FEATURE25 January 2013

Networking opportunities available


Never mind the insights; social networks are great communications tools. SPA Future Thinking’s Paul Roberts discusses the next evolution of the humble corporate intranet.

It comes as little surprise, then, that companies looking for the next evolution of the humble corporate intranet are building their own private social networks for staff to share information and hold discussions. Pernod Ricard launched Chatter recently, while in the MR industry SPA Future Thinking has rolled out The Hub.

Group digital director Paul Roberts led the development of The Hub. We spoke to him to find out more.

What was it that motivated you to build The Hub?
Research in general derives most of its value from the people that work in it so we wanted to enable everyone in the company (as well as wider external audiences) to express their thoughts and ideas in a democratised way. Crucially, due to the company’s growth and increased geographic and business vertical footprint, the creation of The Hub would help us retain one of our core principles – maximising business potential through innovation and technology.

How open is The Hub? Who can join the conversation?
We’ve created an eco-system which is open to as wide and diverse an audience as possible. We currently use it internally across all departments and all our office locations to enable staff to disseminate content on all aspects of work; from project methodology successes, case studies/white papers and research solutions for best practice, as well as sharing knowledge on clients and prospects, sales leads, the research industry and wider business environment.

Of course there’s also a social element, including discussion groups for organising nights out and other events, all being created by staff. Content can be added in multiple formats with the added ability to incorporate other social media and RSS feeds. Users can follow groups, add and post comments, and content can be easily sorted and grouped through the use of tagging.

We are also using it with our suppliers and have started to invite a number of clients to engage with it in a controlled environment (with the aim to ultimately open it to all clients). In addition, we are opening The Hub to other interested parties including thought leaders and academics. This will enable a greater collaboration of ideas as well as creating opportunities to maximise knowledge and understanding across the business.

Realistically, how much do you expect to involve clients in the discussions that take place within The Hub? And how important is it that they have their say?
Client involvement is particularly important to its long-term development. We are already starting to invite and engage with clients through The Hub, whether it’s training webinars, highlighting opportunities for partnerships to develop research solutions or highlighting expertise and innovations they weren’t aware of.

Our next step is to deliver their research findings through the platform and to encourage conversation and comment through this environment. While these initial conversations will be through closed groups, in the long run we do expect to provide clients with access to the wider Hub environment to join in conversations. As well as creating a new openness to the way we work, we hope to generate a proliferation of new ideas and a greater understanding of different need sets – thus enabling relationships to develop and prosper.

What about prospective clients? Any plans to get them involved?
Absolutely. It would be a great way to learn about their requirements, showcase our solutions and help tailor these to meet their needs. At the moment they can see Hub content through our corporate website but this is only a very small amount of the total content available on The Hub itself. We will be looking to engage with prospective clients through social media etc. in the longer term to drive awareness and interaction.

What are the benchmarks of success for The Hub? New services, tools, approaches? Happier staff and clients?
I think all of those, and a few softer elements besides. The Hub is all about creating an openness in the provision of information, a reduction in the reliance on email and ultimately fostering greater knowledge within the business. As a multi-site company it has always been difficult to create a cross-company culture. Through The Hub environment we have started to see this develop.