Blue Shirt Nation
- Thought that this as an interesting read. Does anyone have any other
info on BSN?
Best Buy social networking site a model for big firms
Monday, May 05, 2008
Katharine Grayson - (c) Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal
When Gary Koelling and Steve Bendt set out to launch Best Buy Co.
Inc.'s internal social-networking site, blueshirtnation.com, they
hoped to glean marketing ideas by connecting with store employees.
Instead, they got higher participation in Best Buy's 401(k) plan,
lower employee turnover and photos of staffers' pets.
BlueShirt Nation, named for the polo shirts worn by store staff, is
gaining attention nationally as a way to employ social-networking
tools in a corporate environment. It's evolved since Bendt and
Koelling started work on it more than two years ago, but the site has
consistently helped Best Buy build a sense of community among store
employees whose voices are rarely heard at most big companies. It's
also helped the electronics retailer solve business problems ranging
from which store was shipped the wrong box of digital-camera cases to
lower-than-desired participation in the company's retirement plan.
Building BlueShirt Nation
BlueShirt Nation's early mission was to give Best Buy a better sense
of the issues faced by employees who "breathe the same air as
customers," said Koelling, a senior manager of social technology for
the company. But Bendt and Koelling quickly discovered that to engage
workers, they had to create a site that employees wanted to use.
"We found out people want to talk about what they wanted to talk
about, whether it was pictures of their cat, or Best Buy. But the one
thing they had in common was Best Buy," said Bendt, also senior
manager of social technology.
After launching an early version of the site, they brought in a group
of employees from stores to "get honest" about what they created. The
social-networking site now has 22,000 users.
BlueShirt Nation allows users to create their own Web page using a
template similar to popular consumer social-networking sites such as
Facebook. Employees can host forums on topics of their choosing, from
politics to NASCAR to issues surrounding store operations.
Koelling and Bendt attribute the ability of employees to freely
discuss whatever they want to its popularity.
"Instead of the break room, we wanted it to feel like hanging out at
Applebee's after work," Koelling said.
Best Buy's bottom-up approach fueled the success of BlueShirt Nation
and made it a stand-out example of how to use social networking within
a corporate environment, said Josh Bernoff, a Forrester Research
analyst and co-author of Groundswell, a book that focuses on how
companies use "Web 2.0" technologies effectively. Web 2.0 covers
Internet technologies that allow users to communicate back-and-forth
quickly, such as wikis, collaborative Web sites that multiple users
can add to or modify. Groundswell used BlueShirt Nation as a case
study in social networking.
"To take this group that's sometimes frustrated with their jobs and
connect them all together took a certain amount of fortitude. Managers
have tapped into it, but it's really about what's going on on the
selling floor," Bernoff said. Solving problems
The community built by BlueShirt Nation has gone beyond helping
employees connect with one another.
When the company started an initiative to boost enrollment in its
401(k) plan, it sponsored a video contest, encouraging people to
create clips on what retirement plans meant to them. The effort
garnered so much interest and entries from employees, that Best Buy
credits it with helping increase program enrollment by 30 percent. The
winners in the contest got a small budget to redecorate their store,
and a chance to present their video at Best Buy's headquarters.
Employee turnover at retail stores often reaches into the double
digits, but those who use blueshirtnation.com appear more likely to
stick with the company. Turnover rates among employees who use it is
slightly more than 8 percent, Koelling and Bendt said.
Bernoff also writes in his book about how Best Buy was quickly able to
hear employees objections to a pending change in employee-discount
rates. Feedback from BlueShirt Nation helped convince Best Buy to not
go forward with the policy change.
Best Buy uses other Web 2.0 technology to connect with employees. It
runs "The Loop," a program that allows employees to post business
ideas that vie for funding from management. For instance, one store
employee wanted to test whether pre-programming video game systems
with parental controls would affect sales. After seeing the idea
online, management agreed to spend a few hundred dollars to fund the
effort. Crossing corporate boundaries
Other companies also have started to employ Web 2.0 tools to engage
San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., for instance, uses wikis
and blogs to help managers communicate. Some of its bigger business
units may have 50 or more blogs each, focusing on topics such as
experienced-based marketing, said Ed Terpening, the company's vice
president of social media marketing. The tools have helped foster
communication between staff members, and also have helped Wells Fargo
develop its external blogs on topics such as student loans.
The company has yet to develop an internal social networking site on
BlueShirt Nation's scale, but "it's something we're always looking
at," Terpening said.
Overall, companies will spend $4.6 billion on Web 2.0 technologies by
2013, according to projections released by Forrester Research last month.
But when Koelling and Bendt are asked by other companies how they can
recreate BlueShirt Nation's success, they say it won't be an easy task.
Many firms try to take a top-down approach, creating an application
without employees' input. Also, gaining the backing of top management
for such a project involves crossing many corporate boundaries,
Koelling said. "People will say, 'There's not a good business case for
it; it's cost prohibitive,' or, 'We talked to our communications
professionals and they said it wasn't possible.' Some company
structures just aren't set up to handle it."
Also, it's more difficult to implement in certain industries, such as
medical technology, said Scott Mark, a senior principal IT
technologist at Fridley-based Medtronic Inc.
The company has talked about developing internal and external
social-networking tools, but Mark said the company must be careful to
avoid breaking regulatory issues that govern who can get access to
Bendt and Koelling didn't have an estimate for the cost of building
blueshirtnation.com. However, they said using open-source software
helped keep the price down and allowed them to quickly make changes to
Koelling, Bendt and Bernoff also credit Best Buy's support of its
entrepreneurial-minded employees in helping the company pull it off.
"It says a lot about Best Buy culture that people here are willing to
take risks," Bendt said.