Succeeding by connecting


A nice story about internal social networking with Connect from British American Tobacco’s intranet:

Connect – joining up the business and keeping up with the times

Six months on from its revamp, Connect, our employee directory and social networking tool is basking in the glow of statistics that demonstrate its incredible success throughout the Group.

The speed at which the online networking revolution is taking place has been an enormous challenge for many corporations, but HR’s Knowledge Management team and CORA have provided a leading-edge tool that has other companies and think-tanks approaching us for further information.

Connect was introduced several years ago, but it truly transformed into a social networking tool last July when two existing directories were combined and updated and the ability for people to make ‘connections’ and post updates was introduced.

The true value of Connect is something that reveals itself on an ongoing basis – and the benefits are manifold. It supports the Group working as a single enterprise by helping people to find their peers, build relationships, communicate and share information.

“There are also many indirect benefits to Connect,” says Simon Hill, Consultant in Knowledge Management & Enterprise 2.0, Human Resources. “It helps with working virtually across cultures and geographical barriers. You can forget that you’re 5,000 miles from the person you are connected to when you see what they are up to on a daily basis.”

A positive effect on the bottom-line

A recent report from well-known think-tank Demos has endorsed the use of networking technologies to build relationships and closer links with colleagues, as they play a role in helping with productivity, innovation and democratic working.

Olivia Cook of London-based corporate social networking consultancy, SelectMinds, reinforces this. “The camaraderie that is built among colleagues through corporate social networks fuels positive views of the employer brand, and more employers are realising the real value that a more connected workforce can add to the bottom-line.”

A difficult birth

The idea of transforming Connect began in 2003 when a friend of Richard Hare, Consultant in Knowledge, Communication and Collaboration, Human Resources, invited him to join a social networking site, Friendster. “That was before MySpace and social networking had really taken off, so when I first suggested the idea I encountered hostility – people didn’t understand it and I wondered how I could convince them.”

Richard chipped away and with the arrival of Facebook came the realisation that he was on to something big. “Simon and I began to meet up on an informal basis with a group of cross-functional, entrepreneurial and like-minded people, including Melanie Steele (CORA), Svetlana Omeltchenko (Marketing) and Julian Gibbs (Legal). Between us, the GSD development team and some CORA funding, we made this happen.”

Suited to our culture

Richard Hare suggests that Connect is particularly suited to the way that the Group operates: “People in British American Tobacco move around a lot, so Connect can help them stay in touch with people they know, as well as finding people who can help them in their new learning curve. By answering the question ‘What are you doing right now?’ you increase the ambient awareness of what your network is doing.”

“It’s also in line with the emphasis on cost-consciousness and working smarter,” says Simon. “Our employees represent a goldmine of information, so to exploit that great bank of internal knowledge rather than go out and pay for it, or, to do it yourself and get it wrong, makes great sense.”

The future is Connect

Now, Connect is spreading on a worldwide basis. Even markets who use their own local intranet can access Connect if they are e-mailed an invite to connect.

“There’s a strong viral element to Connect,” says Simon, “We’ve released things quietly using a more exponential, contemporary approach. We’ve produced something that is easy and enjoyable to use. Now, Connect is built into many of the features of Interact and it spreads through its own mechanisms in a way that has exceeded our expectations.”

For the future, Simon Hill would like to see every single British American Tobacco employee connected, “because we want the collective knowledge of the Group available to each and every employee”, and Richard Hare would like to see Connect enabling more global conversations. “We already have plans for new features following suggestions by Connect users”, says Richard.

“We’re starting to achieve the kind of behaviours and excitement within the organisation that are becoming prevalent with social networking sites on the internet,” observes Simon, and both he and Richard are more than happy to continue their work in this fast-moving and emergent area, to evolve new ideas that help the Group connect, collaborate and innovate.