How can a supermarket chain use Facebook’s enterprise social network to connect employees?

I’ve interviewed Daniel Chasemore, Communications Manager at Countdown Supermarkets in New Zealand to find out. They were the first business in the country to use Workplace by Facebook, formerly known as Facebook at Work.

Countdown is one of New Zealand’s largest employers, with over 18,000 people across supermarkets, support offices, distribution centres and meat and seafood plants. They serve 2.7 million customers each week.

Dan (pictured) has kindly lifted the lid on their reality of using Workplace by Facebook and sent me some screenshots to share with readers of the All Things IC blog.

As someone who practices Working Out Loud, I Tweeted @AllthingsIC that we were having this conversation. Thank you to the professional communicators from around the globe who sent me questions to ask him about Workplace. I’ve included your questions below and grouped them where appropriate.

1. Why did you decide to introduce Workplace and how long have you been using it for?

Dan: The simple answer is that we needed a way to be able to connect with our team across 185 different stores 24/7.

We’re a fast-moving environment with a lot going on, and the traditional ‘email and cascade’ process wasn’t really working for us. We piloted it with a few stores a year ago, and rolled it out fully nine months ago.

2. Who did you have to get permission from and how long did it take?

Dan: It wasn’t so much about getting permission, it was about getting buy in.

So I did the usual, talked to Legal, talked to IT, and all that. The main thing was that all our leadership were really supportive of a more inclusive communications channel.

I joined the organisation in May, and by July we were piloting Workplace with 20 stores.

3. Were you using an ESN already? If so, what happened to it? Was Workplace worth the opportunity/cost of switching?

Dan: We’re on the Google suite, so we were using Google Plus as an ESN. It was great for sharing pictures, but we had limited engagement in terms of comments or plus ones.

My theory was that we were asking people to engage with a tool that they wouldn’t normally use – Workplace sidestepped that problem nicely.

4. Have you turned off an intranet because of Workplace or does it run alongside it?

Dan: It runs alongside it and has a very different use – it is our knowledge base, and acts as a reference point for information.

One of the things I learned from rollouts of other ESNs was that you need to be very clear what the platform is for, and what it’s not for, otherwise the channel mix gets muddy.

A channel for every purpose

  • If you want to find out what you need to do today, then our email bulletin is the channel
  • If you want to find out how to do something, then go to the intranet.

Workplace is where you go to talk about what you’re doing, share what’s working, ask questions and to celebrate success.

5. What are you most proud of? – What has worked well?

Dan: We kind of rolled this out backwards.

My idea was that we’d roll out Workplace as a platform for our teams first, rather than have leadership launch it, as we would traditionally do.

Then once our teams were using the platform for the things they find useful, leadership would join conversations rather than cascade messages.

It’s worked really well – it’s positioned the channel as something that is for the team to receive information rather than as something for head office to send information.

We’re getting heaps more feedback and engagement than we ever have.

6. What’s not worked as well as you hoped?

Dan: Sometimes the realities of the way people work trump your fancy comms ideas.

We had plans to do monthly live streamed Q&A sessions with our MD – but we quickly found out that with a workforce that’s not tied to a desk, live streaming wasn’t working.

A checkout operator can’t walk away from the line in the middle of a shift to check out the latest monthly update.

7. What do you use Workplace for?

Dan: We use it for whatever our team want it to be for – and we regularly ask them. Updates from leaders, celebrating success, and sharing ideas. Highlighting the work people do in the community, or in lots of cases, just as a forum to ask questions.

It allows a Produce Manager in Dunedin to ask a question about bananas to our head produce buyer, who is in Ecuador talking to our supplier.

For Stakeholders in the business, we’re pretty clear about the value it can add.

I talk about it like a multiplier. Any initiative depends on comms for it’s success – Workplace multiplies that success.

So if it’s a sales initiative, then a Workplace campaign can increase sales. If it’s an execution campaign, then a Workplace campaign can get it done quicker.

If it’s a change campaign, then you’ve got access to Champions, Q&A forums, real time user feedback and all sorts of stuff.

8. How do you ensure important content is seen?

Dan: This is probably the biggest shift in mindset we’ve needed to go through.

The answer is that you can’t unless you’ve put in the work – and in that sense we’ve actually drawn a lot from our external social media team in terms of best practice.

You need to keep a regular flow of good, engaging content in a channel to ensure that the important ‘must see’ information gets read.

This is probably the thing that’s been the most difficult to get people across. There’s a belief that if you send an email to 18,000 people, then you’re communicating to 18,000 people. Because email doesn’t tell you how many people actually read your message, it’s easy to just assume they’re reading it.

On Workplace, you can actually see, in real-time, how many people are reading, watching or engaging with your message, which can be a bit confronting. But it means you can actually do something about it.

So now, if we have a ‘must read’ message that we need to get reach – we need a comms plan that’s more sophisticated than just sending an email.

We’ll do a written message – and then maybe a video for the auditory learners. An infographic for the visual learners. We’ll engage our influencers, and give them tools to spread the message.

9. Do employees distinguish between Workplace and regular Facebook? Are user habits different because it’s work?

Dan: We did some analysis recently on our social media channels, and it was interesting how similar the behaviours on Facebook were to Workplace.

Videos do better than images, which do better than links which do better than straight text. Teams appreciate personal, genuine copy, rather than ‘corporate speak’.

10. Who owns workforce performance data? Is it Facebook or your organisation?

Dan: We own all the data ourselves.

11. What has it been like to work with Facebook and their infamous innovation culture?

Dan: We’ve been on this journey with Facebook since before it even launched, so we’ve got a really great relationship with the team.

Workplace isn’t a finished product, and I don’t think it ever will be – that’s the point.

It means that it’s always improving as a platform, and that the team do take our requests into consideration based on feedback from our teams.

But that’s not a traditional way of working for us in internal comms – for example upon launching, my instinct was to produce a whole bunch of ‘how to’ documentation. The problem is, as quickly as I could produce it, new features would be introduced and old features would be changed.

12. Have you tried the new Org Charts feature? How has it been for you?

Dan: One of the problems we have is that currently you can’t edit your profile information on the Workplace app. (Although the Workplace team say that this feature is coming really soon).

86% of our team use Workplace via the app, and 60% of them have never ever logged onto the desktop version. So this means that keeping job titles, departments and managers names up to date is tricky – which means that the Org Chart function doesn’t really work for us.

13. What’s the one piece of advice you think comms pros thinking about Workplace should be aware of?

DanIt makes very visible all the issues that you already have in your organisation – and demands that leaders front up to them.

It lays your company culture out for everyone in the organisation to see.

This is great – you can fix problems that you didn’t even know existed, and find real superstars in your teams. But it’s raw and real, and you need to prepare your stakeholders for that.

14. What do you wish someone had told you about Workplace?

Dan: To concentrate on content. I’ve learned more about content marketing in the last six months than I ever thought possible. You’ve got to be creative with the way you engage your teams – just telling them stuff ain’t going to cut it any more!

Thank you for your honesty Dan and for sharing your experience with Workplace to date.

Want to know more? What do you think about what you’ve read? You can find Dan on Twitter @ILoveCress or feel free to comment below.

Further reading about Workplace via the All Things IC blog:

Want to know more about Workplace by Facebook?

See the Workplace website or follow them on Twitter @workplacebyFB to read the latest information and discover what’s in the pipeline.

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Find out all you need to know and save your place via the Masterclasses website.

First published on the All Things IC blog 7 August 2017.

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