By Gloria Lombardi

The task of welcoming thousands of Olympians and their families from 68 countries wasn’t one to be taken lightly. The goal: to deliver a consistently excellent level of service during what was already the busiest time of the year – at the world’s busiest single runway airport. Caroline Thorpe (pictured at right) and her internal communications team knew it was critical to keep Gatwick employees informed, involved and inspired every step of the way.

According to Thorpe, Yammer’s internal social platform was a crucial tool in educating and engaging employees around the Olympic experience. She recently spoke with simply-communicate to share Gatwick’s journey in delivering what would soon be an award-winning endeavor.

GL: How many employees communicated on Yammer?

CT: Before the 2012 Games we had less than 1,000 people using the forum. This went up to around 1,200 afterwards. More importantly we had more engaged users, with more of our people actively participating by starting conversations or responding to and liking their colleagues’ posts.

GL: Were they using Yammer prior to the Olympics?

CT: We were using it and we had a mixture of early adopters, regulars, real converts (people who don’t use Facebook or Twitter outside of work but see the value of Yammer) and lots of ‘dabblers’! The London 2012 Games was a clear opportunity for more people to participate in a really inclusive conversation about how we were delivering during a critical time for the airport.

GL: What was the adoption like?

CT: The Games project team really got behind Yammer and drove adoption over the summer. They committed to sharing information on how we were planning in advance and that got people interested. Then during the Olympics and Paralympics themselves we saw an explosion of people posting comments and photos of their experiences. I noticed that posts in general – on all subjects – increased during and after this period as people started to see what Yammer was all about.

GL: What kind of content did they upload during the Olympics?

CT: We had over 1,000 comments and 650 photos and files uploaded to a dedicated Games group – with plenty more in the main company feed. With only 2,500 people in total, and many of them not regularly online, this is a pretty good response. Our staff at the frontline were reporting live on which teams we were greeting off the flights or giving a warm departure to. The photos were the best – you can’t beat seeing the smiling faces of your own staff surrounded by Olympic athletes! It was really easy for people to participate on Yammer and for once our frontline staff were the ones telling the news, not waiting to be recipients of news.

GL: What did the experience do for employee engagement & community building?

CT: With such public national events like these, everyone was focused on the same goal, to deliver the best possible experience to athletes and other Games visitors (alongside our usual busy summer operation). Having a forum where everyone has a voice (and a face if they upload their photo!) meant anyone could share their experiences at 5am in the morning or 11pm at night. That created an incredible sense of community.

There was a real sense of fun and celebration and whether you were physically involved in meeting and greeting teams or not, you couldn’t help but feel part of the action through the minute by minute posts and photos appearing online.

It was also a fantastic way to recognise individuals. Forums like Yammer provide such a visible way of communicating that you could literally see who was delivering this great service – and those people were being rewarded with lots of ‘likes’ and comments from their community.

GL: How did it improve service at the airport?

CT: Even in the best organisations, sometimes it’s hard to find the right information at the right time to do your job. The Yammer feed was the best place to go at any time of the day to find out what was going on in the operation. It opened up communication for everyone instead of selectively sharing important updates with certain groups, saving time and making life much easier. An unexpected use, was that our Games project team turned to Yammer to share daily updates with the 2012 Games Makers who were supporting us at the airport and who didn’t have access to our systems.

GL: Are employees still using Yammer to this day?

CT: Yes and the number of members and engagement continues to grow. Every week a few new people pop up with questions and comments and we keep finding surprising new uses for it.

Sometimes people who joined months ago suddenly find a reason, or the confidence, to participate. I often hear colleagues saying they’ve read something on Yammer yet they haven’t participated, which supports the social media theory that a smaller percentage of people are vocal while others are quietly observing and getting value just from being part of the network.

GL: What kinds of communities are forming and how is Yammer promoting collaboration and idea-sharing?

CT: I find it interesting to see what topics gather interest and energy. At the moment, people across the business are interested in trials we’ve been running to operate a bigger type of aircraft at Gatwick (an A380). People are really interested in all trials and launches of new services for passengers, and detailed information about new airlines. I think it’s important not to underestimate how much employees want to know what’s in the pipeline, rather than just hearing about it when it gets officially launched.

We’ve got a good community around our retail, catering and marketing group – staff really like to know what’s opening and closing, as well as the offers available to them, their friends and family. Our commercial team have pledged to share more information in this group, and in return they’re asking staff to give feedback on the experiences they have while shopping at the airport, so we know what’s working well and can track any less positive issues and improve performance for our passengers.

We’ve also had some great examples of someone suggesting an idea without knowing who could help, and a colleague in a different team taking action. It’s great when you see that happen – and I always like to ask if they knew each other previously or knew who to turn to (99% of the time the answer is no – that’s why they turned to Yammer!).

GL: Are Senior Leaders visible on Yammer as well?

CT: Some are, but it’s definitely something I want to build on. I’m reassured that we’re not alone and other businesses face similar challenges. Senior managers have very little time and can see this as ‘something else’ to do, but the ones that get it see the value of being able to quickly and easily engage with thousands of staff. The trick is understanding the challenges managers face in their areas and identifying Yammer uses and benefits that are personalised for them. We do have a few of our executive members who occasionally participate, and I know they read the digest and see what goes on. Again, it’s a focus over the next year to encourage them to get more used to taking some conversations online and realising they can still have dialogue with their people in a forum like this.

Summing up the social media initiative, Head of Games Delivery Richard Townsend said:

“Yammer was an invaluable tool for engaging Gatwick’s community in the run up to, and during, a critical time. It made everyone feel involved and part of the excitement. We shared information so our staff and airport partners were well informed about what was happening and clear on their roles. It was particularly powerful for recognising and praising individuals for their efforts.”


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate