The Gatehouse Blog

Where to start when you’re considering a social intranet

Companies that want to be seen as being innovative are trying to tap into social media. How to make sure a social intranet is adding real business value? Katrina Marques shares some tips.

Social intranets can be really complex or quite simple. A social intranet interacts with its users. It’s not an intranet that you just use to consume information; instead you can make changes to it and contribute to that information.

Users can contribute in a number of different ways: editing pages, writing blogs, commenting, adding tags to content, etc. Some social intranets are taking leads from sites such as Twitter and Facebook by including status feed updates.

Knowledge-sharing, employee engagement and innovation

Very few companies have intranet as a real focus. In my experience, intranets often sit in the background and their value is often undermined. I’ve observed that companies sometimes fall into social intranets unknowingly – they get a new piece of software and start changing their intranet as a result of this.

Companies that actually plan to have a social intranet have a specific goal in mind, like improving employee engagement. Younger employees expect the intranet to work like the Internet; however organisations tend to lag considerably behind.

Social intranets are also a great way of capturing the knowledge of employees – to improve knowledge-sharing, but also to avoid losing knowledge when employees leave the company. A law firm recently introduced a social intranet to improve knowledge-sharing within the organisation. Lawyers tend to keep their knowledge to themselves because it’s a very competitive industry. The new intranet helps them classify their cases and makes the research and information available to colleagues for use in similar cases.

In one of the telecommunications company I’ve worked for, the social intranet was designed to support innovation. In order to keep on top of a very fast-paced industry, they needed a space where employees could share their ideas. They developed a website that allowed people to log their ideas under certain categories and vote or comment on other people’s ideas. A panel would review and assess top ranking ideas and then further interview the people who had come up with them. The company could then decide the areas that they really wanted to break into and turn them into genuine business case. People who came up with the idea had the opportunity to partake in the implementation as well – which is what made it so popular.

Find out if your organisation is ready

There is no point giving your people collaborative tools and expecting them to use them if they don’t currently work collaboratively. Intranets should facilitate the way we work and be almost a natural integral part of your organisation’s work culture.

If you believe you are ready to introduce a social intranet, it is important to understand why you are doing this and what you need to do to make it a success.

It’s never a great idea to start a project with a particular solution or software in mind. You need to understand what the business need is. Talk to your employees and find out what their pain points are, and whether a social intranet can help alleviate any of them.

Don’t introduce a new feature if it’s not adding value to end-users. For example, don’t develop blogs if people don’t have time to write or read them. It has to serve a purpose and make the working life of your end users easier. As long as a new feature is there to alleviate one of those pain points, people will start using it.

How to make the case for social intranet

Your business case needs to link to the organisation’s strategy. You need to have a very high-level understanding of what they want to achieve – and be able to show how the intranet can support those goals. Whether their focus is on better engaging with their employees and expanding into new countries, your intranet strategy needs to be aligned to the organisation’s key goals.

In many organisations, you don’t get a lot of support from the top so you need to make it happen. Senior executives don’t always understand the value intranets can bring. The best thing to do is probably to engage with key departments and show them how the intranet can help them achieve their goals. Once you’ve got the support of some senior executives – the CIO, the HR director and the Marketing director for example – you can start selling the benefits to a wider group of decision-makers. Unless you can prove the value of upgrading your intranet, your organisation is not going to invest any money in it.

Then you should start identifying your need in more details. A lot of that comes with understanding the organisation – the profile of users, how people work and interact with each other. In an organisation where your workforce tends to work on projects across different countries and time zones it can really help them to work in an online shared space as opposed to relying on email to share information

The importance of training

Training needs to be an ongoing thing. Make training available in a lot of different formats: online, face-to-face. Don’t hesitate to ask for a 10 or 15 minutes slot in regular team meetings to come in and talk about the intranet. This will give you insight into some of their pain points and them a taste of how the intranet can serve – encouraging them to book into targeted training sessions.

I tend to keep my training sessions very targeted to a group of people and I also like to have a monthly training for new employees to give them a general overview.

When it comes to social intranets, there can be a generational divide. Whilst social media is second nature to young people, older colleagues can struggle with it. There’s no point trying to persuade those who are really against it to be different. It’s usually more efficient to take those people who want to learn how to use it – whether or not it’s easy for them, and make them your intranet champions.

Katrina Marques lives in Melbourne and is currently employed as a Knowledge Management and Intranet Specialist for a global, privately-owned company. She is responsible for transforming business requirements into workable solutions with a focus on usability, engagement and knowledge management. Read her blog: http://katrinamarquesintranet.wordpress.com