By Gloria Lombardi

This is an exciting time for the Rugby Football Union (RFU). With the Rugby World Cup coming to England next year, they have the opportunity to further grow the popularity of the sport in the country. Plus, it’s been an impetus to improve their internal communications.

The RFU promotes rugby at all levels: in schools and clubs right up to international level. They look to achieve success with England teams on the field and drive participation and revenues for the game. The Rugby World Cup is an opportunity not to be missed.

Half of their 600 employees are based in the 82,000-seater Twickenham stadium, the largest dedicated rugby venue in the world. The remainder of the team work in the field. To connect remote workers with the head office, they use their new social intranet called RFU Connected.

Rolled out in November last year with the support of Brightstarr, the SharePoint 2013-based solution integrates with the enterprise social network (ESN) Yammer, put in place a few months earlier. “We launched Yammer first, in the period of July-August and let it gather momentum. Then, when the adoption levels within the network were high, we launched the full SharePoint intranet,” says Toby Jones, Internal Communications Manager at RFU.

It is OK to watch from afar

RFU Connected sits within a five-year Strategic Plan, with one element of that to improve the culture, performance, leadership and the technology of the governing body. Speaking of the latter Toby said: “our intranet solution wasn’t effective. We had a real business incentive to improve it.”

Toby’s main concern wasn’t about the adoption of the new technology though “We knew it was going to be better than the one we had before.” The greater challenge was probably around the social part. “Some people will instinctively understand why it’s there and how to use it. Others will sit on the fence and watch from afar.”

Toby was clear from the beginning that it was totally fine to be anywhere in that spectrum. “It is OK if you don’t post all the time. You can still derive benefits by consuming the content. A social platform is not an exclusive piece of kit; use it as it works best for you.”

Being on the same page while spread across the country

To begin with they set up a number of groups based around their geographical structure and let other groups start organically. The majority of groups are open and each community can share best practices and relevant issues to their own region. Anyone is encouraged to browse and look at what others are talking about. “Very often something that works for Area 1 might be as relevant to Area 6. Keeping these forums open is vital for us to be on the same page. Connectivity is becoming even more important as we look to build a lasting legacy from the Rugby World Cup next year.”

Innovating with All Schools

RFU Connected also made it easier for the field teams to share information and innovate around All Schools, one of the RFU’s flagship programmes. The All Schools programme, which has Prince Harry as its Patron aims to get 750 state secondary schools playing rugby by 2019 – touching an expected 1m young people over that period.

So far operating in around 200 schools, it involves employees offering schools new to rugby a three year programme of support and helping to make connections with rugby clubs across the country to generate enthusiasm around the sport and foster the players of the future.

By picking up this key business programme and giving staff a clear purpose to use the social platform, the All Schools community on Yammer is thriving. The field teams are using Yammer to post success stories on the way they are engaging their local areas around the programme, helping colleagues of the other regions to generate new ideas on the initiative. “The field teams generally share lots of rich content from challenges to wins. This can take the form of pictures on what happens on their local clubs, as well as videos of festivals or news about volunteering activities.”

RFU and England Rugby 2015…when collaboration crosses the boundaries

Another interesting approach is around the Rugby World Cup. England Rugby 2015, is the organising committee and a subsidiary of the RFU and responsible for delivering an incredible tournament next year.

As well as sharing their intranets, they also collaborate via Yammer. Toby merged the domain between the two entities, so that the Yammer feed is not only embedded on the RFU Connected but also on England Rugby 2015’s home page. They are now working together on one Yammer network, specifically through the Rugby World Cup community; the group where the teams of the two organisations interact.

Benefits to internal communications

Thanks to the SharePoint 2013-Yammer integration, ESN functionality is embedded in key areas of the intranet such us news articles, company events and My RFU, the area for Finance and HR. “Staff now read news and other static content literally side-by-side with the social conversations happening on Yammer.”

This has helped with the quality of internal communications. “We have now a significantly better capacity to tell our story as widely and as profoundly as possible. Previously, email was overloaded. Employees could not differentiate between important top-line strategic content and a general circular. Now, we have the ability to tailor communications at the right time and to the right audience. Email, intranet and Yammer.”

With many colleagues working out in the field an important amount of content is accessed through mobile devices and the yammer app, has also proved helpful.

Visual communication also drives engagement. “In a world where everything is visual and more consumable, pictures have a strong impact. At the RFU, we have always had plenty of great images around our sport. Now, we have the opportunity to show them all.”

An open culture allows social to take off

“We will never have a massive internal communications department. So, we need to be smarter about the money that we spend.” Empowering staff to be telling each other what is happening on the ground, is a good way to reduce unnecessary costs and promote interconnectivity.

Toby encourages staff to see internal communications as something that belongs to everyone. “Surely, there will always be a degree of hierarchy, but social tools are a good leveller. From my experience it works best when an organisation works more peer-to-peer.”

Not being “too stuffy” is relevant to get the most out of each other. “Nobody should feel frightened or uncertain to make a post on a public forum. There is just no such thing as a silly question.”

This is often emphasised during the training sessions that the company provides. Education involves staff being exposed to RFU Connected with champions physically showing them how to use the tool. “Going through it with someone else, helps you gain more confidence and respond better to the tools. We make sure that those new to the team have an induction process with demos, classroom and presentations on a whole range of things – including the intranet and Yammer.”

Next steps…getting more operational

After becoming an essential communication tool at a broad organisational level, the next stage is to make RFU Connected more relevant to the departmental objectives. Toby is encouraging each team to find their own way with the tools available. His plan is to explore each department’s strategy and to tailor the intranet and Yammer services to best effect. “Ideally, each team would have a mix of static and regular social content that would support and communicate what they do.

“Getting to that point and building on our use of the document management tools in SharePoint will help us right across the board. And take another big step in our internal communications.”

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate