Social networking sites are becoming integral to daily Internet behaviors. In the U.S. alone, people spent 121 billion minutes on social networking sites from July 2011 to July 2012, according to the 2012 Social Media Report from Nielsen. As a result, businesses across verticals are embracing social enterprise tools that help streamline and centralize corporate communications, and in turn, create more loyal and engaged employees.
Westfield Group, a developer and manager of approximately 105 shopping centers worldwide, has implemented Yammer to optimize social communication and collaboration across the organization — from executives to store employees. Yammer is a social network and application designed specifically to address the extensive needs of enterprises. Using tools and features available on the Yammer platform, Westfield successfully has built and maintained social dialogue among employees, creating a thriving ecosystem of loyal team members, according to Andy Hedges, Director of Shopping Center Management at Westfield Australia.
“We’ve been able to create a sense of community that has been missing for some time in the retail world,” Hedges said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Now, because we have people on Yammer, team members are engaging and finding ways to communicate while in actual shopping center locations.”
Westfield has developed a variety of social networks within the Yammer platform, Hedges explained. A main company feed is provided to allow employees from all mall locations to share photos, videos and general operational success stories. In addition, specific groups that are focused on individual shopping centers, retail partners, and corporate departments, enable team members to have more tailored conversations and ask more detailed questions. Social groups focused on hobbies and interests also have emerged, which allow team members to connect and relate with one another in a more casual and friendly manner.
“Given that our Australian locations are open seven days a week, it is quite rare an entire team will be in the same place at a specific time to connect and share best practices,” Hedges said. “Yammer is providing a communication vehicle for people on different schedules, a type of dialogue I call ‘time-shifted communications.’”
With this vehicle, employees can engage with one another, ask questions and respond to inquiries at their leisure and never lose track of conversations. “Once you’re a part of a group, you can go in and post something, then peers can respond when they have time,” explained Hedges. “This is a more productive method to work through things, versus getting everyone together on a video conference or through email.”
Discussing Shopping Center Success Stories
Most active conversations occur on the main Westfield page, where team members from all shopping centers can connect, share news, success stories and best practices.
For example, employees provide consistent updates on celebrity appearances and events, which can be daunting for managers and workers alike. “When you're dealing with big mall events, it can generate five thousand to seven thousand people who are coming to listen to a musician, see a celebrity and get autographs,” Hedges noted. “That kind of traffic can lead to quite a few operational challenges. Having the ability to share what took place and discuss lessons learned can be extremely beneficial to employees at other locations."
The main conversation feed also is an effective outlet for team members across shopping centers to share findings and feedback about marketing campaigns as they are taking place. While the Westfield corporate team plans nearly all marketing activities, execution has to be relevant to specific centers and their respective mix of retail stores, according to Hedges. Therefore, learning from each other across markets is key.
“We don't have identical demographics in every shopping center, so local, on-the-ground teams have to take that national campaign and tailor it to meet their specific markets,” Hedges explained. “Sharing key findings and results of specific marketing activities is very effective with the Yammer solution.”
To ensure all corporate team members, retail partners and employees recognize the value of Yammer and are active on the site, Westfield is leveraging a variety of training programs via on-demand videos and in-person events, Hedges noted. In fact, the company has been running lunch-and-learn programs across the organization to encourage employees to get more involved in the social network.
“The next step is broadening engagement across the business,” Hedges said. “Some areas are using Yammer extensively. But for those more reluctant, we want to help them better understand and see the value. If I can encourage more of my senior colleagues to participate, that will send up signals to all areas of the business and other employees will follow our lead.”