How Vodafone is talking in Circles


By Marc Wright

Stanley Awuku (pictured right) is Internal Digital Experience Manager at Vodafone Group where he helps develop their social enterprise tool Circle.

The story started over 3 years ago with the desire to bring external behaviours used outside into the enterprise to increase knowledge sharing. Over the last 12 months they have seen on average approx. 15.000 unique users on the platform.

“Adoption is something that is quite difficult to say that you’ve actually done it. When you deliver something like a social enterprise there are so many factors involved. You have to do the user experience training and get the right people adopting it at a senior level to be ambassadors so that others will follow.

“At the beginning it was a hard sell to get employees to embrace the new behaviours from how they were communicating before, which was mainly email and instant messaging such as Lync. But over time they seemed to like the benefits of being able to reach the masses using one place and getting feedback from people at the same time. The fact that we could remove some of those communication barriers was a good upwards selling point.”

Beezy being social

Circle is separate to Vodafone’s intranet, the Hub; it’s a pure play social channel built on the SharePoint 2010 platform using Beezy’s software.

The decision to go with this software was made before Awuku took over the role but he seems pretty happy with the solution, which replaced the clunky communities offered by SharePoint 2007.

“We came across Beezy as one of the leading companies to create a social network built on SharePoint 2010. We liked it because it was on premise and we were able to customise and brand it.”

One component in Circle is the ‘Townhall’ function. This allows senior managers to take questions from hundreds of employees in a short session. One of the features of Beezy is that it makes this smoother since questions are only open for comments after they have been answered; reducing noise and making the process more efficient. Speakers and moderators also have the possibility to prioritize questions based on the number of ‘likes’ they get in real-time.

“We used it to give seniors a place where they can pick a topic anytime and anywhere. Our CEO Vittorio Colao conducted just such a townhall online for a few hours. He engaged with the tool himself and it had a great impact. It was a good feeling for staff in such a huge organisation that they were talking to the CEO: ‘Oh wow! I can actually talk to the CEO.’

Banking on goodwill

There are over 76,000 registered users on Circle and it’s growing by a thousand every month. For Awuku the most important aspect of Circle is the level of engagement it allows Vodafone. People are able to form Communities where they specialise in specific topics, where people can collaborate and ask questions. The platform allows the questioner to then choose the best answers and others can rate them.

“I like to think about it as a bank where people deposit information on knowledge rather than having it on emails and iPads. People can tag that knowledge and best practice with metadata so it is never lost.”

There are currently 1,900+ communities on Circle. To prime the pump they also encouraged non-work groups so that people would get used to the tool. So there is a photography club and a community that was set up just before the 2014 World Cup, which saw many share their favourite Wold Cup moments and participate in the banter.

Some ‘Circles’ can be private working groups engaged on a particular project where confidentiality is important but the majority are public and open. Some of the most avid users of Circle are far away from the Newbury/London axis. Awuku cites South Africa, Qatar, Eqypt and India as having a strong hunger for this type of social communication in the workplace.

“We are getting more and more people asking about the capabilities of the tool to help break down the siloes. SharePoint allows you to create project sites, but what was missing was the ability to freely share. People are using Circle to get those conversations going and by using hashtags they can see what has been discussed in the past on that subject. Circles are great for keeping people updated on the projects they are working on. I believe that the tool is making its way into the DNA of the organisation. It’s in a good place at the moment, I would say.”

Vodafone ‘mobile’

Inevitably being a mobile company Vodafone has Circle working on smartphones and tablets. Beezy has its own mobile version but Awuku did not go for that. Rather Vodafone produced a native app solution called “mHub”; it allows people to consume corporate news, see their communities and feeds and attach pictures and videos on the go.

Internal news is broadcast through the Hub, which is Vodafone’s intranet, and there is a very personalised homepage that throws out content to staff based on their location and market they are in. The user can go in and make adjustments and tweak the personalisation based on their role, but Awuku admits that few stray from the default settings – something we have noticed across most corporate intranets.

But it is in the area of email where Awuku believes there is still much work to be done.

“The default is always email; Outlook is the first thing people open when they log on. I think from my personal perspective the integration of these tools will have to be in one place eventually, where the user will go and do their tasks and emails and work processes. All these different tools will end up being in one activity stream.”

Treasuring feedback

Vodafone has over three years’ experience of using Circle so I wanted to know what advice Awuku has for those just starting out on their social journey using digital. He was clear in his response:

“Never take it out of the user experience because you can too easily get caught up in the technology. Technology bombards you with nitty-gritty details where you can lose sight of what you are doing. You must always make sure that what you’re developing is for the benefit of the user and that it delivers some true business value.

“When we first launched there were a lot of bug fixes. But I believe that bugs are not a curse but a blessing. Always remember who is going to use the tool.

“Feedback is something I look forward to. Every release of Circle we test with a small collaboration group who play around with the tool before we launch and give us feedback. These working groups are partly made up by people in internal comms, business functions and IT who have online social skills ranging from the most basic to the highly proficient. You want all of them to bombard you with constructive feedback because sometimes you are so close to a project that you overlook the basics. We get all sort of feedback about where we put stuff and how we’ve designed it. And I feel often ‘why didn’t I think of that?’

“Feedback is something that I really treasure.”