How Dive Networks is Addressing Employee Engagement, One Screen at a Time
Looking to improve employee engagement, especially among millennias, many companies are turning to custom broadcast networks to enliven internal communication.
It’s shortly after 10:30 a.m. at Sonnet Insurance’s downtown Toronto office when a small group of staffers wanders into the cafeteria to grab a coffee for their next meeting. Absentmindedly stirring in their cream and sugar, many gaze at a large TV strategically placed on the rear wall.
It’s part of an experiment in employee engagement and communication dubbed the “Sonnet News Network” that was introduced by Sonnet’s parent company, Economical Insurance, two months ago.
The screen features a blend of internal messaging and insurance industry headlines culled from trade journals such as Canadian Underwriter; there are also inspirational quotes from the likes of Muhammad Ali, and tweets from Sonnet competitors such as Desjardins – all in a continually refreshed 15- to 20-minute loop. The goal is to unshackle employees from their inbox, which has become the go-to source for corporate communications.
Sonnet is an online-only insurance brand launched by Economical (est. 1871) in 2016. It caters to consumers possessing what Economical’s vice-president of communication, David Bradfield, describes as a “millennial mindset,” with a target audience of people 25 to 35.
That millennial mindset also applies to Sonnet’s employees (split between its Toronto office and its head office in Waterloo), who have an average age of 30 and tend to be unresponsive to traditional employee engagement tactics.
“We’re not sending out long emails or posting things on an intranet,” says Bradfield. “A highly visualized news network and experience allows us to engage people using a style that younger employees are more attuned to.
“It’s a great way to migrate away from e-mail and getting people into digestible content,” he adds. “There’s also a lot of fun we can have in addition to industry information and news headlines by showcasing and celebrating our own people.”
The Sonnet network was developed in association with Toronto-based Dive Networks, which specializes in creating custom “real-time news networks” for businesses. “We’re looking at turning off a CNN or a FOX or CP24, and turning on that brand’s TV or news channel,” explains Dive co-founder and president Michael Girgis.
Dive Networks uses what Girgis describes as an “army of algorithms” to automatically pull in applicable content for each client network. “Companies used to have a team of staff for gathering content, but we’ve built a system that does that work, stretching across all of the types of information and data these teams are looking for,” he says. “We latch onto the web [everything from social media and blogs, to news organizations like Bloomberg] to pull in and curate different topics and subject matter related to their business. Even if they never update it, it looks extremely fresh just like any broadcast network would.”
The Dive Networks technology can also be integrated with corporate intranet services like Microsoft SharePoint to push everything from congratulatory messages or employee milestones to both TV screens and mobile devices.
The service is sold in a manner similar to cable TV packages, with clients paying what Girgis describes as “hundreds of dollars per month” per office location (regardless of number of employees) for a basic channel. Brand-specific channels – designed for companies with multiple brands in their portfolio – can cost an additional $100- $200 per month depending on how complicated they are, with some larger companies spending thousands of dollars a month.
“Those are enterprise customers who are doubling down on visualizing information in front of their teams, and who want to track all their competition, and those who are tripling down on the idea of connecting regions and offices,” says Girgis, who says the vast majority of clients have already acquired the necessary hardware to launch an in-office network.
Dive’s management team has some legitimate bona fides in the digital network space. Girgis was one of the founding partners of the Toronto Transit Commission’s on-platform information network OneStop Media Group, which was acquired by out-of-home advertising company Pattison Outdoor in 2011. His business partner – and Dive CEO – Deb Hall founded the mobile marketing company web2mobile (which was subsequently acquired by Torstar).
Dive is currently providing internal news networks for more than 30 companies in Canada and the U.S., including Twitter, Walmart, Unilever, Scotiabank and Interpublic Group’s media services division, Media Experts.
Companies of all types are increasingly wrestling with employee engagement, with U.S. firms alone reportedly spending close to $1 billion a year on programs aimed at engaging – and retaining – employees.
It’s not an easy task. According to the Canada Human Resources Centre, nearly two-thirds (60%) of employees are not engaged, while 15% are actively disengaged. The organization estimates that unhappy workers cost the North American business economy more than $350 billion a year in lost productivity.
Meanwhile, a 2012 white paper by Dale Carnegie says that employee recruitment costs can run as much as 1.5 times annual salary. “[The] ability to engage and retain valuable employees has a significant impact on an organization’s bottom line,” said the paper.
Media Experts founder and CEO Mark Sherman says that successful employee communication remains a key business challenge. “In any enterprise, communication is critical and always a problem,” says Sherman, whose company was among Dive’s charter clients. “The larger the enterprise, the more difficult it is to communicate with employees.”
While email has been the de facto method for employee communication, its efficacy has been compromised by its ubiquity. According to research by The Radicati Group, the average office worker now receives 121 e-mails a day.
“Sometimes people don’t read their emails, particularly those that [focus] on corporate goings-on,” says Sherman. “[Dive] is completely consistent with the type of omni-channel multi-screen strategies we would recommend to our clients.”
The Media Experts network features everything from new business wins to internal promotions and facts pertaining to clients. It also drives staffers to the employee intranet for recurring features such as “Tell it like I’m five” – which features staffers explaining their day-to-day role using simple language.
“Communication is the lifeblood of any company,” says Girgis, who describes Dive Networks as a business-to-business manifestation of the business-to-consumer communications he specialized in with OneStop. “The exact same thing matters: Right message, at the right time, to the right audience.”
While neither Sherman nor Bradfield have any data that demonstrates their networks are successfully engaging employees, both say they are achieving their objective. For Bradfield, at least, it’s valuable insurance against potential employee defection or disinterest.