collated”. It is an accreditation program, endorsed by City & Guilds, which anybody can join by taking a series of tests on the app. Completing it gives you not only an accreditation but also a City & Guilds badge that can be displayed on your LinkedIn profile. “The app has an API that connects to LinkedIn,” says Shepherd. “Once you have gained 6,000 points for the DDL, you press the button and there it is… on your LinkedIn page”.

Curation through Twitter
The Digital Eagles have been using social media to talk about all these initiatives and to invite the public to join in. Their channel of choice is Twitter. “It felt like the right platform to pick and pull content and connect with other groups,” says Christoforidis. “We have chosen Twitter because of its strong curation aspect”.

The @digitaleagles account is manned by a team of seven Eagles who run it seven days a week. They liaise with their colleagues as to the events to tweet about. They also use a group on Barclays’ mobile ESN, MyZone, to discuss content and updates.

Another popular initiative took place on a Saturday last July under #DigitalEagleSOS. Members of the public based in London could send in requests for digital help by tweeting under this hashtag. A Digital Eagle would then jump on a motorcycle, visit the person at their home and sort out problems like how to download an app on an iPAD. Barclays’ hope to run more #DigitalEagleSOS days in more cities in the UK in future.

Similar activities have been going on in other parts of the world where the bank has a presence and an active network of Digital Eagles including South Africa and India.

What’s in it for me

What motivates employees to volunteer their free time as digital ambassadors? For Dominic Wilson, Assistant Manager based in Barclays’ flagship branch on Piccadilly Circus, becoming a Digital Eagle has been mainly about being able to pass on his digital knowledge. “I love to show customers new ways of doing things. Tea & Teaches are great because you are dealing with people who don’t want to have anything to do with online. But once you show them, they get it and start using technology”.

For the bank it has also been a new way of managing career development. Joining the Digital Eagles gives employees the opportunity to grow laterally and expand their capabilities. “The traditional route to spotting and developing talent has changed,” says Christoforidis. “We have been able to find hidden talent among the Eagles”. He mentions the example of a colleague who, being particularly good at digital videos, has been seconded to a design team for six months and is now responsible for creating promotional videos.

Transforming employees into digital advocates has other benefits, like the opportunity of having the company’s values promoted on social channels in a bottom up, sustainable way. If your staff talks about the company’s community work through their own digital content, your voice on social media becomes more credible and authentic, and less corporate. It is the kind of voice the social ecosphere has time to hear.

“When we started doing Tea &Teaches in our branches, the industry could not understand why we were doing it for free,” remembers Shepherd. “But it is our social responsibility. It is something we have to do”.