Global creative agency We Are Social enjoys an active, productive global digital community for its 750 employees and can claim Workplace as a truly integral part of its business and culture. We Are Social’s Global Internal Communications Director, Emma Cumming, gives the low-down on what has contributed to the success of the company’s global digital community.
We Are Social is a socially-led creative agency. It was established in 2008 as a social media agency, primarily helping brands market themselves on social media, and has evolved to understanding people’s social behaviours and how brands connect with people. It uses this social insight to create world-class creative ideas that add value for brands and their stakeholders.
Emma says it’s taken love, attention and plenty of work to get to a point where Workplace has become a part of everyday work and culture.
“But now almost everyone in the agency regularly uses Workplace, connecting our global network of 750 people across 13 offices,” she said.
“It really helps everyone collaborate and to access the knowledge they need to do a better job for our clients.”
Around 70 per cent of We Are Social’s people interact (posting, liking, commenting) on the platform each month. Emma identified some of the company’s keys to success to be curating valuable and fun content, getting consistent leadership participation and building a strong champions network.
We Are Social was a top performer in SWOOP’s 2019 global benchmarking of Workplace networks, the world’s largest analysis of Workplace communities.
For years, We Are Social employees used Skype to communicate, but as the agency grew, it became clear that Skype was not addressing the company’s needs. In October 2014, We Are Social launched an internal collaboration platform using Telligent Community software, or The Ship as it was branded, an acronym for We Are Social’s values – Social, Honest, Inspiring and Passionate.
Using Telligent Community met with relative success. But it became evident Telligent wasn’t meeting the demands of employees, who wanted a better user experience, along with effective search and chat functionality – all the things they had come to expect from the external social platforms they used in their personal lives and for clients.
In early 2016, We Are Social had the opportunity to beta test Facebook at Work, now known as Workplace. The appeal of the product was that it looked like Facebook and had many more capabilities than Telligent, including Work Chat.
“It was much slicker than Telligent and something people recognised, being based on Facebook, so we jumped at the chance,” Emma said.
In June 2016, We Are Social re-launched its internal digital community, The Ship, on Facebook at Work.
“Instantly, we saw a bigger uptake,” Emma said.
“It was relatively easy moving across because there was the appetite and the (executive) sponsorship, plus our previous platform had only been up for a year-and-a-half so it didn’t have a lot of legacy content to move across.”
Workplace in the early days
From the get-go, We Are Social was in the enviable position of having executive sponsorship, especially from the company’s co-founders Robin Grant and Nathan McDonald, and the managing directors and chief executives from most offices around the world.
“Robin has always been a passionate advocate and been very active on The Ship from day one which has been great,” Emma said.
“All of the MDs are pretty active on the platform which is really important. We definitely see a correlation between each office’s engagement with the platform versus how engaged their local MD or CEO is.”
Emma said she and her team encourage leaders to communicate via Workplace rather than using email.
It still is sometimes a bit of work in the background to remind them,” she said.
“But we’re definitely seeing many of them take more ownership of how they contribute to the platform.”
Emma also explained how Workplace is now the primary channel for global communications with their people, having stopped sending global all-staff emails.
We Are Social France’s founder and CEO, Sandrine Plasseraud, shut down Skype for the Paris office soon after the introduction of Workplace and moved communication to The Ship, and other CEOs later followed suit. Data from SWOOP shows Paris has some of the most active groups on Workplace and Ms Plasseraud is one of the top leaders.
As well as having executives engaged on The Ship, every office was asked to nominate a champion, called a “Captain” (ship pun intended).
These Captains were the experts tasked with embedding the right behaviours to ensure the platform thrived and was useful, like helping people to post in the right groups and making sure information sharing wasn’t happening in silos.
In the early days of establishing Workplace at We Are Social, Emma was conscious that first impressions really count.
“We wanted to ensure that people’s experience was positive from day one, and a key part of that was ensuring that people got answers to any questions they asked on the platform. To do that, the Captain’s and I were really active behind the scenes finding the experts to answer the questions,” she said.
“We’d also learnt from our previous platform that the most successful groups had a group champion, or manager. So, we avoided moving groups over from the old platform without a clear group manager or creating new groups without someone to lead the group and make it a success.”
Dorrie Mochan, We Are Social’s Global Internal Communication Manager and head ‘Captain’, explains:
“Captains were key in the early days and they are still really important,” she said.
“They give inductions to new joiners, which is less about training them on the technical aspect and more about behaviours that we’re looking for, like how to contribute and navigate groups.”
Dorrie said the influence of the Captain has visible impact on each office’s use of Workplace.
“We’ve had some Captains that have been amazing and others that may not have been as well suited to the role, or didn’t have the bandwidth to perform it,” she said.
“We can tell the difference when that’s the case. We know that they are a key to its success globally.”
Mixing work with fun
It’s not just work on Workplace. We Are Social encouraged social groups from the start to get people connecting and using the platform.
Special interest groups include everything from a ‘We are sneakerheads’ (a sneaker appreciation group) to ‘We are holidaying’.
“We’ve got a nice balance that has a real business use but also there’s quite a lot of fun that happens on there,” Emma said.
“It’s a nice mixture of work and play on the platform which very much aligns to our culture.”
The power of data with SWOOP
Emma, who was excited by the insights SWOOP gave her and her team, was keen to share some of the SWOOP data with the global leadership team.
“They are a competitive group so it’s good to be able to share their personal SWOOP data to show how effective they are versus their counterparts,” Emma said.
“It also gave us the opportunity to share some of the behaviours and recommendations to improve their (SWOOP) persona or visibility on the platform.
“Before SWOOP, we had a very basic name and shame system, based on whether they had posted in the last month, whereas this gave us a lot more granularity around how they behave and interact on the platform.”
Emma said some leaders asked for her to use SWOOP to benchmark leaders in their own markets.
“By doing that we actually see where usage or engagement is the lowest with that second layer down of management,” she said.
“It will be good to be able to provide a bit more visibility or transparency to those guys to see how they are contributing, or not, to the platform.”
She is planning on encouraging all employees to log onto SWOOP to see their own Persona and share it on The Ship.
“SWOOP aligns more to the type of data we would look at for our clients,” Emma said.
“It’s less about who’s accessing it, it’s more about the quality of the conversations.”
Feeling connected with Workplace
Emma said one of the key objectives of launching a collaboration platform was to make everyone feel more connected to We Are Social’s global network.
“We tell clients we’re a global network and you’ll benefit from all of this knowledge but without this type of platform, it would be really hard to leverage that knowledge,” she said.
Before the launch of Telligent, 10 per cent of staff said they felt connected, or very connected, globally. After the launch of Telligent, that number rose to 40 per cent and after Workplace was launched the number jumped to 66 per cent.
One of SWOOP’s measurements is the Cross-team Collaboration widget where anyone can see, at a glance, who is connecting with whom, whether it be by geographical region, department, job title etc.
“It is really valuable information to have. A key driver of people feeling connected to our global network is the ability to collaborate with people that you wouldn’t normally get to work with. The SWOOP data gave us visibility of where this is happening and areas we could focus on building,” Emma said
Business value from Workplace
Emma believes the most tangible way Workplace has helped We Are Social is in saving time.
She said there were many examples when, by using Workplace, staff spent less time researching because they could either find the information on Workplace or quickly ask someone for the information.
“The MD in our Madrid office, which opened in September 2018, recently posted to ask for case studies in the alcoholic beverages sector and within a few hours he had what he needed,” Emma said.
“A natural behaviour that has occurred is people will just put a question on the global group and wait to see what they get back and people @ mention people that they know might be able to help and through that we definitely get lots of answers to questions.”
Delivering a better product for clients
As well as cutting down on time to research and finding the right people to help, Emma said Workplace helps We Are Social employees stay on top of the latest trends.
“As experts in social, we need to be on top of the latest tech, innovation and algorithm and platform changes. A very ingrained behaviour is people sharing on The Ship, in the relevant group, as soon as they see an article that they think is relevant,” she said.
A change in company culture
Almost two years on from first launching on Workplace, Emma says the role of community management is made easier because The Ship has become part of the company culture, and as such is becoming self-sustaining.
“It still needs love and attention and encouragement and maintenance but it runs on its own a lot more than it used to,” she said.
“There is still work we need to do, we can’t completely take our eye off the ball.”
Emma said walking around the London office, she often hears conversations where staff are talking about something they have seen on The Ship.
“It’s interesting some of the comments from people around the platform saying that it does feel different to a lot of the companies they have worked in with regards to having a platform like this. It is definitely something that sets us apart from our competitors,” she said.
Download SWOOP’s 2019 Benchmarking report of Workplace networks for more information or contact the SWOOP team.