By Gloria Lombardi

Gatwick Airport is the world’s busiest single-runway airport and the second busiest by total passenger traffic in the UK. With a clear vision of expanding further their business operations – including building the case for a second runway, they have been using Yammer to bring about innovation.

In May 2013, I caught up with their Head of Internal Communications Caroline Coomber (pictured below), who told me about the benefits of adopting the social network during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

After almost a year, I wanted to catch up with Caroline again to see if the adoption of the enterprise social network after that topical experience has changed – either for the worse or the better, or has been the same.

Listening to what Caroline has to say, the progress they have made, and the new uses they have come up with, my belief that social business is here to stay, has been confirmed.

GL: Since London Games 2012, what’s your perspective on Yammer at Gatwick?

CC: Yammer is still the community forum where anyone at Gatwick can have a voice, ask questions and suggest ideas. We continue to create opportunities and topics that encourage people to use the network in this way.

GL: What has changed operationally since last year?

CC: From an operational perspective, in the last few months we have seen a really good take up of our frontline staff to Yammer. This is partly due to offering staff a free Wi-Fi service so they can connect to our systems on their personal devices.

We have also been encouraging champions of the network in operational teams to personally encourage their colleagues to give it a try, which has proven to be really effective. Once people sign up, they are welcomed by their head of department and shown that this platform is endorsed and used by our senior team.

GL: Did you implement new types of communications initiatives to boost further the level of adoption of the network?

CC: We introduced a ‘Rumour Buster’ group last year on Yammer, which allow staff to post anything they have heard, and members of our executive and senior team respond personally.

We also put physical post-boxes in staff areas so they can post their rumours anonymously. A member of the internal communications team posts them on Yammer on their behalf. That way staff can log in and see the answer. This has increased visibility of our executive team and allowed frontline staff to engage directly with them on issues that really matter to them.

GL: Could you tell me more about the leadership involvement with the platform? When we spoke last year you wanted to focus more on this.

CC: Yes, that is true. In fact, we have continued to create live Q&As with members of our executive and senior team. This is a great way for staff to ask any questions they like about the big strategic issues, such as Gatwick going for a second runway.

We have also found that after the executive member has been involved in the online Q&A, they are much more comfortable with the tool and will respond to questions at any other time, opening up lines of communication across the business. It is really great to see a member of the frontline team have an idea or a question and get a personal answer or response from one of our directors.

GL: At the end of February 2014, what’s the adoption look like? And, which are the most active communities?

CC: Currently, 1480 employees – out of 2,600 staff – are on Yammer, and we have 144 groups. One of the most popular communities is the ‘Second Runway’; it is all about building our case for a second runway at Gatwick as part of the UK debate on airport capacity.

Other successful groups are ‘Gatwick events’ (passenger events, photos and videos), as well as the ‘Read all about it’ community where staff share and discuss the external news that they have seen about the airport and aviation in general.

‘Gatwick photos old and new’ is also very active. Here employees dig out really old photos of Gatwick and compare them to our new developments and facilities. People are really proud of Gatwick’s history and how we’ve transformed the airport in recent times and this is a place for them to celebrate that.

GL: It looks like the level of people engagement with the ESN has increased greatly since the last we spoke. What has changed in terms people’s mindset toward the platform?

CC: I think over time, people are more trusting of the platform as they can see it is just a good forum for open discussion. Also, having our directors routinely post on there definitely reassures people that this is a business tool. The analytics show us that the majority of the conversations are about the business – and not just social chat. It has really being used for the benefit of the airport, which is encouraging.

GL: Have you used Yammer for new particular projects recently?

CC: We have found new topics related to our businesses that work really well on Yammer. However, we haven’t really tried new initiatives as the strategy we have in place and the tactics we have been using have been successful.

The one thing we have done more of – because it is really valuable – is having champions in the frontline who are recommending the platform to their peers. They know better than we do what people are likely to find useful about this type of platform; so that is a good tip for anyone who wants to drive up participation with their harder to reach audiences.

GL: Could you give me some fresh examples of how using the network has helped Gatwick to solve a business problem?

CC: A recent example of how we have used the platform to improve the way we work was following the recent flooding and disruption at the airport. Our people are always keen to know how they can improve the business and make suggestions. A member of frontline staff made a really good suggestion that his team could be trained to do a different role during disruption that would help our passengers and airlines. A senior member of the business saw this idea and quickly responded saying it had potential and it will be reviewed with other plans following the disruption. It may sound like one small idea, but if it is something that can be put into operation it could have a really positive impact on the business in the future. Without this network, ideas like that could easily be lost.

Another good example has to do with staff welfare. A male member of the staff asked whether we could have ‘baby on board’ type badges for his pregnant colleagues. He said that when women are not obviously pregnant it can be awkward explaining to passengers why they may not be able to lift heavy bags or equipment. He didn’t know who could help, so he posted his idea on Yammer along with photos of a sample of pregnancy pin badges. A manager in the operational team who saw the post replied straight away saying that they will order some badges for our expecting staff. It is an example of speeding up the process of the idea and the action, without having to go through layers of line management.

GL: To conclude Caroline, how you are going to approach your social business journey in the future?

CC: We work closely with our external communications teams and ensure that the big issues facing our business are reflected back in internally, and we use the platform to have conversations about how that impacts on us as employees. Other than that, we will just stick to the same strategy and keep injecting energy and encouraging people in the business to instigate and participate in conversations that we know are of interest to our people.


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate