Together with my former team, I supported Environmental Science, a Bayer Group division, into the development of their presence on the company's Internal Professional Social Network. Our objective was to help employees understand, adopt and use the richness of online collaboration.
By the end of 2012 Bayer decided to roll out their Professional Social Network (PSN). Environmental Science, a division of the group, was looking at it with great interest. Their employees were not using their intranet anymore and the impact of management messages was drastically reduced. As a consequence, internal communications needed to put their own strategy into question. They felt that jumping aboard of the new PSN was a good idea, but they couldn't yet see how to proceed.
My former team and I were called at the very birth of the project to build a full strategic plan and support them through its implementation.
Together with our partner at ES, Emmanuelle Stoetzel, we pointed out five priorities:
- Design a strong architecture based on this existing PSN,
- Help employees identify it quickly by giving it a name and a proper face,
- Talk to a variety of targets: attract enthusiasts, help newbies, reassure the doubtful and convert the most reluctant,
- Make the project fit Bayer's company culture yet humanise and modernise how we distribute messages,
- Come up with a simple and structure output so that the initiative remains sustainable and wins users' loyalty.
Phase 1 : Draw attention
« What, a professional social network? To be honest, employees don't have the time. It's just another random tool to them. »
Email, intranet, shared drives, notifications, collaboration platforms… Employees suffer from being at the crossing of all those information flows. They often choke from it. So as a first step, we decided to help them acknowledge their own digital environment with its positive and negative sides.
We shaped a teasing campaign drawing their attention on a series of key questions which would anticipate their fears and doubts:
- « What is my relationship to social networks in general? »
- « How can I deal with information overload? »
- « What are the real benefits of online collaboration? »
We published one question per week on the Environmental Science intranet along with a straight forward answer written by a hand-picked author (internal to the company or not, and I was one of them). Each of them would come with a funny movie extract, adding the tiny drop of charm and humour the campaign needed. With this first step, we could already put forward our key arguments and silence a few fears: "no, we are not trying to replace your emails with a social network! No, no one will force you to change your habits!". On the intranet's homepage, we were preparing the ground with a little banner changing daily.
Phase 2 : Let's pull back the veil
In order to make sure that employees would jump on board, we split the scenario in two:
- First, we would reveal the project's name and visual identity,
- Then we would apply this identity on communication goods that would be distributed within the division.
We came up with a strong and concise name that would speak for the user centricity of our project: PeoplES (play on word between the word "people" and the "ES" acronym for Environmental Science).
Meanwhile, two hundred paper planes were disseminated throughout the Environmental Science headquarters in Lyon. A paper plane was the perfect deal: very simple cheap to make. Yet we did not foresee the positive impact it had on employees: even people from other divisions noticed it and had a look at the project.
« Oh, I have seen this plane somewhere. It's the ES project! »
Before allowing users to dive into PeoplES, we needed to come up with the perfect way to integrate it into the existing PSN: the project was at risk if we did not give it a clear structure and easy ways to access it. So we started with a huge work to define our structure:
- How does the existing Professional Social Network platform (IBM Connections) work, what are its features?
- What are the precise needs of ES' Internal Communication?
- Which features can we use to fulfill these needs and how?
PeoplES finally had a shape: we chose to build it over a "community", as we'd have done on a Facebook group open to any subscriber. Within this community, we would also use the blog to broadcast the former intranet news, as well as a forum, a media library and an ideation blog.
To involve ES' teams and support functions, a set of sub-communities were prepared for them with a restricted access to their team members: Marketing, Supply Chain... so everyone could benefit from those functionalities and find their space on this new collaboration platform.
Phase 3 : Launch time
Just before giving them the keys to the house, I invited PeoplES's future users to a webinar on their internal instant message client. This webinar was open to the 800 employees worldwide, and it's no less than a hundred that joined me online. I gave them the project's positioning basics and shared my screen to let them see the new platform and how it could be used. In parallel, Emmanuelle would answer their questions in real-time in the chat box. A second webinar, as popular as the first one, took place during Spring 2014, focusing on the more precise functionalities of the platform.
We wanted people to benefit from a strong visual consistency. I created branding elements to be applied to the social network, trying to harness the (limited) customisation possibilities offered by Connections.
If you want to reach people in large companies, email is a great tool (when used wisely of course), especially when targeting employees who don't visit the intranet website daily. Emmanuelle wanted to make sure that no one missed PeoplES' birth, so she sent all the 800 employees a welcome email.
PSN: the challenge
On the day of PeoplES' launch, more than 100 new users subscribed to the community, a vast majority were visiting the PSN for the first time. This was our challenge: this PSN had already been there for one year or so, and few employees had used nor visited it. It was only populated by early adopters and IT enthusiasts, talking about restricted and technical topics. Within companies, change takes place much slower than on the Internet: if ES Internal Communications had just given up their intranet website and told their employees "go to the PSN" with no further notice nor support, the initiative would have failed massively.
Members started to add up to PeoplES progressively and interact with each other by commenting on news stories, recommending them and adding the first posts to the forum. The editorial team started to change their habits and soon published all their news content on PeoplES and inviting users to slowly leave the Intranet website. Today, this intranet website is only used for corporate content. All real-time activity, interaction and collaboration happen on PeoplES. Today, Bayer has successfully made the great jump to its own Professional Social Network.
What's next? Epilogue
Only two weeks after its launch, PeoplES was reaching the objective of 200 subscribers (1/4 of all employees worldwide). A target that the team had set for themselves in... 6 months.
PeoplES' reputation soon went beyond the division's walls. Around the world, dozens of people waved at the project with sincere congratulations. We even heard people asking ES employees to "show them this famous PSN project". PeoplES is a real success story within the Bayer group.
More than 2 years after its launch, PeoplES' editorial team still publishes daily content on it:
- News stories about the ES division and Bayer group,
- Event videos,
- Current topic and questions in the forum,
- Currently discussed innovations through the ideation blog,
- Corporate documents,
- Personal messages from their CEO...
The PeoplES community is animated by 3 persons who built a network of internal sponsors (managers, communicators etc), ready to be sollicitated to softly push content through their teams. PeoplES now has a dozen sub-communities where everyone shares content on a daily basis. The most lively sub-communities are supported by one or two catalyst participants. Some rewarding efforts, as other sub-communities are still created on users demand.
- Visual identity of the whole project
- Communication strategy and change management
- User studies
- Creation of printed goods
- Creation of all visual elements needed online on the digital platform (newsletters, banners, web pages, social network branding...)
- Content publication on the platform
- Conception and animation of two webinars
- Project management
- Post launch quality and performance check
This large scale internal communication project was a success, result and collaboration wise. The challenge was to come up with a perfectly targeted tone and strategic approach, which me and my team did not fail to do.