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Rapid knowledge sharing is vital for marketers producing cutting edge technical and cultural products. The social environment these goods are intended for is evolving constantly, and production methods have to evolve with it. The goal of knowledge management is to extract the best knowledge of all employees, and redistribute it throughout an organization.

Social media is terrific at this. However, all of the approaches, methods, and tools used so far have often had a limited technical shelf-life. Econsultancy spoke with Catherine Glover, the director of social@ogilvy, about the rise Truffles, a centralized in-house knowledge management system and its eventual obsolescence and replacement by team-level adaption of ad hoc solutions. 

This interview is an excerpt from Econsultancy's latest Smartpack: The Social Shift in Internal Communications.

What was Truffles?

Ogilvy’s Intranet. It began when Ogilvy & Mather Direct renamed itself as OgilvyOne Worldwide in 1997.  We had a problem: how do we get the messaging and knowledge of the rebranding out to our employees? At that time, OgilvyOne Worldwide had three thousand people. Where could they go to get all the new templates and understand what the new positioning was? How could we strengthen the organization’s knowledge sharing across the globe?

In 2002, the web-based version of Truffles was released with great success, this was due to the leadership and infrastructure that was in place. Reimer Thedens, CEO of OgilvyOne Worldwide truly believed in knowledge management, and believed that sharing knowledge across the organization was the way we would differentiate ourselves and grow our people. He was a big advocate - he would not communicate to his leadership via email, he would use Truffles as the way to post documents and to share knowledge.


What kind of capabilities did it have?

It was pretty cutting edge for its time, as people weren’t used to sharing online in the way they are now.  It had profiles, with friends, interests, and documents created. Our focus was not to publish all content - we wanted only best practices.  


How would people see what others were making? Was there a Facebook newsfeed-like feature?

Truffles was a knowledge management community. There were knowledge managers in the top 15 markets around the world, who were responsible for adding content, making sure profiles were up to date, generating usage and delivering the business objectives for their office. It was their responsibility; it was baked into their jobs. They were measured upon it, they were responsible for making sure people were using it.

In New York there was one person who was dedicated 100% of their time to this role. In Germany there was somebody who was dedicated 30% of their time. We would create reports to show: ‘this is your usage in your office, this is the number of contributions you’ve had, this is the news you’ve contributed.’ Each of the knowledge managers were measured at the end of the year – and we would ask, ‘did they meet their goals?’

Was the effect of that on the work produced?

It was great. People actually contributed and put up their best work. We had a central team, and we had a team that was in each of the offices. The central team would do the editing, would lay it out so it looked a bit more interesting and dynamic.

We would have people come to us and say ‘we want to have this created as a gold standard truffle’ and then we would email it to the whole organization.


So, it was a community learning experience, where the best that everyone is producing gets immediately shared on an international level?


Was there any task management associated with it? Was there a direct problem solving aspect, applied to work that was ongoing?

You could find experts and create that offline. If I was looking for someone who could do a translation, I could find someone in my office who spoke that particular language. If I was looking for someone who is a social CRM expert I could go in and pull from the profiles and connect with those people. There wasn’t a collaboration tool within the system. It was very much a knowledge management tool.

We looked at migrating into a collaboration tool - that never came to pass.

And then, as time went on and leadership changed, the priorities for the system dwindled. Usage went down.


That was around 2008-2009. The system started to feel old. It wasn’t as dynamic as people were used to. It was very much a curated, labor-intensive story. The technology was such that you needed somebody to help upload and create the content - you needed a designer. The newer functionalities of collaboration weren’t there.

We had a revamp in 2007-8, and then we knew that the revamp wasn’t good enough and that we needed to go to a new system.

We started to look at building something new - a social Intranet. By the end of 2010 we’d spent a year looking at a new platform and were quite far along when I left the team. I think there’s a lot of discussion around what’s the best technology to use, if we’re going to make this investment.

I do not think that it has anything to do with technology. I think it has more to do with investing in a knowledge management infrastructure to support the way that we share work, and the way that we work together.

There’s no centralized structure anymore?

I think that as an organization it is hard to do that unless you have an advocate and a leader driving that. When we had not the best technology in the world, but a leader and people in place to say ‘I am responsible for getting this work on this Intranet and I am going to be measured upon it,’ that work got done. The usage of that Intranet was high. As soon as you take that responsibility and accountability away, it doesn’t work.

Are you using Facebook internally?

Yes, there are Facebook private groups. And there’s Yammer. We have an internal Yammer. Nothing is sticking, though. I think we feel, for our group, that Facebook makes sense, because we spend most of the day in there with our clients. But still, it’s not really sticky.

Does that work?

Sort of. The network is a sharing network. Everybody wants to help one another. But there isn’t that place where I can go self-serve. It’s more of an “I’m reaching out, casting this wide net." And there’s no place afterwards where someone can go and put what they found. 

For more about how social media is transforming enterprises, check out our latest Smartpack: The Social Shift in Internal Communications


Published 14 March, 2012 by Sam Dwyer

Sam Dwyer is an Analyst based in Econsultancy's New York office. He can be followed on Twitter @sammydwyer.

24 more posts from this author

Comments (4)


Luke W

Oh wow, I'd never heard of 'truffles' and it's left me tantalised as to what effect abandoning the system has had on the company culture at ogilvery over the past few years. You hear increasingly about companies moving toward collaboration and knowledge sharing systems, but it's rare to find a company that fostered a successful system and then left it to rot. Would certainly be interesting to hear the views of current staff on how / whether company wide collaboration takes place currently.

Luke W

over 4 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

Thanks for the interview, Sam & Catherine.

Catherine: have you looked at/used National Field or anything similar? If so, what do you think of that kind of thing?


over 4 years ago


Kevin Cody

A good summary of the rise and fall of a great intranet initiative. I've filled in some more details here http://bit.ly/AgYJq3

I'm not sure I agree with you that "I do not think that it has anything to do with technology" but I do agree that technology alone won't solve the problem.

Teams all desperately trying to fill the void by using Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn, Jive etc. shows there is a yearning for something to support internal teamworking and collaboration. Yet it cannot work globally without identifying a specific platform. Additionally as you point out, Social Networking tools on their own don't meet all the needs as they need to be integrated with a CMS, team collaboration (and possibly in a company like Ogilvy DAM, workflow etc).

However the overriding issue is as you said that "as an organisation it is hard to do that unless you have an advocate and a leader driving". I hope Ogilvy find someone!

over 4 years ago


Sam Dwyer, Analyst at Econsultancy

Thank you for that thoughtful essay, Kevin - it's an interesting compliment to the conversation here.

I especially liked your point about how ... "The content was great – perhaps even too good. Ogilvy had set the content quality bar very high."

The speed with which something can be published on the net is somewhat deceptive - the time it takes to write something of quality hasn't sped up as much!

over 4 years ago

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