Blogs rule FT’s Internal Social Network


Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 10.29.01For a company that had to deal with major digital crisis like having its site hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army, the Financial Times (FT) is reasonably relaxed about enterprise social networking.

When Pearson, the publishing giant that controls the newspaper, introduced Neo, a Jive-based enterprise social network (ESN) in 2011, the FT was one the first businesses of the group to retire its intranet and embrace the platform.

“There was little resistance because people could understand it was a more sophisticated, more collaborative tool,” says Emily Gibbs, Head of Internal Communications.

Digital is high on the FT’s agenda and now accounts for 35% of its revenue. The web app of this leading business daily has more than five million users.

“In my role, I have been trying to replicate this digital and mobile strategy internally,” explains Gibbs.

Learning digitally

One of Neo’s main features is a microsite the company created to support its Digital Learning Week, an event organised last September and aimed at educating and inspiring employees about digital trends like big data, mobile and, of course after the attack by the hackers supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, cyber security. Participants were invited to RSVP through the platform, which was also used to host the agenda, details about the speakers, videos and other supporting information. Some 2,500 people in 20 countries watched a live stream of the event on Neo. Traffic to the ESN during September increased by 22% compared to the previous month.

An essential comms tool

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 10.29.18Blogs have also been instrumental in driving adoption of the platform. The FT has over ten departmental blogs on topics like technology and legal, which have become an essential communication tool for sharing updates and information within specific teams and across the company. The Editorial Blog, primarily aimed at the newspaper’s 560 journalists, was launched last year to coincide with the Digital Learning Week and got 2,300 views in three months. CEO John Ridding blogs regularly. The managing director of the FT’s online business, Rob Grimshaw, writes another blog with updates on what the newspaper is doing in the digital space. New posts are added on Neo on average twice a week.

Combining channels

“FT everywhere, wherever there is reader demand and a sound business case” is the newspaper’s vision. The same multichannel approach is used for collaboration and internal communication. In addition to Neo, the company uses Google+, including gmail, Google Drive and Google Hangouts. Google Talk is its main instant messaging system. “Technology doesn’t stop,” says Gibbs. “We have to think carefully about how we refresh Neo and how we keep it relevant for people.”

She uses a network of internal digital champions to promote the platform and encourage employees to use it actively. “We have always taken a peer-to-peer approach rather than a top down one”.

Non-work groups have also been playing an important role in familiarizing employees with the platform. Neo has groups for food lovers or runners. Gibbs believes they encourage people to work in a different way. “If the initial hook for a person is ‘I love food and I am going to share recipes’, that’s what gets them on to Neo. Once they are there, the job of internal comms is to make it easy for them to find other relevant information”.

Collaborating across Pearson

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 10.34.43To a journalist working in the newsroom, Neo offers a repository with important information they might need, like practical tips shared on the Editorial Blog or updates on topics like news consumption trends. They can also learn about products launched in other parts of the FT that might be relevant for their work.

Neo also features groups like the one for the Global Corporate Affairs team where FT employees can collaborate more closely with other parts of the Pearson empire and its 44,000 employees.

Gibbs has been using Neo to measure sentiment around the change program Pearson is currently undergoing. “It is a much better way than running an employee survey once a year”.

Never mind those Twitter followers

While some FT employees enjoy fame on external social media, Gibbs found that it is a different set or personalities that are known on Neo. The company has just compiled a list of its 50 most influential journalists on Twitter. Gibbs gives them a heads-up every time a campaign or another initiative is happening internally and encourages them to share the news through their Twitter accounts.

However, these are not the influencers who are most active on Neo. “On our internal platform, it is less about the following you have and more about who you are connecting with and what you are working on”.

 Vine instead of email

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 10.29.37The future for Neo promises to be about aligning the platform with other digital tools including Google+. Mobile is also on the cards. The FT understands the importance of this channel that drives almost half of the traffic to its news site and a quarter of its subscriptions. Neo has a mobile app about to be upgraded with the introduction of Jive 7.

Gibb’s team is also embracing video. Recently, instead of email they used a Vine, a six-seconds short video, to invite staff to their First Thursday Meeting. The ‘Have We Met?’ initiative gives employees the opportunity to introduce themselves to colleagues in a series of presenter-led videos uploaded on Neo.

Gibbs has come to think of Neo as “the heart of the FT employee community” and wants it to be  a thriving go-to place for corporate messages and staff-generated content.

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