Instant intranet improvement – by cleaning up!

September 4, 2012 by

Man cleaning kitchenEvery intranet manager I have met has been struggling with unused, unmanaged or outdated content on their intranet. Only a few of them have automated systems to identify and manage expired content, and if these systems are available, they are not always in place for every type of content.

But if this is an issue, why do most intranet managers wait to take action until the next major project, like a relaunch or a merger? Those projects are already complex enough without the additional work of a content purge, when that purge can be done at any time.

If you think this is not a very glamorous or exciting project, think of the benefits: cleaning up content improves the intranet NOW while making the next big project easier! So if you have no big plans for your intranet this year, why not do a content cleanup now?

What are the benefits?

  • Faster search results. The search tool has less data to index, search and show.
  • Improved search results. People will get less, but more up-to-date and relevant results. This will result in a better perception of intranet search.
  • Better usability. It may be possible to simplify navigation or the number of clicks to reach content. The usability of the intranet decreases as the amount of content increases!
  • More reliable statistics, because the data on content and people are more accurate.
  • Less disk space needed. There is simply less data to backup and store.
  • Better perception of the intranet and its team. Employees and content owners will know you are taking their user experience seriously.
  • Increased awareness of the importance of content management.
  • Better security compliance. You will get better audit results if you can show that you make an effort to remove outdated content and to reduce the risk that employees, whose role has changed, still have access to confidential content.
  • Less content to manage on the next big project.
  • Isn’t this a responsibility of the content owner? Of course it is, especially since they themselves have helped create the burgeoning content on the intranet. In practice, however, you cannot always rely on content managers:
    • They have no time to screen content or accounts.
    • They may be afraid to remove content in case it has to be kept for legal or other reasons.
    • They do not know which team members have left or changed jobs.
    • They themselves may have left the organization without appointing a successor.
    • The project has finished, the team has moved on and nobody feels responsible for the content any more.

The intranet team should therefore always initiate and manage the cleanup action. They usually have a good overview of the total amount of content, and often have more rights to do things on a central level. Besides, the intranet team always has the final responsibility!

You can leave role/access management, as well as reviewing, updating or deleting the actual content to them, as long as you remind them of their responsibilities regularly.

What do you need?

  • Usage data, such as numbers of visitors of certain content, an overview of publishers, list of sites and their last change date etc. If this is your first time, collect everything you can find. Over time you will learn what is useful and what is not.
  • A document retention policy. This is essential in determining what really must be kept for legal reasons, such as contracts, financial reports and dossiers. Your Legal, Communication or Archive Department will likely be able to provide this.
  • Decision criteria.What is an “old or unused group”? One that has not been visited or updated for more than 2 years? Or is 6 months long enough to qualify? You may set different criteria for different types of content. A blog with the latest post from 3 months ago may be more outdated than a list of company policies that has not been changed for 12 months.
    • Tip: Most organizations consider 6 or 12 months of inactivity as “unused”.
  • Objectives. How much “ROT” (Redundant, Outdated, and Trivial) content do you want to remove? “As much as we can” is a valid objective!
  • Insight into your organization’s planning cycle. Avoid busy times such as when the annual plans and budgets have to be submitted.
    • Tip: At Sara Lee we found summer to be a good period for a cleanup action. This was a period of less activity while employees, clients and consumers enjoyed their holiday.
  • Instructions for your content owners: how to archive content, how to remove users or add a back-up editor, how to delete a site.
  • Time and resources. Be aware that this will take a few weeks lead time, especially if this is your first time and you will have to create the complete procedure as well.
    • Tip: You will learn about the weakest spots in your intranet, and about the best approach, as you do this more often.

What are you going to do?

  1. Analyse your usage data
    How many pages, working groups, and sites do you have? How many have not been used for the period of time you have set as a criterion? Do you spot content owners who have left? Do you miss usage data that you can find somewhere?
  2. Set priorities and targets
    If only 1% of your pages is older than 1 year, you’d better focus on another area. But if 50% of your publishers are no longer with your organization, you may want to make this your priority.
  3. Create and execute an action plan
    How will you communicate your cleaning plan? How long before you are going to actually delete content? Will you send reminders? Who will do the actual deletion activities?

    • Tip: We found that a very clear message resulted in more responses and more content being deleted. ”We are going to hide your site from April 15, and remove it on April 30, unless you let us know why you want to keep it” was more effective than “would you please inform us if this site still used?”
  4. Plan time for the unexpected
    Assuming you will do most of your communication by email, you will receive out-of-offices from publishers who have left, are on sabbatical or maternity leave. You will have to search for back-up content owners. There will be questions about what exactly should be stored, how you can delete or archive information or how you can remove content from being indexed in search. Add some slack to your planning for this. And of course this is a nice opportunity to connect with existing and new content owners!
  5. Evaluate, learn and celebrate
    What went well and what should be improved next time? Do you want to make adjustments to your criteria, targets or action plan? Where will you store your texts and procedures for next time? Will you create training materials for content management?

  6. Plan the next cleanup project now!
    Obviously, the criteria, priorities and targets are specific for each intranet, but often more than 50% of content can be removed. How are you dealing with unused, unmanaged or outdated content?

About the author

This is a guest post by Ellen van Aken. Ellen is an IBF associate who has experience in many aspects of intranet management. She has been responsible for intranet adoption at Sara Lee.

Categorised in: Content management, Strategy & governance, Usability & design

Ellen Van Aken

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