Social network bolsters peer recognition at U.K. firm

O2’s award-winning Facebook-derivative network encourages ‘applause’ for colleagues who fulfill the ‘customer promise’ and burnish the brand.

O2’s award-winning Facebook-derivative network encourages ‘applause’ for colleagues who fulfill the ‘customer promise’ and burnish the brand

It won an award, has the support of 95 percent of its employees and engages a large number of staff on a weekly basis. It’s a simple tool called Fanclub, created by the innovative minds at O2 for a workforce of 11,500.

“Simply put, it is an internal social networking site that offers an experience around a single purpose—to create personal fans,” says Jenny Burns, head of internal communications at O2.

At the heart of O2’s strategy is the “customer promise” charter, which aims to deliver the best consumer experience and draw loyalty to the brand. O2 came up with the idea of launching a microsite so peers could acknowledge one another’s efforts. Thus Fanclub was born, recently winning the award for best internal communication campaign in the Corporate & Public category at the PRWeek awards.

A user-friendly structure

Each user has a home page where he or she can upload a picture and profile information so that peers can recognize them. Like Facebook, the site allows for social interaction with friends, enabling colleagues to “applaud” one another for successfully fulfilling the customer promise objectives. (“Applause” refers to comments published by colleagues online).

Once you applaud a colleague, he or she receives an e-mail notification. Likewise, when logging on to Fanclub, the user is informed of the applause. For Burns, the effectiveness of the feature lies in having recognition come from people’s peers.

Join the club

To demonstrate the impressive engagement level the site has helped to achieve, just look at the database. According to Burns, 11,000 out of 11,500 employees are already active users.

“It is a means of instant gratification where peers can recognize each other’s efforts on a minute-to-minute basis. At present the micro-site sees almost 2,500 applauses each week. In terms of numbers, 20 percent of the employees get applauded on a weekly basis,” Burns says. “Senior employees often make it a part of their diaries to do so, for example on a Friday morning. The good part is that the site is accessible through smart phones as well.”

What began as a test piece for social media has garnered high numbers within a short span of time. Burns says: “The only comms we did around Fanclub was viral. We started talking to people about it and nominated some to spread the word. We also have a tool called ‘nudge,’ which essentially fulfills the purpose of a polite reminder to the users about updating their profile and ‘getting their act together.’ ”

A means to celebrate

O2 employees have the freedom to express their views openly, Burns says. “We don’t monitor the platform, since we believe it’s about celebrating each other’s achievements. There is no place for negativity. Besides, we do place a lot of trust on employees for using the site beneficially.”

Launching an internal communication platform is one thing, but sustaining the initial excitement is quite another. To keep content fresh, Burns and her team have added an application called “Fansnaps,” where employees can upload pictures relevant to a given topic. The photos can be personal or business-related.

Also, Burns says, “Each week, our CEO picks out one of the 2,500 applauses exchanged on the site and awards the person recipient a holiday voucher worth £1880, which we call the 1880 winner.”


In addition to its day-to-day recognition efforts, O2 hosts an annual event called Superfans, an award ceremony recognizing the employees who have been most proficient in fulfilling the customer promise.

“Last year, we had over 1,000 employees spread across three locations. A live video link-up connected the three events, which were hosted by Matthew Horne, James Corden and Reggie Yates. This year around we are expecting around 800 guests and are planning to call in a music band,” Burns explains.
Despite the recession, compromising the Superfans event is never an option for Burns. “It is a big part of our engagement calendar,” she says.

O2 plans to meld Fanclub into the company intranet early next year and into SharePoint in 2011. “This way we can fully integrate the home page into the respective employee user systems. It would be more personalized, and all the personal activities can be seen on the home page,” Burns points out.

The secrets to O2’s success

Fanclub has revolutionized the traditional employee recognition model at O2, diverting from the conventional top-down approach. Burns’ secret was to not complicate the tool.

Her three best-practices tips can inspire companies trying to adopt social media internally:

“One, companies should have a clear focus. They must link their strategies to their business plan.
“Two, it is important to understand employee’s needs and to create a desire for the tool among employees before launching it.
“Last but not the least, it is important to ensure more functionality in the infrastructure.”

In short, Burns says, “Keep it simple, and have a finite goal. It is a business tool, and everybody should be aware what they are expected to use it for.”

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