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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 five blog posts we examine some of the aspects of social intranets. Last time we looked at the themes of adoption and integrating platforms. In this second part of the series, we look at issues around leadership involvement and presenting content.
Even though the growth of social intranets is often ’bottom up’ – driven by user demand, the message spread virally by early adopters and champions – having leadership support for social intranets is integral to their success.
This is not only because leaders need to sign-off budgets, but also because they help promote the importance of the intranet. Their direct and demonstrable involvement shows that contributing to a social intranet is a legitimate and important business activity, rather than something which users should only be doing in their lunch hour.
Seeking involvement and support from leaders is a challenge to all intranets. The real opportunity for social intranets is that it is sometimes possible to engage senior managers and get their support because they can get direct benefits as an individual.
Companies which instigate social tools because they see other companies doing so and feel it is the “thing to do” are likely to experience only limited benefits. Implementations which have good strategic reasons for being introduced or are part of a larger strategic project have a much better chance of engaging senior leaders.
Examples of this might be to unify the culture in a firm after a merger, drive better employee engagement higher, improve customer experiences or help underpin a global branding initiative.
Permission to play
Employees often regard contributing to social intranets as not wholly legitimate or a priority business activity. This is particularly true where there is a culture that regards activities with chargeable time as more important than non-chargeable activities.
Having a CEO blog or senior management involvement in discussion boards sends a strong message that contributing to the intranet has value. For some users, this is an implicit permission for them to ’play’ in this area.
In cases where senior managers are less likely to contribute then simply high-profile declarations of support are always welcome. For example when McGraw-Hill launched their Jive intranet Buzz, the intranet team used CEO and Chairman Terry McGraw in a promotional video to help educate users.
The personal engagement of senior managers in social intranets allows them to have real conversations and connections with users. Not only is the message, signal and output from this dialogue invaluable in itself, but the whole process can significantly enhance personal branding and reputation within the enterprise, particularly if it is perceived that their engagement is “authentic” and not necessarily written by the internal communications department.
On social intranets, the balance of content is tipped dramatically towards that which is user generated. There still is corporate news and official announcements, and this is still an important feature of internal communications, but inevitably things are a little different from the traditional intranet.
The challenges and opportunities are mainly around how you present the balance between the two, and what happens to existing corporate communications.
Impact on internal communications
A successful social intranet can influence the way the internal communications staff post corporate content. They still publish ’news’, but they enhance it with discussions and dialogue, something which not only gets more engagement but also has more impact.
In general if the debate is real, mature and un-sanitized, it will inherently be more valuable to senior management and of more interest to users. Therefore some internal communicators will prepare content or word it in order to provoke or attract comments, sometimes in advance of more standard announcements which can then be curated and referred to.
User-generated content can also be a source of news items, where communicators effectively become curators.
Zoning user generated content and official content
Mixing user generated content and official communications is a concept that makes some corporate risk departments nervous. They worry that officially sanctioned content and personal views can conflict, or that content can be submitted without being checked for any potential issues. In some highly regulated areas of content – such as HR, finance or technical advice – these concerns are more acute.
In general, social intranets deal with this by zoning the user generated content and the corporate news so that it is easier to tell which is which. There are ways to do this – for example having banners, branded news centers or even having color coding for types of content.
Occasionally there can be some confusion about distinguishing between corporate and individual opinion. For example if an individual has functional responsibility or is a recognized expert authority on a particular subject, they can feel a conflict on what they can say as “opinion” and what might be “policy.” To a certain extent the wording on user-generated content is usually able to mitigate this, by clearly expressing this is a personal view.
Allowing non-business content
There has always been social or non-business content on intranets, usually in local team sites or departmental pages. Work should be a fun place to be and social intranets actively encourage this type of content. They also get people used to the tools and drives up adoption. Generally, non-business content tends to have its own well-labeled areas.
Next time we’ll be looking at risk and transparency in social intranets.
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.