SAS’ internal social network attracts 5,000 users in just weeks

The Facebook-like platform called The Hub turns global co-workers into true colleagues, sharing professional information and personal interests.

Days before its Valentine’s Day launch, SAS’ internal social networking platform, The Hub, had attracted more than 1,000 employee users.

“It truly went viral in a very organic way,” says Becky Graebe, internal communications manager at SAS.

In the three weeks or so since the official launch, the social networking site, which Graebe describes as “kind of like a Facebook/LinkedIn behind the SAS firewall,” has nearly 5,000 users and 425 groups. SAS has 11,500 employees worldwide.

How did SAS do it? Internal communication managers have held training sessions, given executives personal training, written news articles, invited bloggers to sing The Hub’s praises and asked a group of early adopters to spread it around.

The beta period

The company is known for its internal social media efforts—one of the factors that prompted the Great Place to Work Institute to name SAS its top employer two years in a row. It boasted blogs, wikis and Sharepoint discussion boards, but what it didn’t have yet, Graebe says, was a “town center.”

“What we felt we were missing was that one common place where people came together for those types of discussions,” she says.

So SAS communicators assembled a “core project team,” about three dozen people representing every department and division, to help envision what that might be, Graebe says. Developers put together the platform using Socialcast, and communicators reassembled the team members, asking them to take it for a test drive to look for bugs and other concerns.

Communicators also asked the group to forward the site to anyone else who might be interested in testing it out. “Within just a few days, we had over 1,000 users,” Graebe says.

At that point—about 10 days before the official launch—there weren’t any guides or instructions available for employees. A lot of the discussion on the site, then, was simply about how to use it. “People were helping one another to find those answers,” Graebe says.

By the time The Hub did launch, communicators had explanations at the ready: a full week of promotional and educational articles on the company news site, a series of lunch-and-learn meetings, and archived videos of those lunch meetings for global employees.

Catching fire

The number of employee users has grown to about 4,900—not just through corporate news items, but also by communicators’ pulling in bloggers and executives. Communication staffers asked company bloggers to talk about their experiences with the site, then moved quickly to get executives to create profiles and start updating. “That went a long way, having executives out in the midst of the conversations,” Graebe says.

The Hub launched just before one of SAS Chief Executive Jim Goodnight’s quarterly webcasts, Graebe says, and in it he mentioned the internal network. “Our numbers shot up that day,” she says. Of course, the news items help, too. Communicators are posting regular reminders about The Hub on the company’s internal news site.

How it works

The Hub’s main functions are very similar to Facebook’s, Graebe says. Employees can enter status updates, upload pictures and link videos, she says.

For example, Goodnight posted a link to a video of employees on a local news program, with the remark, “We have a lot to be proud of.” Employees have posted pictures of cherry blossoms on the company’s south campus and of international trips, among other things, says Graebe.

One major use employees have found for the site, she says, is finding answers to questions. For example, one employee recently asked what the phrase “survived by” meant, as in an obituary. The answer—that the person was dead but the brother was still alive—came almost instantly.

“It’s kind of the wisdom-of-crowds mentality,” Graebe says.

That mentality is great for helping people to find a particular resource, she says. And that’s what The Hub is ultimately for. “We designed this purposely as an ad hoc, transient tool,” she says. Posts on the site are deleted after 180 days.

It’s not meant to be a place for permanently storing information; SAS has other resources for that. It’s more like a central place where employees can find the way to the online information they need. “What we didn’t want to do was create another graveyard for inaccurate, dated information,” Graebe says.

SAS doesn’t want to lose the good stuff on there, though, so communicators have held training sessions and posted on The Hub to let people know that what’s there isn’t permanent. Anything they want to keep, they should save elsewhere.

As on Facebook, employees follow only the co-workers they want to—those most relevant to the work they do. “I think that helps it not to be quite so overwhelming to employees,” Graebe says.

It’s not just a place for business talk, either, Graebe says. “We wanted to create a place where employees could meet up and talk about common interests outside of work,” she says. The 425 groups created so far cover an array of interests, including a motorcycle club, a group for quote lovers and a recipe exchange, she says.

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