How ‘The Garden’ grew into an award-winning intranet for ScottsMiracle-Gro

By Kelly Kass

As the name of its successful intranet (The Garden) implies, ScottsMiracle-Gro is the world’s largest marketer of branded consumer lawn and garden products. It’s headquartered in Marysville, Ohio and has 8,000 employees.

I caught up with one of those employees – Tyler Kerr, Manager of Electronic Communications at the 144-year-old company.

Kerr took me through the journey of building one of the world’s top intranets.

“In late 2010, we conducted a communications survey to our associates to see where our intranet was lacking, where we could improve, as well as what they wanted to know about,” Kerr recalls.

The results of that survey revealed a strong desire to learn more about their consumers, who they are, and how the company impacts them.

“In March, 2011, we ran an entire campaign on our intranet around our consumers. We published vignettes about every type of consumer – from the younger generation with gardens on their balconies to older generations with great big lawns.

We also uploaded audio from phone calls taken from our consumer service center. If consumers had a problem with one of our products, employees could hear the calls and comment on them on the intranet,” Kerr explains.

There’s now an RSS feed on the home page showing Scotts’ mentions in the industry as well as general gardening trends.

Another way Kerr and his team have sought to bring employees closer to consumers is by monitoring conversations in the social media space. In addition to seeing what consumers are saying on Scotts’ Facebook and Twitter pages, the intranet team also pays close attention to forums on the company’s own website.

It is this consumer awareness that Kerr feels helped ScottsMiracle-Gro receive the Nielsen Norman Group honors.

Then and now

Before The Garden blossomed into an effective internal communications tool, it was a rather clunky platform (introduced in 2004) “built on HTML and way too few documents,” Kerr explains.

“We went from that to an SAP platform with a bunch of different scroll bars. It wasn’t user friendly; it was basically, ‘Here’s the information’ with links to HR forms.”

Whereas that intranet was driven by IT, the new version sought to mirror an external website with better design and usability. And most importantly, the internal communications team would be involved with the re-launch.

“What we’ve tried to do with the user experience is to try to emulate what associates would use in their personal lives. Rather than give them a clunky experience, we want them to feel like they’re reading a news article on CNN.com or like they’re going on Facebook,” Kerr says.

A group effort

According to Kerr, one of the key ingredients in building the successful intranet is the ability for Internal Communications and IT to work together.

“We’ve really integrated the two teams to build the tool in-house. We have two meetings a week where we go over the site. Our IT team does a great job of speaking our language – in a way that makes sense when discussing the web technology. We consider ourselves to be one Garden team.”

In October 2011, the Garden team went one step further and built an internal social media site called The Vine. Kerr and his colleagues make sure there is a lot of interplay between The Garden and The Vine.

So what can users expect on The Vine?

According to Kerr, there are a number of leadership blogs keeping employees up-to-date on company initiatives involving R&D, sales and sustainability.

“Our leaders blog themselves; they also write and respond to employee comments. The blog that gets the most traffic is The Marketing Vine written by our Chief Marketing Officer. When Newsweek published their rankings for America’s Greenest Companies in 2011, the blog was a platform for discussion about how Scotts can join that realm and be seen as a Green company.”

A far-reaching Vine

The Vine enables employees to connect via employee profiles. People can search for their colleagues according to title, location and information they’ve posted about themselves. Those details can be personal or work-related.

Employees can also post status updates informing colleagues of what they are working on.

And thanks to the Leverage software Scotts uses to run The Vine, there’s even a tool that allows employees to match up with Google Maps to zoom out all over the U.S. and find a Scotts office location.

“There’s also a People Map where a person shows up in the center as a target; the people closest to that employee shows up in the circle. The people further away from you on the map means you have less in common with them based on the information on your profile,” Kerr explains.

The Leverage software also allows for video sharing which mainly consists of Sales Force videos exhibiting product displays, or internal event broadcasts.

Kerr and his colleagues use the Leverage software to bring much of The Vine’s content into The Garden, such as links to blogs and interactions involving specific user groups such as the Finance team.

What else is growing in The Garden?

To ensure the site remains as user-friendly as possible and “a fun place to click around,” Kerr and the intranet team make sure content stays relevant to employees and that the site maintains an eye-catching design.

The home page contains a top masthead that rotates a few times a week with different images – usually seasonal garden shots or other outdoor images. In an effective use of crowdsourcing, employees can even send in pictures they’d like to see on the masthead. This promotes “engagement and involvement,” Kerr says.

From an editorial standpoint, news is also rotating; recent items included news about Scotts’ new global strategy and profiles about its Chairman Award winner.

As a global company with sales/marketing offices and production plants in the U.S. and Europe, as well as an R&D division in Australia, Kerr and his team strive to make sure editorial content remains as relevant and interesting for associates as possible.

“Our editorial staff does a great job in including articles from all those locations. For example, we profiled one of our Polish offices who implemented a new accounting system. Not every article is pertinent to everyone in the organization but we want to make sure our associates can at least learn something,” Kerr points out.

While each Scotts’ location has the same home page, there is machine translation offered to different regions via a drop down feature on each page of the intranet. This comes in particularly handy when it comes to understanding critical information such as leadership communications.

Other intranet features

On The Garden, there’s also a people finder bar linking to the home page of The Vine, as well as information on stock prices.

Quick links enable employees to get fast access to much-needed documents such as travel expense templates and HR forms. Employees also have the option of organizing their most-visited content into ‘My Favorites’.

You can also find an activity calendar on the home page of The Garden (pertaining to employees’ regions); even time and weather.

Input is key

Employee polls have been critical for Kerr and the intranet team to determine the kind of content people want to keep reading about.

“On our home page, we have a poll asking our associates what their favorite feature is or their favorite piece of functionality. We also hold user sessions to get further feedback on what’s working for people – these days it’s our rollover navigation feature and industry bites such as gardening trends,” Kerr explains.

Kerr’s top tips

When asked about other elements critical to the success of an intranet, Kerr says,

“The biggest tip is in what we benefitted from - knowing what our associates are looking for and what they want. We could have built what we thought they wanted but till we polled our associates and found out what they wanted, we didn’t know what is useful for them. We really learned a lot from our communications survey last year.”

Having a strong working relationship with IT, he says, also “goes a long way to translate your vision and make your site as user-friendly as possible.”

The future

Looking ahead toward 2012 and beyond, Kerr says ScottsMiracle-Gro will pay close attention to the mobile access trend.

“Were starting to distribute iPads to our sales associates so they have quicker access to information when they’re in a store. We’re also striving for more personalization so employees get the home page no matter where they are; we also want to customize content where applicable so that if employees are on the site every day, the experience will be as engaging as possible.”

Spoken like a true Nielsen Norman Group winner!