Borrowing a Page From MySpace

By Abbey Klaassen

Oct. 17, 2008

The newest social network making the rounds at one of the world’s biggest ad-buying conglomerates is not really a social network at all, but an online training program that looks an awful lot like one.

   In early October, Group M introduced Mspace, a play on the name and style of News Corp.’s MySpace, in an attempt to get its 3,600 employees on the same page when it comes to interactive advertising know-how. It’s the company’s first big foray into online training, and it’s an ambitious one.

   “We tried classroom training, group training, digital days,” says John Montgomery, COO of Group M Interaction. “But we didn’t feel like that was benefiting us from a scale standpoint.”

Building digital savvy
   The impetus for the training is obvious: Every agency needs to gain more digitally proficient employees, but the market lacks the experienced talent—and agencies don’t have the resources—to invest from outside. Additionally, Group M was looking to aggregate the disparate knowledge among its various companies. While one of them, Mindshare, might have been great with one particular aspect of digital, another one, Beyond Interactive, was an expert in another area. In the end, says Montgomery, Group M is looking for employees to have “a consistent level of training.”

   The training is delivered via personas, positioning 10 fake people as experts. Behind each fake expert is a Group M staffer who is particularly proficient in one of the areas of expertise, which include digital media processes, strategy, planning and buying, ad serving, search and analytics. Lessons are delivered via video, audio and games, such as dynamically generated crossword puzzles; some of it can be downloaded as a podcast.

   Online training is a growing trend among corporations. According to research from the American Society for Training & Development and private firm Bersin & Associates, one of every three hours of training is delivered via technology.

Meeting employees where they’re at
   Mspace launched on October 8. Group M has promoted it with ads on its intranet as well as via its 24/7 Real Media ad network that targets Group M IP addresses, so when an employee is on Amazon, for example, they might see an ad promoting Mspace. (“Creepy but fun,” Montgomery says.)

   The agency is trying to encourage employees to complete the program, but doesn’t want to be heavy-handed about it. When employees complete the training, having correctly answered 80 percent of test questions, they receive a certification that shows up in their e-mail signatures.

   In the first six days, 500 Group M employees had used Mspace for at least 15 minutes. While that may seem paltry for people used to thinking in term of tens of millions, Montgomery is encouraged by the results, noting they’re especially impressive “given how long it would have taken us to do an hour’s worth of training with a group that size. You’d be lucky to get 20 people in a room at the same time, and then you’d be boring them with PowerPoint slides.”

   The early success has encouraged Group M’s Latin American offices to begin translating the program, and Group M Canada has been tailoring it for that market as well. “This is the way we’ll be training in the future in most disciplines,” Montgomery says.

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