How one fitness company used Jive to tighten up its flabby collaboration

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For a fitness services provider, HealthFitness tends to spill out all over the place. The company has built a highly successful business on sending out its 5,000-plus field agents -- they call them "corporate wellness associates" -- to clients (including a claimed 1 in 5 Fortune 500 companies), where they run fitness classes and other programs in an effort to keep their employees happy and healthy. 

These HealthFitness associates often go native, spending all their time at the client site to the point of going through new employee orientation and getting onboarded onto their e-mail system. This approach allows for a closer bond between HealthFitness associates and their clients and a more personalized set of services. 

But it also creates a logistical nightmare for any kind of collaboration: HealthFitness corporate leadership has enough trouble keeping those thousands of associates in touch with their Minneapolis headquarters without the added challenge of enabling them to collaborate with each other, especially when each employee may fly under a different IT organization's flag. 

That's why in September 2012, HealthFitness turned away from their custom-built Intranet to Jive Software and its flagship cloud-hosted social platform, and have tightened up their corporate guts in the doing. I talked to HealthFitness Community Manager Andrea Bredow for the skinny on the company's social transformation. 

It began in early 2012, when Bredow and her team first started looking into a social solution to the communications gap. At that point, communication between corporate wellness associates consisted of shooting an e-mailed question up to corporate, where it would bounce around until it got where it was going, with the answer taking the same route in reverse. This game of bureaucratic telephone didn't exactly foster a tight-knit corporate culture. 

There wasn't exactly a formal piloting period or review process. Bredow says that the HealthFitness community team audited several high-profile solutions, including Yammer and Salesforce's Chatter. Yammer was rejected because it didn't leave much room for collaboration -- its integration with Microsoft SharePoint was thin (a little ironic, given its acquisition by Microsoft only months later). Meanwhile, Bredow says Chatter was "too cluttered" with extraneous features and would have required too much of an investment in the Salesforce ecosystem to be worth it. 

Jive was just right for HealthFitness, Bredow says. Not only did it offer the conversational approach to collaboration that the company was looking for, it also enables HealthFitness pros at headquarters and across the country to import Microsoft Office documents and other work directly into the platform. Knowledge transfer went from an arduous process that could take hours or days to something instantaneous. 

Ahead of internal launch, Bredow got somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of HealthFitness staffers to attend training webinars on Jive best practices. A week before launch, associated opened their snail mailboxes to find a physical pamphlet offering Jive tips and tricks. For those stationed at HealthFitness headquarters, Bredow held launch day training events. 

Despite this push, initial uptake of Jive was "cautious." Corporate leadership was leery of Bredow's plan to offer social networking, still seen as more of a time-waster than a tool, to thousands of employees, but was convinced to play along. A week or two later, Bredow says, as employees started migrating content from the company's intranet and using the platform to ask each other questions, without compromising their professional demeanor, those concerns faded from the conversation. A contributing factor, Bredow says, may be that the HealthFitness executive board loves showing off the Jive app on their Apple iPads to friends and colleagues. 

Now, roughly six months later, Bredow estimates that 46% of all HealthFitness employees are actively using Jive, while 64% are at least lurking the intracorporate conversation. As part of a push to drive those numbers up, Bredow hosts two webinars a month: One for new employees, and one as a general tips and tricks session for established users.

The more important part of that initiative is direct outreach, meeting with discrete teams within the company and coming up with a plan for how they can best use social to solve their specific pain points. Sales, marketing, HR, accounting -- all of these departments have different needs, which means they're going to have different use cases for social media in general and Jive in particular. 

Going forward, HealthFitness plans on furthering its use of Jive, taking advantage of new updates to the platform and using it as a springboard to grow its next generation of internal tools, including a new corporate directory. If adoption within HealthFitness continues to grow, Bredow says, then they'll soon look at using Jive to work with customers and external assets. 

The bottom line is that like Virgin America before it, HealthFitness used social to take a sizable workforce spread thinly across the country by design and turn them into a close-knit team of colleagues and collaborators. As Bredow advises, it's just a matter of doing the legwork and learning exactly when, where, and how to deploy social solutions to real business problems. 

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