SharePoint: The prescription for intranet success at Pfizer

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“When we were faced with the opportunity and the need to update our intranet site, we looked around and decided on SharePoint as the most flexible and the most appropriate for what we were seeking to do. We had a very clear vision of what we wanted to create,” explains Bob Libbey, Head of Digital and Social Communications at Pfizer, Inc.

I caught up with Libbey at the pharmaceutical giant’s Manhattan Headquarters where Pfizer’s intranet team was hard at work in the newsroom developing stories for that day’s edition of the company’s news and information intranet site.

“The selling point of SharePoint from the user end is that it’s very easy to create content and very easy to edit and post. It’s easy to use on our newsroom end, if you will.”

Before SharePoint, that certainly wasn’t the case – especially with multiple intranet sites across the organization; over 400 to be exact.

Libbey recalls:

“Pfizer is a company of more than 100,000 colleagues all over the world – in more than 150 countries – and our intranet sites were created in a completely ad hoc manner. None of them looked or felt alike. There was no direct navigation among any of them. Colleagues never knew where they could find any of the information they were looking for.”

That all changed with the creation of a new and improved version of the company’s intranet site, PfizerWorld. PfizerWorld is not one site but rather now a Global Edition and some 40 business unit, function, region, country and local editions comprising what’s called the PfizerWorld Super Site Platform.

This was all part of the original vision to provide a daily feed of global news and info that sub-site owners could supplement with more local news for their more discrete audiences.

Libbey says, “Clearly, this approach has worked, including the fact that we have in the first two years of the project saved $7.5 million in development and maintenance costs with this approach.”

The first steps

Before completely remaking their intranet site, in January 2009, the number one item on the agenda for Libbey and his team was bringing Pfizer’s editorial standards up to the level that they needed. So, for most of 2008, the team focused on the site’s content.

These days, they still pay close attention to a clear-cut editorial policy.

“We make decisions on what we cover, not unlike any other news room. What runs on a given day is based on its relative importance compared to other pieces that we have, and what’s most relevant to the enterprise audience. What we’re creating is enterprise global content supplemented by business unit content, and content from local sites.

“This is what drives our decision making in terms of what we are going to post. And in terms of story length, we’ve taken it down from pieces that were simply too long, to 400-450 words.”

If people are expecting to see stories about company meetings or clinical trials, they’ll be greatly disappointed.

“There are certain kinds of stories that are specific to pharma, and some of them we just don’t run. For example, we don’t do stories on clinical trials, because we (as a company) are always conducting clinical trials and reporting results. We don’t run one if we’re not going to run all of them. We also generally don’t run posed photos. We don’t want our site to look like the garden club newsletter.”

Wanting vs. needing

For Libbey, giving employees what they want and getting them what the business needs them to have is a constant challenge.

He says, “This is something that we work at every day. It’s everything from the stories that we post, the information that we make available, the tools we put out there. It’s a huge balancing act. For example, we know animal stories play very well. A picture – especially a colleague with an animal – people respond to that. Sometimes we’ll run fun stories like that just to get people on the site and to get them to look at other things they might not look at on their own.

“Stories that do well for us are ones we put together from a colleague’s personal world, tying into environmental issues – putting it in the context of what the business is doing. People like to see their company doing something green for example. So if you can bring those two worlds together, that is a winning combination.”

An electronic town square

Libbey likes to think of PfizerWorld – the company’s singular internal channel – as an online town square.

“People come to get their news and information about the enterprise – about the various pieces of Pfizer – that’s a big part of what’s made the project a success. Obviously we use email a lot; we distribute a promotional newsletter twice a week to show what’s upcoming in PfizerWorld. We need to be careful not to overload people. We’re always looking for ways to help people sort their information. That to me is the biggest challenge right now – helping people prioritize all the news and information that we’re sending to them,” Libbey explains.

During my tour of PfizerWorld, Libbey and his colleagues demonstrated a new ticker currently being piloted to Pfizer employees. The news crawl runs along the bottom of people’s desktops and includes the top stories of the day from PfizerWorld, top news clips of the day disseminated by the Media Relations team and breaking news as needed.

Design inspiration

Libbey and his team strive to maintain a clean look and feel on the site. For example, the feature box on the upper left of the home page was inspired by the New York Post Web site; except that the stories on Pfizer’s site rotate through the box, whereas they ‘tear away’ on the Post’s site.

“We pulled from a lot of sources and put them together in a way that our colleagues would enjoy. And they have so far, as the numbers indicate.”

For the most recent quarter, the there were 108,000 unique users on PfizerWorld consisting of colleagues, contractors and consultants. In 2008, the site had 1.4 million article views; in 2009, the number jumped to 3 million article views, along with 10 million site visits on the whole. For 2010, article views topped 5.2 million and visits reached 55 million.

“We wanted PfizerWorld to gain newsroom-type credibility, and I think we’ve achieved that,” Libbey says.

Partnering up with IT

Something else Libbey and his team have been able to achieve is a critical partnership with IT or, as it’s known at Pfizer, Business Technology (BT).

“We recognized this from the beginning – you have to work with BT. It was a big investment for the company – to go from where we were and where we wanted to go was a big leap. Interestingly, when the idea first came together and IT came back to us, what they were putting forward to us at the time was a tool site that would include a little news. We said ‘No, this is a news and information site that is going to carry tools.’ Once they understood that and we understood what they could do with the technology, everything was much easier,” Libbey remembers.

Trying to keep IT at arm’s length is absolutely the wrong view, he says.

“I think the key is recognizing that you have nothing without BT. The best content in the world is meaningless without the ability to deliver it. We recognized that from the beginning and we worked with IT as equal partners. Without them there is no site,” Libbey acknowledges.

Research and measurement

To keep on top of employee feedback, Libbey and his team make a strong and regular (daily) effort to measure the success of PfizerWorld.

“We’ve just completed the first phase of a 3-part study by an outside firm that showed high acceptance and satisfaction with the site and  higher levels of credibility. We haven’t released the study yet so I don’t want to give away all the details; but the results are uniformly positive,” Libbey teases.

Further research will include focus groups and one-on-one interviews to see how employees are using the site and what they’re looking for.

“They essentially wanted an online community with this platform. Achieving a common look and feel has been important, and we found that the quality and story selection has been very important for our folks as well.”

In addition, Pfizer runs a metrics program, working closely with a supplier to track numbers and put together a quarterly report.

“We track unique users, we track visits to the site, most commented stories by category. We’re also starting to look at duration – what people do on the site and how long they’re on it; where they clicked from and what their patterns are. We want to understand that so we can serve them better,” Libbey explains.

New year, new goals

As Pfizer looks to rollout SharePoint 2010, Libbey says they’re looking at more internal social media applications.

“Pfizer is a leader in deploying social media on the external side but we are gaining insight internally. One of the ways we want to move ahead is to allow colleagues the opportunity to create their own version of PfizerWorld by giving them the ability to filter content from different editions of the site. We’ll also provide our colleagues with the ability to both microblog and follow other colleagues who are microblogging, along with the ability to connect with directly with one another online – all on one page – to give them more control over the experience.”

This latest version of the site, named MyWorld, is set to debut at the end of January.

In a related move, late in 2010, Pfizer expanded its Social Media Policy to reflect the rise in usage of internal and external social media channels across the company.

As for companies looking to revamp their intranets in 2011, Libbey says,

“I think the most important thing for communicators these days with all these tools at our disposal is to not confuse the means with the ends. The tools – no matter how cool, how fascinating and how effective they are – they are really just a means to the larger end of communicating clearly, consistently, openly and regularly with your audience. That is certainly the case at Pfizer.”