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Anna Carlson

Building a successful internal network globally – lessons from the frontline with Telefonica

Last week, I had a very interesting chat with the lovely Jennifer Hayward from Telefonica.

Jennifer currently works in the Global Internal Comms team at Telefonica and generously agreed to talk to us about her work managing, curating, promoting and embedding Yammer globally to their 130,000 employees. I thought she’d probably have tonnes of insight that would be useful for other organisations on various points in their internal social journey, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s what she told us…

How has the role of internal comms changed over the last few years?

We work hard to keep up with the opportunities offered to us by the digital age. Something that has given us plenty of new channels to get to grips with over the last few years, the most obvious being the intranet, but all our global internal publications and newsletters went online quite a few years ago too.

More recently our role has expanded to include our ESN Yammer in our remit – a platform that reflects wider changing societal shifts towards more collaborative models and new ways of consuming information: not just shorter and snappier but immediate and timely too. It’s also a two-way conversation which involves the employee much more directly in generating and communicating content.

Yammer has presented us with significant challenges as it is much more than just another channel. At its core it is a new way of working, and one that not everyone is comfortable with. It’s something that requires a much more fundamental change at a cultural level than anything that would be required if we were simply rolling out another channel or digital tool.

Timing is everything though, and our work in this area has actually fallen really neatly in line with a wider transformation drive within the business. We are currently working closely with the Global HR team to embed the kinds of behaviours we believe to be required to be successful in the digital era, and, serendipitously, they are very much in harmony with the kinds of behaviours and working practices that are both enabled and necessary to get the most out of an ESN.

I understand you’ve been using Yammer as an organisation for a number of years now. How did it start? And when did it start to take off?

As with so many things, Yammer usage within Telefónica started small in 2008 with the hook of a Freemium service and a team of people – who had an active community called “azules” – who really “got it”.

The platform came to the attention of the Internal Comms team who began to work with the “azules” leaders on a strategy for a wider, albeit “soft” roll out of Yammer.

The move from Freemium to actual licence-paying usage happened in 2011, when we realised that the community was too large to handle on the Freemium platform and that we needed the advanced admin features offered by the pay version – this was when Yammer became the official ESN for the Telefónica Group.

It’s safe to say that, initially, real usage of the platform remained with people who already understood more about the usefulness and potential of an ESN and it didn’t make a huge splash internally.

Have you done any specific activities to drive sign up and / or engagement?

The tipping point for us came when it caught the attention of our COO, who was quick to see the potential of this platform for a business of our size and geographic reach, and who threw his full support behind its use as the main communications and collaboration space for our 2013 annual Management Summit – a two-day strategic conference that gathers our top 1,200 managers from across the business in one place.

The closed network and its exclusive content and interaction opportunities had the effect of “instantly” engaging all our top managers across the business with the platform, and demonstrated its usefulness as a business tool in a very tangible way.

The managers who got on board with it were able to pass on what they had learned and to start making use of it with their wider teams. Of course, there were still some who didn’t “get it” but there always will be, and you can’t win them all!

What have been the common fears or objections from your colleagues around the use of it?

The most common thing I hear is that Yammer is just one more thing they “have to do”; more noise in an already packed schedule. And I think that’s probably a result of how it was initially rolled out. In some places it’s led to a lack of understanding around how everyone can make an ESN work for them – using it to meet their specific challenges and in a way that best suits each individual. It’s definitely not a question of trawling through a live feed to find something that may or may not be relevant to them, an ESN, used properly, is so much more than that. And it’s up to us in our team to really bring that story to life for each employee. A mammoth task with over 100,000 of us! 

What do you see as the benefit of it?

One word: COLLABORATION. With our size, geographic scale and employee numbers an ESN, with all the opportunities for collaboration that it affords, is a game-changer.   

And how many employees are now on it?

Approximately 64,300 and growing all the time. 

Have you seen any tangible results from employees’ use of Yammer?

The biggest win in terms of tangible results, for me, relates back to that tipping point moment I mentioned earlier – the use of Yammer as the main platform for the 2013 Management Summit. 

In terms of concrete stats for participation in the Summit network; 46% of our directors posted at least one message (we would usually expect to see around 10%) – including stats for posts, shares and “likes” – with 1,150 directors participating in the network. Over 6,000 messages were sent – both public posts and private messages – with over 3,300 votes being cast in debate-related polls.

In addition to this, we hosted a series of strategic debates on Yammer in which our Top 1,200 managers discussed all kinds of topics from Handsets to Brand Strategy.

These debates were really important for a number of reasons; they gave our top managers the opportunity to interact with one another, sharing experiences, knowledge and opinions as well as being able to identify people with similar interest areas and responsibilities; it created a real sense of community among our business leaders and a sense of shared purpose and goals.

What have you learned from the journey you’ve been on with it?

That we are squarely in uncharted territory when it comes to using and ESN! I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that this is a very experimental area; no-one has really got a blueprint for how to “do” Enterprise Social. Every business and every business culture is different so there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach that can be used. 

For us, the watershed came with the support of our Group COO, within the more hierarchical culture that existed at that time, this was the moment it became “officially sanctioned” and we were all given permission, and in fact, actively encouraged, to get to grips with Yammer and the opportunities it offers us.

What are your top tips for other organisations setting up an internal social network?

Make sure you define your ESN strategy upfront, define your objectives and key indicators. Make it relevant to your business; what are your challenges and what do you seek to address through the use of an ESN?

Finally, and probably most importantly; identify your influencers – depending on your business these people may well not be the people at “the top” – and win them over first. This will make your job a LOT easier in the long run.

And finally, what’s next at Telefónica for internal social? What future possibilities excite you? What are you exploring?

Even though we have a large percentage of our employees on Yammer, not all of them are active or really understand the potential and uses of the tool. We’re working on some ideas that should allow us to really drill down into the nitty gritty; what do you work on? What are your challenges? What tools do you already have? What do you need? This applies equally to people who use Yammer and to those who are still yet to be convinced, and this sort of information will really allow us to make Yammer both relevant and useful to as many people as possible, opening up their eyes to what our ESN offers us.

Jennifer Hayward, Global Internal Comms team at Telefonica

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