It is hard to believe that the social media revolution is still in its infancy. Websites such as Facebook and LinkedIn have changed the way the world interacts, bringing people together via the internet and spawning communities that span the globe.  But how do companies like JTI harness the potential of internal on-line networking as a business benefit?

From social to business

The idea is simple. Get people within a company communicating and the result will be collaboration, exchange of ideas, and fresh per­spectives. Sharing experience can lead to problem solving and can inspire new ways of doing business.

The popularity of platforms such as Facebook, whose population is almost as vast as China’s, means that most of us have some experience of on-line networking. For businesses, the challenge is to channel employees’ skills in this area and apply the principles of social networking to the corporate environment.

Connect. Share. Collaborate.

JTI’s response to this challenge has been to develop an internal on-line collaboration platform, called Engage. Employees can create a profile, detailing their current role and their areas of expertise.  They can then connect with colleagues, share documents, and collaborate on work projects.

Internal communication has traditionally been a one-way flow of information from management to employees. Through traditional channels, employees can share and seek information from colleagues, but only within a limited boundary determined by their contacts and position within the company. The number of colleagues they can collaborate with is also restricted by their geographic location. However, on-line collaboration platforms remove those barriers and encourage a wider circulation of information within a company.

Like Facebook, which began as a student network within a university, JTI’s Engage platform grew organically from within the company. Jonathan Duce, Director of Corporate Communications at JTI’s global headquarters in Geneva, explains the inspiration for the project: “Employees told the business that they wanted better collaboration, but at that point we did not know how to tap in to the potential of on-line networks. Our Ukrainian colleagues created a collaboration platform, and it was this which inspired us to develop Engage as a tool for the entire company.”

Corporate on-line networking is relatively unchartered territory and there is no established model for successful collaboration platforms. At JTI, the approach was to quickly build a system and make improvements after it was road-tested by real-life users. Feedback from employees, and observations of how employees are using the platform, allow the team to make improvements.

Email evolved

The platform went live in 2012 and is slowly becoming part of how JTI’s workforce communicates with one another.  But what do on-line collaboration platforms offer that traditional communications cannot?

Blanca Garcia is the project manager for Engage. She explains the benefits: “If traditional communication was a flat sheet of paper, a collaboration platform would be more like origami. There is overlap, different levels, it is multi-dimensional. With more traditional communication, such as email, two people can share ideas. With a platform like Engage, there are no limits on how many people participate in that conversation.”

Despite enthusiasm among a core of employees, the Engage platform is still regarded as a business experiment at JTI. Participation among employees has been steadily increasing as the site improves, and Blanca is optimistic for the future.

“Momentum behind the project is building and the platform improves week by week. As a business, our collective mind-set is slowly changing, more and more employees are signing up and collaboration within the company has definitely improved as a result.”

Kaizen: culture of continuous improvement

27k

employees worldwide

95%

employees are willing to do more to help JTI to succeed