The world’s largest gaming company is going through a remarkable transformation into a Social Business. Electronic Arts understands that today’s technologies, unlike those of the past decade, are no longer limited to the individual.
They impact everyone. Impact that’s revolutionizing the way customers communicate. Impact that is forcing companies to listen, to learn, to adapt, to change its infrastructure and culture in order to stay competitive. Impact that is causing considerable anxiety in the C-Suite.
I first met Electronic Art’s (EA) Bert Sandie at a recent SharePoint Conference in Anaheim. His self-appointed title ‘Director of Technical Excellence’ stood in stark contrast to the trendy Angry Birds shirt he was wearing. But the more you talk to Sandie, the more you notice how well these ambiguities somehow support one another.
Electronic Arts Social Platform SnapShot
|Technology||SharePoint 2010 and Yammer|
|Primary Adoption Strategy||Get users to fill out their profiles|
|Most Important Lesson learned||Hire a Content Curator|
|Most unique feature||The depth of their analytics and observations of employees behavior|
|Benefits||EA stores vast amounts of intellectual property on SharePoint for future knowledge workers|
|Social Business Strategy in 4 words||Build, test, learn, refine|
Is EA a Social Business?
When asked if Sandie considered EA a social business, he was quick to respond, “Externally for sure. If you think about what we do from a consumer perspective There’s a lot of discussion inside EA, then after some deliberation, it’s delivered externally and direct to the consumer. Our goal is to constantly answer the questions: How do we understand our customers better? How do we interact with them? It may sound easy, but it’s very challenging to do in practice.”
For EA, this isn’t just a theoretical matter. They put it into practice to improve the bottom line. Each game has a community manager that learns from its players through personal conversations. But at a point where most companies are satisfied, EA takes it much farther. Sandie explains, “We do a lot of analytics. We study how people are reaching the page and how they consume and interact with our content. We also watch what they download. It all helps improve the user experience.”
Still EA wasn’t satisfied and wanted to learn more about their customers, “There’s also deep telemetry and analytics on any online game. So we want to see if people are playing a certain feature, how long they’re playing that feature, which character did they play, which costume did they pick, which helmets do they like, you name it, we measure it,” explains Sandie.
Sounds a lot like EA’s own reality version of The Sims to me. Find out what people want, create it then insert it into the game. By serving demand, consumers are happy and EA profits. An excellent example of how Social Businesses can increase revenue by tuning in.
But is EA an Internal Social Enterprise?
So does EA apply these same social concepts with their employees? According to Sandie they are just beginning but cautions, “because we work in so many countries, we are careful around privacy and we have offices especially in Europe and Canada.”
But, then, what are they analyzing? Sandie explains, “We collect a lot of analytics through some proprietary tools we built on top of SharePoint 2010. More than people might imagine. We look at how many people, fill in their profiles but we also look at how many people view other people’s profiles.”
But why? Sandie answers, “So inside EA about 50% have filled in complete profiles. Everyone has a profile by default. A standard profile gets pulled from HR, active directory data. What’s more interesting is something like 85%+ employees look at other people’s profiles regardless if they have a profile themselves. So they obviously want to find other people and find information about them. Yet they might not necessarily have filled in their own profile which is really interesting.”
It turns out completed profiles build deeper relationships. It’s a kind of Match.com for the company’s employees. Looking for an animator, just search the profiles and find your match.
This is the core of creating an effective social platform that supports the social enterprise. Create critical mass on the platform by first persuading people to create profiles and personalized content. Then, persistently encourage employees to contribute work related content. But be careful not to censure employees. In fact, encourage debate as long as it remains civil.
Sandie illustrates a typical situation on EA’s more mature social platform (SharePoint), “So if a team just put out Madden Football, we’ll do a deep dive with the Madden team. We’ll get them to write articles about what they did and the marketing behind it. They’ll explain how they designed certain features, new technical things they used and what cool art techniques they applied. We like to highlight that stuff in order to seed the platform with valuable content.”
EA On Best Practices
Sandie likes to set the bar high. So his best practices may be stretch for some, just right for others. Naturally, it’s wise to decide for your organization the appropriate level. “I know I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I always try to set the gold standard for people to follow. I like to show people the gold standard for how to make a great video, article or illustration. We’ve also built templates for users to add images, diagrams or external content,” Sandie explained.
He also advises employees not to write 25 pages of content. Instead, shorten the article or whitepaper to five to seven pages. “People will read 5-7 pages, add images, show screenshots if you’re trying to show a part of a game or a piece of art or a technique or the tool. Put some links in it to other additional information. Those are all just best practices on how to write a good knowledge article that will help people,” advises Sandie.
In regards to content ratings, Sandie advises you follow Facebook and only use the ‘thumbs up’ button. Sandie emphasizing the point, “Internally you do not want thumbs down. I’ll give you my perfect example why people don’t want thumbs down. A new employee starts in the company – they are junior, maybe a new graduate. They write a really good article for other new grads and for whatever reason some cynical veteran is giving it thumbs down. Will that new graduate ever write an article again?”
Perhaps not, but will that graduate ever receive constructive feedback to improve her skills? According to Sandie, EA has enabled comments for that type of feedback. Sandie is probably banking on EA veterans to be more diplomatic in the comment section.
EA Lessons Learned
When EA first presented what they had done on SharePoint to Microsoft, the reaction was, “you guys built this on SharePoint?” Certainly a surprise since the site lacked any major 3rd party social apps, Sandie added, “but our goal was not so much about the technology, we cared that it was usable, it was aesthetically pleasing and it was functional. It did all three of those things.”
Sandie then went on to explain why it’s crucial to roll out a social platform in phases, “Even if you have a sophisticated audience, do not roll out the kitchen sink and all the bells and whistles at once. Even a sophisticated audience cannot absorb it all – so hold back stuff. Even when they are saying they desperately want it, they can’t take it all. It’s too big of a change initiative. They’ve got to learn pieces of, introduce pieces of it and then introduce the next piece.”
Of course, like eBay, EA started with an exclusive invitation to participate, “We started with an email that said, ‘Hi, you’ve been selected out of 100 people; you’re the elite squad of people we trust to use these types of tools. We want your feedback. You’ve got one month. We’ll be updating the site every day in real-time with feedback so have patience.”
But once the social business platform is in place, Sandie recommends companies hire a curator to manage content and help make internal communities more active. “You do need a curator. If you don’t have a curator I think you’re going to struggle. People are willing to do it but you still need a curator to go help them,” Sandie emphasized.
It’s clear EA is leveraging social business principles both internally and externally. They’re also using social methodologies in the products they are shipping to understand how their customers are using their games. While a different approach is needed for all three scenarios, EA is becoming a more effective organization by understanding how to strategically participate in each.