The Ship gets a refit at We Are Social


When the global multi award-winning socially-led creative agency had the opportunity to join the trial of Workplace by Facebook back in June 2016, ahead of its official launch, they jumped at the chance. Alison Boothby caught up with Emma Cumming, We Are Social’s Global Internal Communications Director to find out how their relaunched social platform is going.

 How did your own social journey start?

“When we started out as an agency in 2008, we were lucky to have Skype as our founding client, and as such, much of our agency communication for the first few years in business was built around the platform. But as we grew and matured we realised that, while Skype is a great tool for day-to-day conversation, we needed something more. We needed to be better at sharing and capturing our knowledge across the wider business and we needed to work more collaboratively. Our part of the industry is moving at such a pace that the immediacy of industry news, platform changes, social innovation and tech development is key to staying ahead and ensuring we can advise our clients better than anyone else. Also, as a social agency that is literally built around the concept of connecting people, a bog-standard intranet wasn’t going to cut it. We knew we had to have a social platform.”

Tell me about your early social platform

The Ship Homepage

“We worked with Shilbrook Associates (who also consult for simply) to help us really understand what we wanted, how to go about it and how to measure success. This legwork was extremely valuable, especially the benchmarking survey we conducted that gave us a starting point to understand how things would improve as a result of better communication and collaboration in our business.  After a lengthy selection process, we chose the Zimbra Social platform – you might know it as Telligent. Essentially, we wanted a platform where we could find and share news, information, knowledge and resources, plus a place for people to connect and collaborate with others globally. At that time it ticked all these boxes and we launched at the end of 2014. A network of champions proved invaluable in helping to shape the platform in terms of structure, content, marketing and launch. We used the platform itself to collaboratively generate ideas for its name– we ended up with The Ship, which is an acronym of our four values: social, honest, inspiring and passionate.”

How successful is The Ship?

“In short, very successful. We monitor closely what works well and what doesn’t, and we are always gathering feedback from our team. One of the key objectives for introducing The Ship was to better connect our global network of offices. Before introducing The Ship (on Telligent/Zimbra) only 19% of our people felt (quite or very) connected to our global network. One year after launch (using the Telligent/Zimbra platform) that rose to 49%. But it wasn’t all positive. The UI in particular was not a strong point. People told us they expected it to be slicker. They wanted better search and chat functionality. These core issues became the drivers to change platform.”

Why Workplace?

The Ship Workplace homepage

“The opportunity to be part of the beta group for Workplace came our way and we decided to go for it. With a group of champions on board and through a series of focus groups we worked hard to understand what our users wanted in the UI. Workplace looks just like Facebook. It also works in a very similar way, in that users can post updates, can create private and open groups, and can like, comment on and share updates from any other user within the organisation’s network. The platform also contains a Messenger-style Workplace Chat functionality. It addressed the core issues and we relaunched The Ship on Workplace in June 2016.”

How did the relaunch go?

“Really well. Generally, people were very positive about the move to Workplace and didn’t need any prompting to move over to the new platform. Our champions – known as Captains – were key as they worked hard to encourage some of the slower adopters to get involved.  Although the people directory side of Workplace and its ability to store static information is lacking, we were honest with people about its shortcomings and always stressed the positives: its familiar interface is so easy to use and it has great functionality which is being added to all the time.”

Quantifiable success

“In terms of quantifiable success, when we revisited our benchmark survey, as part of our annual Ship survey, and measured success against our original objectives the stats looked like this:

  • To make our global network of offices more connected
    • Before The Ship only 19% felt (quite or very) connected to our global network; one year after launch (using the Telligent/Zimbra platform) that rose to 49% and two years later (nine months after introducing Workplace) the figure had risen from 49% to 66%.
  • To be a comprehensive resource for We Are Social information
    • Before The Ship only 47% of people found it easy or very easy to find/access internal resources and information. One year after launch that had increased to 85%.  Interestingly we saw only a slight increase by year two.
  • To be the go to place to share (and find) news, knowledge and information
    • Before The Ship 58% of people rated us as good or very good at communicating company news, info, our strategy and client/campaign updates. One year after launch that had increased to 78%. updates. Again, the increase was relatively small by year two.

“As you can see from the stats above, we saw a significant improvement against our objectives following the launch of our first platform on Telligent/Zimbra. The fact that we now had a global platform that enabled us to find and share news, information and knowledge more easily and also a place to connect and collaborate, was a significant step forward. I guess the fact that these practical issues were largely addressed just by having a platform explains the more moderate results from the second survey in some areas. However, moving to Workplace definitely helped to create more of global community.

“With regards to behaviours, having the global platform helped to breakdown geographical barriers. For example, we saw people openly asking questions to our global community and, more importantly, getting answers quickly – facilitating knowledge sharing in a way that wasn’t previously possible.”

I notice you don’t call The Ship an intranet!

The Ship Workplace Chat

“It’s not an intranet in terms of being a traditional repository of static information; it’s a much more social way to share information, knowledge and news across our network. Its conversational nature, in a format that people are already comfortable with, also means that our team aren’t afraid or reticent to jump onto a thread; it helps promote a more collaborative, flat hierarchy. It’s been invaluable for working on global clients across our teams making sure sector knowledge and local work and responses are shared between our teams in a more fluid way, all with it helpfully archived.

It’s not perfect, of course. It’s hard to get busy people to spend time on a new platform, so we had to make sure it was the place to go for vital resources, information and contacts, and not just office chit-chat. There’s also the issue that Facebook (and therefore Workplace) is blocked in China, where two of our offices are based – they have a pretty unreliable VPN access to The Ship, but despite this we still have active users in China.”

What advice do you have for anyone embarking on a social platform?

“Our local ‘captains’ are key to its success – they champion the platform, encourage usage, train teams locally, and are part of a global team that support, develop and grow the platform. Our senior leaders have been involved in The Ship since its inception, and are therefore very engaged – regularly posting and engaging with content, setting the standard for the rest of the agency. This has helped us reach a usage rate of 85% weekly, 65% daily – and we aim to build on this in the coming year.”

What does ongoing success look like?

“What makes a community like this so valuable is its members, more specifically its members contributing. Our usage rate is high, and although I have no doubt that people are getting value from The Ship, that doesn’t mean that everyone is sharing their knowledge, having fruitful discussions, inspiring others with their ideas and passionately sharing the great work they have done. Therefore, ongoing success is less about basic ‘usage’ and more about encouraging greater contribution and collaboration on the platform. Embedding this type of behaviour will be a focus going forward.”

What comes after Workplace?

“After Workplace?… We’re happy with the platform at the moment so no plans to change! There are always new features being released, and we can feed into what these features should be, so we’re confident that the platform will continue to evolve with our needs.

“Workplace Chat is a great example of this having recently launched its new desktop app.  Some of our offices are even using Workplace’s chat function instead of Skype now. So we may look at rolling this out more widely.

“Getting feedback is essential to the ongoing success and development of the platform. Alongside the ongoing feedback we gather, we’ll be running our 3rd annual Ship survey soon to help guide our efforts for the next 12 months.

“As a social agency, our external client work is really exciting and therefore our own employees can be a pretty tough crowd to please. As harsh critics, they do have an expectation that they will have the best tech available in-house too. There is no doubt in my mind that innovation in internal comms is a natural step and we are always looking at how we can make the platform even more useful for our people. We are looking at potential use cases for introducing bots but I’m adamant that what we do must deliver value to the business rather than using bots for bots’ sake.

“Some believe that platforms like Workplace will, one day, replace all internal work emails. This maybe a pipedream, but The Ship has certainly moved our collaboration efforts forward significantly, cut down on the number of unnecessary emails, helped us share and (virtually) collaborate more efficiently and effectively. Most importantly, it’s helped bring about the sense of a global connection that is essential for an agency like ours.”

We Are Social delivers world-class creative campaigns for forward-thinking brands, using the power of social insight to drive business value. Established nearly a decade ago, they have had an international outlook from day one. They now have 10 offices around the world with over 700 hundred people, in 5 different time zones, with 5 different languages used as the business lingua franca in their markets.