Social Business: Slow And Steady Worked For Philips

Social business success isn't impossible. Philips shares five best practices that helped grow its enterprise social network from 400 to 50,000 users.

Kristin Burnham, Senior Editor,

May 20, 2014

6 Min Read

Social business success doesn't happen overnight -- a valuable lesson that Dennis Agusi says more companies need to understand.

Four years ago, Agusi spearheaded the deployment of Socialcast's enterprise social platform at Royal Philips Electronics, a healthcare, lifestyle, and lighting business. The company, which prides itself on innovation, needed a better way to connect its 120,000 global employees and improve collaboration.

Over the last four years, the company's network, called Philips Community, has grown to more than 50,000 users. Employees log on to find information faster, exchange ideas, and ask questions -- 54% percent of which are answered within one hour and 92% of which are answered within 24 hours. These adoption numbers and engagement rates didn't come easy -- or quickly -- but they validate the company's perseverance, Agusi said.

Figure 1:

[Social business success stems from groups. Read Social Business: Why Group Adoption Matters.]

Philips' social business success is unusual by all measures. According to Gartner, 80% of social business efforts will fail due to inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology. But while the odds are stacked against most companies evolving into a social organization, Agusi, internal communications manager at Philips, says that achieving social business success is not impossible.

"What often happens is that companies simply provide the infrastructure and offer the enterprise social network believing that employees will run with it themselves," he said. "We took a different approach and looked at it from a holistic point of view to develop a digital internal communications strategy to support us in this social business journey."

Philips shared with InformationWeek five best practices that helped it achieve impressive adoption rates and engagement numbers. Here's how it launched the platform, cultivated its communities, and iterated along the way.

1. Build a small, but active community first.
Reaching critical mass for enterprise social network adoption is crucial, Agusi said. But to get there, you need to start small, focus on making the community active and engaging, then work to grow your numbers.

Philips created a pilot community first and invited the company's strongest social media proponents to join it.

"We focused on employees who were already using tools like Yammer, plus our communications and marketing employees," Agusi said. "To create ownership across this group we asked them to come up with a name for the community. When you co-create the name together, you see

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that a lot of people feel ownership in it and want to see it succeed."

Soon after, Philips expanded its pilot program and allowed its small group of ambassadors to invite others. In those first two weeks, the platform grew from 400 to more than 2,000 new members. Six weeks later, the community reached 7,000 members.

2. Educate employees.
As more members joined, Agusi said some misunderstandings and resistance surfaced among employees. To make the value of the platform clear, they needed to make the answer to the question, "What's in it for me?" more apparent.

"People thought it was an internal Facebook where you posted pictures of your dog and holiday," Agusi said. "But quickly, people realized that it is a business tool built on social technologies that helps us achieve business goals like collaborating and speeding up communications."

To educate employees, the company expanded on the help from its early-adopter ambassadors and developed training sessions to make everyone feel more comfortable using the technology, Agusi said. They launched a training site where employees could browse user manuals and watch tutorial videos that explain Socialcast's basic functionality.

"We didn't think anyone would read the manuals, but found that a lot of people did," Agusi said. "But we're an engineering company and people want to understand exactly how things work -- it's the nature of our organization."

The training piece of the social business puzzle was critical because unless employees are comfortable with a technology, they won't use it, Agusi said. That was evident especially with company executives.

"We learned that many [executives] didn't immediately see the value when you showed them how employees were using the community," he said. "So we made a deal with them: You try it out for three months and if it doesn't work for you, we simply won't bother you anymore."

The result: The entire leadership team is now active in the community. "We learned that people often need to experience social technologies before they really understand the potential of it," Agusi said.

3. Enlist a community manager.
As more employees joined the Philips Community, Agusi assumed the role of a community manager to keep its growing user base engaged.

"You simply cannot live without a community manager. They're the one who drives conversation -- especially at the start," he said.

Early on, Agusi publicly welcomed new members in the community and suggested groups for employees to join. He also facilitated introductions so people could connect with others and develop mutually beneficial relationships.

Today, community managers work to keep the conversation flowing and

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employees engaged.

"When you deploy a tool like this and you introduce it with a big bang, activity will decline soon after," Agusi said. "A community is not easily created -- it needs to be built, which requires time and effort."

4. Integrate it everywhere.
To ensure employees stayed engaged, Agusi said it was essential that they make Socialcast as prevalent as possible. This meant integrating "like" and comment functionality into their intranet, for example, which connected the two communities.

"If I was following a person who liked an article on the intranet, I would see that in my activity stream," Agusi said. "Normally, I would never go to the IT intranet. But because I am following colleagues in IT, I often end up reading articles they liked and sometimes even comment on it. This really helped us drive conversations around content."

Coincidentally, it's also broken down silos. Forty-three percent of answers to questions employees ask come from a business unit other than the one they're from.

5. Track your success.
From the beginning, Agusi and his team produced management reports to highlight key trends and statistics from the social network. These reports are powerful in demonstrating the value of an enterprise social network, he said.

"One of the things we learned from the data, for example, was that a question asked on Socialcast is answered 54% of the time within an hour and 92% of the time within 24 hours," he said. "These are powerful data points that help bring new members into the community and convince senior executives to pay attention to it," he said.

All businesses should set goals and track success, Agusi advised. "Think about where you want to be in a year and have clear KPIs behind [your goals] to drive your strategy," he said.

Today, Philips Community stands at more than 50,000 strong, but Agusi emphasizes that it took years -- and plenty of patience -- to achieve.

"Our enterprise social network has helped us drive business by simply helping people to be more connected, better informed, and it's helped us do our jobs by providing 50,000 resources for employees to tap into," Agusi said. "But it's not easy and it takes a lot of patience to get there. It's not something that can be done in a month; it's done in years."

What do Uber, Bank of America, and Walgreens have to do with your mobile app strategy? Find out in the new Maximizing Mobility issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest.

About the Author(s)

Kristin Burnham

Senior Editor,

Kristin Burnham currently serves as's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and, most recently as senior writer. Kristin's writing has earned an ASBPE Gold Award in 2010 for her Facebook coverage and a Min Editorial and Design Award in 2011 for "Single Online Article." She is a graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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