How Westar Reaches Deskless Workers With Their Branded App

 In Employee Experience

Modern communications are more than just email blasts. 

In our last installment, Shel Holtz of FIR was talking with Jana Dawson, Director of Corporate Communications, and Jaycee Breese, Corporate Communications Representative, at Westar Energy in Kansas City, Missouri.

They were discussing the difficulties of reaching over 2,400 employees out in the field, and how to communicate a new merger with Kansas City Power and Light. Partnering with SocialChorus, Westar launched a branded communications app to connect and engage with all their employees.

Today, we’ll learn about their launch and rollout, how their CEO got onboard to using video to engage their employees, and how they got executive buy-in for their workforce communications platform.   

 

Shel:  Please tell us how the rollout was, how did you go about getting employees to opt in, to download the app in the first place and then to keep using it?

Jaycee:  We utilized our current communication channels. But we also had our CEO, who was an early adopter of the app and tested it out, do a video to send to employees. So, in addition to that video, we used our current channels and then had a video about the channel lineup and what they could probably see. And then on top of all of that, we also had a contest where employees could get engaged and possibly win a prize to check it out. And then from there, it was our job to make sure that we had content available that made them want to come back. We had more than 50% of employees download the app within the first three months.

Shel:  Wow, that’s pretty good. And retention?

Jaycee:  It’s been going well. We’re still looking at the 90-day retention rates where our goal is to keep it at 60%. Of the 50% of employees that had downloaded it within the first three months, we are at about 25% for our field personnel.

Shel:  So, that’s a lot of field personnel who don’t have access to other forms of communication and who are now getting this content pushed to the app. That’s got to be one of the goals that a lot of communicators are struggling with making sure that deskless employees get the kind of content and information they need.

Are there any features you haven’t flipped the switch on that you’re considering adding into the mix down the road?

Jana:  One of the things that we haven’t gotten into as much yet is some of the segmenting and targeting that’s capable—that the platform is capable of choosing for us. It does integrate with PeopleSoft, which is our HRIS system. So, we wanted to start out with an overall channel lineup and then start getting into some more segmented pieces. For example, we will be launching an intern channel this summer as we bring on our new folks. So, we can integrate through that PeopleSoft system, target specifically that group of employees, and be able to send a message directly to that audience.

 

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Shel:  What types of content or information might you end up sharing out of the HRIS?

Jana:  We haven’t gotten that far down the road yet on our content strategy for HR specifically other than taking a look at how we’re communicating with specific groups of employees. For example, as I mentioned, we have a large group of folks who are retiring and reaching that retirement age. And we feel like we can come in and put a channel together that kind of preps them for that process and gets them to think about it. But it’s targeted specifically to the people who need it so that other people don’t have to sort through that clutter to get to the information they need.

Shel:  I have to tell you I love both of the ideas for a channel for interns and a channel for people who are approaching retirement. And I particularly love the idea of making sure that the channels target the employees that are interested in this content, so other employees don’t have to say, “Planning for retirement? I’m not interested in that yet” and don’t have to see it. It’s one of the complaints I hear more is all the stuff that isn’t relevant that we have to look at because it’s all just dumped on the intranet.  

Shel:  And you had mentioned that you were interested in a channel for retirees. Is this one of the plans they had for expanding the uses of SocialChorus?

Jana:  We’d like to add the functionality to have retirees be able to access the app on down the road. We do have a retiree Facebook page that has pretty good engagement, and we feel like the more information that we can provide, the better advocacy network that we have in place.

We’ve also had a request from our board of directors to have the app made available to them. They want to follow it. They hear good things from the employees, they particularly are interested in our In the News channel, and we also have an industry news channel that keeps employees up to speed on the trends of the industry that are impacting some of the decisions that we’re making about our company and its future.

Shel:  You mentioned the board has been hearing from employees about how much they like it. What are you hearing from employees?

Jaycee:  We’ve had some great feedback from employees that it’s just an easy tool to use when they’re on the go. More and more we have employees that have to travel between locations especially for merger-related meetings. And it’s just easy for them to pull up and get a push notification that says, “Oh look, we have an approval about the merger.” Or, “Oh look, yeah, I forget I need to take that survey real quick.” So, lots of great feedback.

Shel:  I’m a big believer in the role employee communications can play in business literacy, and I love the idea of a channel for company news and a company for industry news. It makes it easily accessible for employees.

Westar is merging with Great Plains Energy, what role will SocialChorus play after Great Plains employees join the Westar organization?

Jana:  So, we’ll be putting together a marketing plan to onboard those folks. And again, we’ve made this a day-one requirement. So, part of what we have as our day-one communications rollout will be sending out information to folks to show them how to download the app, let them know what kinds of information that they can find there. And then also use our combined intranet to drive adoption and drive people to that channel.

And one of the strategies that we’ve used to get people to adopt it here at Westar is using our “Building the Best” channel which is the channel that’s about merger-related news. And of course, people are very excited to hear whatever’s new about the merger. So, the strategy that we’ve taken is that new information gets posted to the app first. It will be in the other communications channels but if you want to know about it first, download the app. That’s where the info will be.

Shel:  I love the idea of issuing news first through SocialChorus. It’s a great way to make sure that people download the app and start to use it. It is so consistent with the way people already get their news that is outside the scope of work – like Flipboard, Skimm, or whatever one of those tools you use that you’re basically thumbing through it when you have a couple of spare minutes rather than trying to pick the news out of 150 emails that you got that day or the news that you have to pull from the intranet.

Please tell us the importance of executive support when introducing a tool like SocialChorus to the employee population.

Jana:  It’s so important to have the leadership buy into this as you’re going into launching this channel.  And we were very fortunate that our executive team saw the value in this immediately. When we brought the business case that we put together to our executive leaders and said, “Here’s what we want to do.  Here’s a problem it solves. Here’s why you should care about this.” They immediately understood. And not only understood but also adopted the app.

And it’s a great feeling to be sitting in the CEO’s office, and we’re discussing some executive communication that needs to come out. And he says, “Oh, just a second. Let me look at Current” — which is what we’ve named our app. “Let me look at Current and see what the channel says about this.” And he’ll go out and look and then we’ll have a conversation about it. So we know that he’s using it.  We know that him putting together a video has impacted employees and said, “Hey, we think this is a valuable tool, and it’s something you should use.”

Shel:  First of all, I love the name Current for an electric utilities’ news distribution app. And I also couldn’t agree more – you really do need executive support and executive sponsorship to roll something like this out. If an executive is actually using it, so will employees.  If an executive doesn’t support it, it’s tacit permission for employees to ignore it. So, I wouldn’t even touch something like this without getting executive support.

Of course, executive support should be easy to get because SocialChorus can fill so many of the gaps in your internal communications program. It allows for the sharing of content in social channels which makes it an advocacy tool. It promotes two-way communication because employees can share their own content – photos, videos, links. And it allows you to deliver in a format that employees are comfortable with and accustomed to – a unique and relevant stream of information based on the employees’ subscriptions – what channels they have opted into through SocialChorus.

Shel:  I have one last question that just popped into my mind. I hearkened back to the interview that I had done with the communicator at Whirlpool, and most of our conversation had focused on their use of the app. But they also were using it on the intranet. So what they were doing was taking exactly what was going out over the app and using an iframe to make that the news section of the intranet. And I wondered if Westar was doing something similar with its intranet.

Jana:  That’s basically what our message center will look like. There will be a few other features on the page of other, again, items that we want to draw adoption up.

Shel:  Stuff you’re pulling in through SharePoint, I imagine?

Jana:  Right. But the key portion of this will be something that looks very much like SocialChorus newsfeed, and it’ll be similar content just tweaked a little bit for the different platform.

Shel:  So, again, a great big thank you to Jana and Jaycee for talking with me about their use of SocialChorus and their overall internal communications strategy. In particular, how they’re communicating around the merger with another organization.

 

Missed the first part of the interview? Read the first part of Shel Holtz’s conversation with Jana and Jaycee, How Westar Reaches Frontline Employees With SocialChorus (LINK) today.

And learn more about how communicators are using SocialChorus to reach their frontline and distributed workforce. Watch our latest video with Love’s Travel Stops, and how they launched their branded employee communications app in just three weeks. See the full story now!

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