Employee social networking − Sabre Town case study

By Toby Ward − Once the domain of the Internet, social networking has virally spread to the intranet with impressive results for Sabre.

We humans are social creatures. With rare exceptions, we strive to relate, converse and connect with others. Social networking promotes online communities of interests and activities that promote connections between users in a more open and robust manner than simple e-mail.

While best represented by the quintessential Facebook, social networking has made significant strides into the corporate intranet where employee networking is becoming a valuable asset to leading organizations that covet the new breed of employees. This young, web savvy employee cohort desires – if not demands – a more social and dynamic work environment that uses the best possible Web 2.0 (Intranet 2.0) technology.

Although e-mail still occupies an important stronghold in the nascent world of Intranet 2.0, social and employee networking communications is best embodied by instant messaging, discussion forums, and RSS technology. While these technologies build upon the value of the archetypal killer application that is e-mail, the real value delivered by employee networking is the group communications dynamic where a single employee can communicate both actively and passively with other similar or ‘connected’ employees or the entire employee population as a whole.

Sabre Town Case Study

Sabre, the company that runs most of the world’s airline flight reservation systems among other systems, is an impressive leader in employee networking. With nearly 10,000 employees spread around the globe (55% work outside of the U.S. where they are headquartered), Sabre is a progressive company that has utilized Intranet 2.0 with spectacular results.

Recognizing their own unique needs as a global, distributed workforce, Sabre embarked to build their own employee networking intranet from scratch. Using another nascent technology, Ruby on Rails, Sabre built an impressive employee networking platform called Sabre Town. Sabre Town represents the company’s need to build more meaningful connections with this geographically diverse employee population.

Sabre Town has all the features of most social networking sites including:

  • Employee profiles with lots of details

  • Shared photos

  • Blogs

  • User commenting

  • Network connections & feeds

  • Enterprise question & answer functionality

The employee profile is more unique, casual and friendly than your standard run-of-the-mill employee directory listing. The profile includes personal information volunteered by the user including answers to the following:

  • What’s your hometown?

  • Where do you live now?

  • What do you really do for a living?

  • What are your corporate gigs and contacts?

  • What are your skills, expertise or things you rule in?

  • What is your favorite lunch spot or watering hole?

  • What are the sports you can’t live without?

  • What are your favorite hobbies?

  • What’s the music you put on continuous repeat?

  • What celebrity are you most like?

  • Places you’ve traveled

  • Places you dream about going

On Sabre Town, users can post a question to the entire organization, and the site’s inference or relevance engine will automatically send the question to the 15 most relevant employees (based on what they’ve entered in their profile, blog postings and other Q&As that have been previously posted).

Sabre Town is 'designed for adoption' and easily promotes connections between global project teams, people with similar jobs, even guitar enthusiasts.

Developed from Sabre’s legacy software for 'predictive modeling' and CRM, the relevance engine is the secret sauce behind Sabre Town’s success as an employee networking platform. “The relevance engine constantly grows as members update their profiles, ask and answer questions, and blog about topics,” says Sabre’s Erik Johnson. “The engine helps members find the right people with the right answers."


The results have been spectacular:

  • 60% of questions are answered within one hour (one hour!).
  • Each question receives an average of 9 responses (9 responses!).
  • The system has already led to more than $150,000 in immediate, direct savings for the company, with much greater benefits not yet measured.

“The community helps itself, with members answering each other’s questions,” says Johnson. “Members tap into a collective brainpower they can’t get from systems alone.”

Sabre Town’s success is summarized in one spectacular metric:

  • 65% of all Sabre employees became active Sabre Town members in the first 3 months! More than 90% of employees are active today.

Despite its success, Johnson is loathed to call it 'Intranet 2.0' or social networking: “You’ll lose everyone over 30.” Instead, Johnson recommends to any organization looking at such tools to ignore the industry jargon and to apply a “name that will click with people.”

Before the technology is addressed, Johnson stresses that an organization first focus on its objectives. “What does the organization need?” asks Johnson. “Only then should you consider ‘how’ and whether to build a community.”

The success of Sabre Town prompted Sabre to spin the platform into a software solution for other companies. The solution, called cubeless, is now being marketed by Sabre and is being piloted at American Express. Johnson, the GM of the new division, describes cubeless as a “fully-hosted solution, with flexible architecture and ongoing rapid development.”

As Sabre can testify, the explosion of Web 2.0 and social media is becoming a business strategy and competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Forrester predicts that the market for Intranet 2.0 applications will reach $4.6 billion by 2013. The biggest piece of that pie will be employee networking, mashup and RSS solutions. Sabre is proof-positive that social media and Intranet 2.0 is no longer the purview of the Internet, geeks and nerds – it’s big business.

Toby Ward is the CEO and founder of Prescient Digital Media. For more information on creating a social media strategy for internal audiences, check out Prescient's Intranet 2.0 Blueprint and download our updated Social Media Checklist.

Related Whitepapers

Download The Social Intranet Study 2011
Download Choosing an Intranet Technology Platform Whitepaper (2011)
Download The Social Intranet: Social Intranet Success Matrix (2012 whitepaper)

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