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The term ‘social intranet’ is now firmly established in the intranet industry. It describes intranets which have moved from a more traditional model, based on centralized corporate communications, to those that are more focused on user-generated content, collaboration, two-way communication and a variety of ’social’ tools.

Moving to a greater participatory model changes the fundamental dynamic of the intranet so that it is more people-centered. In this series of blog posts we examine some of the aspects of social intranets. Last time we looked at the themes of risk and transparency. In this fourth part of the series, we look at findability and support, as well as ways to evolve your social intranet.

Findability

Findability is a key challenge on intranets in general, but the unstructured nature of some of the content, particularly interactions on discussions and micro-blogging, makes it even more difficult. Search becomes more important in the social intranet than in the traditional intranet.

While this topic, particularly around implementing search, is a research topic in its own right, the following observations can be made:

Indexing the interaction

It’s an obvious point but you need to be able to search the various newsfeeds, bookmarks and discussion points to be able to view it. For example at legal services firm RPC, virtually everything in their social intranet is indexed, including newsfeeds, bookmarks and discussion points.

The intranet team has found that the Confluence-powered search is more than adequate for the needs of users. Moreover they have also observed that people have started to use search much more frequently than in the previous “traditional” intranet.

Users understand tagging

To improve findability users need to be encouraged to tag their own content. We have encountered one company which has found that users understand tagging better than they expected.

Whilst the central team provided some online training, they found that some users had already made the explicit link between tagging and improved findability and were already carrying out the practice. For example some users would submit content and then immediately try and find it through search, to check if their tagging had been successful.

In this area other elements such as highly visible tag clouds can also help.

Cross-referencing

Cross-referencing structured content to less structured content – for example a link between a document and a discussion – adds more structure to the social intranet. Also, as most or all content is effectively linked to a person, there is enhanced expert location, and in turn, using the individual as the starting point in a search strategy becomes a viable option.

Developing processes and tools

A critical stage of evolution for social intranets is when the various tools are sufficiently embedded into the organisation that they can be utilised and incorporated into key business processes, most of which either involve some form of collaboration or relate to communications.

In the social intranets we have observed we can start to see this happen both in an organic way in user behaviour – it is how various things are now done – and in the type of applications that have been built by IT departments.

Collaborative processes

The social intranet generally makes it easier for individuals to access collaborative tools and create team or group workspaces. Often this can start to embed as part of the way project management is carried out, for example, or for particular processes such as client bids.

Communication processes

We have covered how the social intranet has changed and improved some internal communication processes, and made them much more effective.

Regular blogging from senior management is more powerful and less resource heavy. Summarizing key user-generated content can be a way of informing senior management about employee concerns.

Building specific applications

Sometimes social intranets can be a “social layer” on which you can build specific applications on top. Some of these are done from the outset, some once patterns of use have emerged.

Demonstrating value and ROI

Building tools and improving processes also gives more opportunity to demonstrate value and ROI to senior management. Measuring ROI is a notoriously difficult area for social tools as some of the benefits are perceived as ’softer’. Building key processes allows for a harder measurement which incorporates time and cost savings. Specific applications and processes are sometimes a more solid base on which to show value.

Next time in the final blog in this series we’ll be looking at supporting social intranets and how they can be evolved.

About the author

This is a guest post by Steve Bynghall. Steve was the content producer for IBF 24 2011 and helped research Paul Miller’s book “The Digital Workplace: How Technology is Liberating Work” He is also a benchmarking evaluator and has written two research reports for IBF, and regularly blogs for DWF and IBF. Steve is the founder of Two Hives Ltd, a consultancy specialising in KM, collaboration and web-based projects. Steve previously worked at accountancy firm BDO in a variety of knowledge roles, including managing their global extranet programme. He has just co-written a book on crowdsourcing with Ross Dawson titled “Getting Results from Crowds.” He twitters (less than he should do) at @bynghall.

About the author

Steve-BynghallSteve Bynghall is a research associate, benchmark evaluator and knowledge manager for DWG. He is also a freelance consultant, researcher and writer specializing in knowledge management, collaboration, intranet and social business. Steve previously worked at accountancy firm BDO in a variety of knowledge roles, including managing its global extranet programme. He recently co-wrote a book on crowdsourcing with Ross Dawson.

Steve is passionate about being able to work from anywhere, and is occasionally seen in local coffee shops with his trusty laptop. When not working, Steve can be found exploring London with his family.

Connect with Steve on Twitter: @bynghall or on Google +.

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