SAS delivers a personalised internal communication strategy for employees

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Fresh off SAS making the top of the list of FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, I caught up with the global software company’s Internal Communications Manager, Becky Graebe in Atlanta.

Graebe presented to a packed room at Ragan’s social media conference where she told attendees that SAS’s passion for good communications starts at the top.

“Our CEO believes in creating an environment that gets people excited about the projects they work on.”

As a result, Graebe and her 8-person team are constantly trying to come up with new and creative ways to inform SAS’s 11,000 employees about what’s going on inside the company.

“We realize that the value of information people are getting in their social circles could easily be applied within the company. “

Therefore, Graebe sought to come up with tools that would help foster collaboration and knowledge sharing – especially for those SAS employees working from home.  Mirroring tools like My Yahoo, SAS has developed individual customization features for their staff allowing them to filter content that’s relevant and suits their needs.

Social media

Graebe says, “Whenever we can, we encourage people to use social media inside or outside the company.” However, she also advises her employees to type with care.

For any company looking to jump on the social media bandwagon internally, Graebe stresses the importance of creating a clear set of guidelines for employees to follow:

“I can’t say enough about getting those established right up front. We worked with a collaborative group consisting of Legal, HR, IT and Marketing to come up with a common set of guidelines. Without these clear guidelines what you will find is that the people you don’t want out there will be out there. The thought leaders who you really want out there will hold back because they are unsure if (social media) is the right thing to do.”

Know your audience’s comfort levels

Whether employees are younger and already engaging with social media away from the office or if they’re seasoned veterans unsure about experimenting with shiny new tools, Graebe says it’s critical to provide a space for people to become comfortable with using social media. “It’s better to give them a place on the intranet to dabble with it rather than Twittering externally,” she recommends.

Most importantly, Graebe points out, companies need to give their employees something to talk about to get them to join the online conversations. “Even if it’s something small – for example, how many M&Ms are eaten by employees on a daily basis – step out and trust people and just have fun.”

To drive employees to the intranet, known as the SAS Wide Web, SAS ensures that everyone has a voice inside the company, enabling staff to post comments on each article. Those comments are then linked to the employees’ directory page to disclose who the person is. In keeping with transparency best practice, no anonymous postings are allowed on SAS’s intranet. The site is also monitored by Graebe and six of her IC colleagues, with each receiving an email alert any time a new comment is posted. That way, they can act quickly in the event of anything “iffy” being uploaded.

For IC managers looking for executive buy-in when it comes to implementing social media, Graebe says showing them the ability to control and monitor content on the intranet has been a huge plus. She also estimates and shares bottom line impact associated with changes to the intranet. For instance, by moving café menus – one of the most consistently popular pages on the SAS Wide Web – one click away from the home page instead of three clicks deep, the company is saving more than 160 minutes of productivity per week. Multiplied by the average salary at the company, the simple change can make a big difference.

Managing internal news

In a company that has over 100 departmental newsletters, managing informational content can be quite a challenge. Initially distributed as PDF emails “that people could care less about with information that was hard to find,” SAS decided to change their communicative approach.

“We made a big shift and asked our content providers to stop creating and sending PDF’s via email and instead put all the content online, onto their departmental sites which improves searchability and offers RSS capability,” Graebe recalls.

As expected, the response wasn’t too hot – at first. “It was like turning a jumbo jet around in a driveway. They didn’t want to do it saying ‘we’ve always done it this way.’ But when we told them how important it was to find information, to let people pick what they wanted on their desk tops, it started to sound more attractive,” Graebe explains. As a result, news distribution has become a very successful venture – and more importantly – it has helped reduce email storage capacity.

Blogging

Using SharePoint, as well as Serendipity software, blogging has become widely used at SAS. The company acknowledges the value of the popular internal communications tool – so much so that blogs are featured prominently on the intranet home page, right alongside the top company news.

“Internal blogging is very popular. I’d like to tell you it was a corporate communications effort but it was not. Employees started it without us. We wanted to get behind the movement and support it; therefore, any employee can blog at SAS. We’d rather have some control over it than no control,” Graebe explains.

Currently there are over 600 blogs being published at SAS with content ranging from the latest news in the company’s R&D Division to an Executive Messaging site, which the IC team used as a guise to get executives on board, “Some didn’t even know they were blogging when we asked them to participate,” Graebe says. “They just agreed to move their monthly message from email to an online space where employees could leave questions or comments for them.” Very clever indeed.

SAS’s Top Ten bloggers are recognized by the company with graphs and data made available on the home page for everyone to see. Photos of the bloggers are published, linking back to their blogs. A group blog called “sascom voices” often features posts from employees on the company’s external website, demonstrating how internal and external comms can often overlap.

Blogs are also used at SAS to celebrate special events, as well as to memorialize employees who have passed away.

“At SAS, we maintain a family-like atmosphere so we give employees an opportunity to share a special memory of a colleague who has passed away. A month after the obituaries are posted, we send the tributes to the family,” Graebe explains.

Microblogging

We all know Twitter, we even know Yammer. Now…meet Chatter.

After realizing that several of SAS’s global employees did not have the same domain name as their US counterparts, the internal comms team came up with an alternative to Yammer to get their messages out to everyone.

Like Twitter, characters are limited to 140 characters on Chatter which is used purely inside the firewall. Graebe likens the tool to yelling a question out to a colleague in the hallway to get quick information and opinions. Chatter even has a tiny URL link shortener.

Making time for the lighter stuff

SAS often adds an element of humour into their internal communication.  The company recently celebrated “Talk Like a Pirate Day” and “Pi Day” (March 14th).

To further humanize their employee communications, daily polls and quizzes are a significant route taken by Graebe and her team to get employees engaged and participating in the dialogue.

“You Tell US” has become a popular feature where employees are asked various questions to reveal information about themselves in 40 characters or less.  From people’s favourite rock bands to the first jobs ever worked, the top five answers immediately show up on the home page in hope of grabbing people’s attention.

To give colleagues a better idea of what people’s roles are in the company, “On The Job” has become a highly visited forum, allowing employees to achieve more recognition and to put a face – and personality – behind a name.

And if an employee makes an appearance on “Antiques Roadshow”, you can guarantee the human interest story will be covered on SAS’s intranet.

Photo and video sharing are also encouraged on SAS’s intranet, and are not just limited to shots around the office. It’s not uncommon to see family photos on the site or pictures of people’s pets.

“It’s all about being willing to get out there and loosen up some of the corporate stuffiness – even just a tad,” Graebe says.