How a leading food producer created an appetite to go social

Despite a pioneering history of innovation within the food and drinks industry, the German family-owned brand is culturally traditional and conservative and has taken some persuading to go digital. Alison Boothby spoke to Verity Cash, Head of PR and Internal Communications , to find out how apetito got to launching their first social intranet in June this year.

Unily Social Intranet

How apetito, a leading food producer, launched its first social intranet with Unily. 

Based in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, apetito  is the leading food producer for the health and social care sector producing nutritious, great-tasting and sustainable meals for hospitals, care homes and community services across the UK and in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Canada. They are also the parent company of Wiltshire Farm Foods, UK’s premier home-delivery service for ready-made meals.

Despite a pioneering history of innovation within the food and drinks industry, the German family-owned brand is culturally traditional and conservative and has taken some persuading to go digital. Alison Boothby spoke to Verity Cash, Head of PR and Internal Communications , to find out how apetito got to launching their first social intranet in June this year.

AB.Why did you believe that apetito needed a social intranet?
“When I came to apetito a year ago, I was looking at a UK business of more than 2000 employees, 500 of whom were based in the UK head office and the rest scattered across various sites as drivers, in our factories and our warehouses. The old SharePoint 2003 intranet was rather dull: stale and out of date and no one was using it. I know this is a familiar story to many, but I could see that there was a real need for a knowledge centre and some sort of digital hub that could join a disparate workforce together. But I also know that this is as much a culture change programme as a digital project.”

AB.How did you prove the business case for a social intranet?
“An external audit revealed that communication and collaboration needed to be the focus to build a business fit for the 21st century. I started to have conversations around the business about the idea of a new ‘social intranet’ as the way forward – the first step towards becoming a digital workplace. Using the word ‘social’ was difficult at first: for some it was associated with having fun, wasting time and not about the day job. I needed to help them see that social would not be a total distraction. It was feedback from staff that ultimately persuaded the CEO that there was a business case to go digital. The voices of drivers, graduates, the people in factories and warehouses added much needed colour to the argument – and they were listened to.”

AB.How did you begin?
“Our project team consisted of an executive sponsor, representation from HR, Comms and IT as well as an intranet steering committee from across the wider business. This approach really helped to foster adoption and engagement, with a sense of ownership and cross functional collaboration right from the start. Having looked at various providers as well as considering – fleetingly! – going down the bespoke route, we chose to go with Unily from Brightstarr. The simplicity of an out-the-box solution together with the strong account management, not to mention the reassuring support we have received throughout, was appealing. We have adopted O365 including Yammer and ran the two projects in tandem. It is a significant change in a company like apetito to take this step into the digital workplace, and I like the fact that we can turn certain functionalities on and off when it suits us without overwhelming our workforce.”

AB. What was your launch strategy?
“Firstly we wanted to get Yammer up and running with O365 and we’ve used this for various seeding activities, including new profile pictures of everyone which created quite a buzz.
We have a weekly newsletter and an email from the CEO which we have used to drip feed messages about the impending launch of the new intranet alongside other traditional comms activity such as posters, banners, merchandise and lunch & learn sessions. We’ve definitely been doing some hand-holding. It is internal comms and brand led and I was keen that there would be plenty of useful and good looking information on the home page on go-live day. Our home page has a news feed with HR news, corporate news, the CEO’s blog, current vacancies, Yammer and the weekly menu of course! We have customer testimonials and make good use of video too so there should be something there to interest every one of our employees. We also have links to various apps and tools that are used across the business as well as linking to the existing SharePoint site for now. Key HR processes such as holiday, leave and expense forms help make the new intranet an important destination for people too and it is available in five languages including Polish, Portuguese and German making it genuinely accessible to everyone.”

apetito social intranet home page

AB. You went live on 12th June. What was the build up to the day like?
“It was a frantic two weeks! We discovered some IT technical issues on testing that would have affected the user experience for our non-desk-based employees who do not have apetito email addresses. This was really key for us as it is precisely this part of our workforce that we need to make feel included. Once these technical issues were ironed out, we continued with our activity to build excitement around the launch. All the executive board profiles were up to date, all the content was ready and during the week before go-live, the CEO email helped to elevate it and we produced a launch animation based on a digital ‘big kitchen’ which has had well over 1000 views in the UK.”

AB. What happened on launch day?
“The launch was supported on Day 1 by in-office comms activity including postcards, cakes, banners and our team of reps from the HR, IT and Comms teams were available in office areas with iPads and laptops to show colleagues the new social intranet. Day 2 saw us out and about in the canteens too. It’s proved tougher to get some of our factory workers engaged as we need personal emails from them, but with e-payslips on the new intranet, there’s a real incentive for them to get on board too.”

AB. What sort of reaction have you had in the first two weeks?
“We won’t have any true analytics until July but, anecdotally, early results are very encouraging. In fact, I’d say they are good! On average we have 2,040 visits a day. Most viewed pieces of content are the motion animation, explaining what the new social intranet is for, and the CEO blog. 98% of our views are via desktop meaning we haven’t reached our ‘hard to reach’ teams yet.

“People really like the fact that all the board members are on it and are actively using it. On the whole people seen genuinely excited with it and are using it well and it’s not taking them any more time to get things done which has helped to allay some of the early fears too. Our team of ‘super users’ and early adopters are already proving to be great ambassadors. With regards to Yammer, we have had more early success here with our ‘hard to reach’ teams. We can see around 40% of our Yammer users come from the manufacturing, distribution and warehouse/factory teams which is fantastic and shows they have embraced this. With both private groups created and active conversation taking place in the ‘all company’ feed, I think I can safely say this is a success.”

apetito social intranet home page
apetito connect homepage

AB. How will you continue to drive adoption?
“Essentially we want adoption to grow organically, but our cross functional team will make sure they are highly visible and on hand to support the business at all times with things like setting up team pages. Governance is intentionally light – it’s important that the employees feel empowered to post freely and have their voices heard. We will be continuing a series of roadshows throughout the summer to build confidence across the workforce and gently encourage some of our less enthusiastic workers to come on board. Having said that, we remain committed to our more traditional comms tools for our disinterested minority but hope that, in time, a bit of peer to peer discussion will eventually bring them round!”

AB. What does success look like and how will you measure it?
VC. “For starters it’s about adoption levels and active user numbers. We will be monitoring how many of our people download the app and where they are in the business in order that we can target our ongoing marketing and training efforts. We are also interested in exactly what content is used, shared, discussed and responded to so that we can develop a content strategy going forward based on what we know our people want to see. There will be a series of focus groups to gather feedback from all parts of the business in the autumn and a formal content review is planned for October. By the end of the year, when we conduct our next employee survey, I would very much hope that we see a correlation between the activity on the new social intranet and the degree to which our employees feel they have a voice that is heard in the business. This first phase is all about getting comfortable with communicating and sharing in a different way. It’s a massive cultural shift and only time will tell.”

AB. What next?
“It’s one step at a time. With Unily we do have an iterative roadmap for the development of the intranet as we move more towards a truly digital workplace. In the second phase we need to integrate fully with SharePoint but for now it’s about getting the basics right and building cross company confidence in communicating and sharing in this way. We’ve launched in the UK first but I know our German colleagues are watching closely with a keen interest. In six months time we should have a pretty good idea of quantifiable success – ask us again then.”