By Gloria Lombardi

“We are the first company in the world to use Yammer as the intranet,” says Jonathan Anthony (@ThisMuchWeKnow), Director Corporate Communications at Teekay.

In 2011, the global marine energy company decided to replace its SharePoint-based solution with the employee social network (ESN) to improve internal collaboration. “Today, enterprises have the chance of integrating the two. Previously that luxury wasn’t available. It was very difficult to leverage any kind of sociability on our intranet.”

Getting there virally…the thirst for having a voice

Since 2008, Anthony was suggesting to the company that “we need to become more social.” Yet, the answer at that time was: “Interesting, but Teekay is not ready yet.”

Two years later, things started to change. The idea of using a social network at work was given the benefit of the doubt. With a group of ten other people from communications and IT, Anthony started to experiment with Yammer. One day, he decided to write about the social tool on the old intranet site. In his post he described what Yammer was and why he thought it was valuable. To his surprise, on the following day, 25% of the organisation signed up on Yammer voluntarily. “People were interested and curious.”

After a few months of experimenting with the tool, Anthony did another post. This time he described the use case of Yammer at Teekay, and mentioned that the company might be thinking about deploying it officially in the future. On the following day, 75% of employees signed up, once again voluntarily. “Virally, people were inviting other people. That was the killer piece of data for me. It showed me that staff had a thirst for having a voice. They had enough just receiving broadcasted information. We were ready to go social.”

Everything is business if it drives communications

Once the ESN was officially implemented, “we just found we could work much better. Yammer was lightweight, useable and simple…a breath of fresh air for us! Suddenly, we were able to hear everybody’s voice and get the most out of our people, most of the time.”

The platform is first and foremost a communication tool. With around 200 communities, it is group-driven. People are brought together to converse and share on many different topics.

For example, project managers use the Technical Community to talk about technology in the shipping industry. Employees who interact with customers share presentations and other relevant information about those interactions in the Customer Community. The Office Community is a cultural sharing environment to discuss staff lunches and corporate events. My Team has replaced the use of email for topics such as small-scale projects and strategy. Another relevant group is People on the Move, where people can find details on those joining and leaving company, as well as how to get promoted inside the organisation.

Anthony also champions communities of interests such as Photography, which is highly popular for bonding relationships among people from different countries. “While this group is not equally important to the one where we talk about strategy, at the same time I don’t like to make it a second or third rate community. Everything is important if it drives culture, networks and learning. That’s still business to me.”

Social business…a different world

Today, 1,300 employees of the 6,500 office staff are on the platform every day. But for the rest of Teekay’s workforce who operate on the ocean waves, it’s an entirely different story.

They have very little internet access. Plus, an important cultural issue; the sailors work in a very structured, process-driven and top-down way. This type of organisational environment prevents them from valuing a social tool like yammer. “At present, they cannot see the transformative use case that people from the office are having. It is a very different world for them.We have still to find the right use case.”

Internal communications, not a police force anymore

As an internal communicator, Anthony’s job has changed fundamentally. “At the time of the old intranet, we used to be a police force. We did all the writing and the editing. Then, we distributed it out to everyone and finally monitored what was going on.”

With Yammer, the function has gone to a totally different path. “My role is now to help build communities, to support the networks and encourage new behaviours. We empower people to speak in their own language and to share.”

He also emphasises a big change in writing. “We don’t own it as much as it was in the past. It’s co-created and much more conversational. People to people.”

Getting into the life of the CEO

Senior executive support has been key to the success of the social platform. The CEO Peter Evensen is innovative, interested in technology and highly connected. “He is always on the road meeting new people. The idea of networks is totally normal for him. It’s the way he has always lived his professional life.”

When Yammer was rolled out, he joined it naturally and became the number one sponsor.

This level of openness made it possible for the organisation to organise their first Yam Jam on day one of the official launch of the ESN. Through a Q&A with the CEO, employees could ask him anything. In just one hour he answered 45 questions. He discussed strategy, the future of the company and safety. Plus, he talked about himself as a person.

Today, every time he has a thought or something new to say he just goes to Yammer and starts blogging. “He adds comments, makes notes and talks with people very informally.” Also, whenever he visits other offices, media relations or clients, he likes taking and posting videos to show staff what he does and the people he meets. “He is very good at providing insights. A chance for us to get into the life of our CEO.”

Social is a choice

Yammer is the only place for Teekay’s workforce to find out information. Not surprisingly, that helped to build adoption. Yet staff are not forced to use it. They deal with the platform in a way that works for them.

“Surely, we would like to have more employees leverage it to its full potential. But social is about choices, not forcing behaviours. If an employee doesn’t want to do that, it is their decision. Most probably they will miss out on certain shared knowledge and opportunities, but I am not going to pressure them or tell them how to do their job.

“Social is a journey of engagement, empowerment and trust. And, frankly we should allow more of that in the workplace.”

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate