O2 fosters recognition for the employees, by the employees

By Karuna Kumar

It’s won an award; has the support of 95% 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 that aims to deliver the best customer experience and draw customer loyalty to the brand. The initial idea was sparked off by the need to fulfill the main elements of the customer promise and recognize talent that is instrumental in fulfilling the customer experience. Internally the challenge for employees at O2 is to deliver customer promise to the best of their capabilities.

Research undertaken by Burns’ team unveiled an innate need for employees to use an online tool to recognize the efforts of colleagues. As a result, O2 came up with the idea of launching a micro-site that would act as vehicle by which peers could acknowledge each other’s efforts. Thus Fanclub was born, recently winning the award for best Internal Comms campaign in the Corporate & Public category at the PRweek awards.

A user-friendly structure

The structure is simple. Each user has a homepage where he/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/she receives an email notification. Likewise, when logging on to Fanclub, the user is informed of the applause.

For Burns, the effectiveness of the feature lies in the fact that the recognition comes 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 O2 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% of the employees get applauded on a weekly basis,” Burns explains.

She adds, “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 smartphones as well.”

It is interesting to note that an initiative that began as a test piece for social media has hit such high numbers within a short span of time. Burns explains, “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 fulfils the purpose of a polite reminder to the users about updating their profile and “getting their act together.”

A means to celebrate

There has been debate in the corporate circles about the extent to which employees can be given freedom to express their views openly. For Burns, it’s not really an issue.

“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.”

Keeping the momentum going

Launching a new form of internal communication is one thing, but keeping the excitement around it alive is quite another.

To keep content fresh, Burns and her team have added a new application called ‘Fansnaps’, where employees can upload pictures around a 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 day-to-day recognition, O2 also 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 1000 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 on 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.

Integration with other IC channels

On a futuristic note, while Fanclub is a standalone micro-site, there are plans to integrate it into the company intranet early next year. In addition, O2 plans to seamlessly integrate the micro site into SharePoint 2010, which the company is set to adopt in early 2011.

“This way we can fully integrate the homepage into the respective employee user systems. It would be more personalized and all the personal activities can be seen on the homepage,” Burns points out.

The secrets to O2’s success

Fanclub has revolutionized the traditional employee recognition model at O2 and is an exception to the conventionally followed top-down approach.

Having carried off the successful Fanclub initiative, Burns’ secret was to not complicate the tool.

Her three best practice tips can serve as inspiration for 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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