Social intranets part 1: adoption and integration

July 5, 2012 by

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-centred. In this series of blog posts we examine some of the aspects of social intranets. In the first part of the series, we look at the issues of adoption and platform integration.


For many, one of the critical key performance indicators (KPIs) for a successful intranet is to get good levels of adoption. It’s a way to show that the sometimes non-tangible benefits of intranets are at least hitting a significant proportion of the user population

But adoption is a particular challenge with social intranets for two main reasons. Firstly there is some pressure from senior management to see an ROI on deploying social tools inside the enterprise. It is similar to when vendors and consultants promised great things from knowledge management. Great adoption statistics are a way to show some immediate ROI, but this is not an overnight process. For example, Jane McConnell believes: “It takes at least three or four years for social media to become established in an organisation.”

Secondly, many users do not use social tools, either integrated with the intranet or not. The generally accepted likely level of social tool adoption in organisations is around 10%, with 1% of users highly active. The reasons for this low level are complex. It may be cultural, to do with deficiencies of the technology, or, as some believe, an inability to make social tools a part of key processes. For example, in a thought-provoking blog post an ex-web 2.0 practitioner, Laurie Buczek, argued that the main reason social business has failed is “a lack of integration of social tools into the collaborative workflow.”

But there are opportunities for higher levels of adoption on social intranets.  For example in the social intranet deployed by Canadian retailer the Mountain Equipment Co-op, 20% of users are regarded as occasional contributors, and 10% as frequent contributors.

Reasons for high adoption

The reasons for high adoption are complex but we believe the following can play a significant role:

Prominence on the intranet home page

Social intranets surface user-generated content and present it clearly – for example surfacing top discussion threads, displaying activity streams, featuring employee blogs or displaying comments on news.

Support and participation from senior management

Visible support from senior management, particularly if they are using social tools, gives legitimacy to participating in the social intranet. This could be anything from a CEO blog to responding to employee comments. This is covered in more details in a future blog post.

All employees feel they have a voice

All employees are able to contribute to the intranet in an un-moderated and un-sanitised fashion. This may be the ability to question executives openly, or have discussion threads which tackle “difficult” issues. The social intranet is regarded as a genuine reflection of employee sentiment.

Take time to bed in

Social tools take a while to build up significant levels of adoption.  In 2011 even Luis Suarez, a Knowledge Manager, Community Builder & Social Computing Evangelist at IBM  has admitted that IBM’s transformation to being a socially integrated enterprise has “been a long journey indeed! We have learned a lot, we have become much more efficient and effective at what we do, but we still have got lots more to be done.”

Allow non-business content

Allowing different areas specifically for non-business use is permitted. Again this is covered in more detail in a future blog post.


Many social platforms, particularly if they incorporate internal networking and were introduced before 2011, are separately branded from the intranet. For example Alcatel-Lucent’s collaboration platform is called Engage (and was featured on IBF 24 in 2011), while Yum! Brands called its iChing.

The reason for this separate branding may be partly to show that the social platform is new, partly to make users aware that it may contain unsanctioned user generated content, and partly because the social platform and intranet may use different technologies. For example, Engage is based on Jive, while Alcatel-Lucent’s corporate intranet is based on Documentum.

How to integrate a platform which is dominated by social tools, and one dominated by static content with a hierarchical navigation, is a challenge. One way is to cross-reference platforms by featuring widgets which feature either intranet or social content on the other platform.

Even if this is done successfully, questions of integrating platforms will not go away. Software vendors like Jive and Yammer have realized this and are starting to introduce more traditional intranet features within their products. Vendors are also introducing easier ways to integrate social features with SharePoint – Newsgator’s current integration capability with SharePoint 2010 being a popular choice. The social capability of the next version of SharePoint will also be interesting to observe.

Although these new products give additional options around integration, completely replacing a traditional intranet with a new platform may be the most likely option. This happens for two reasons.  Firstly anybody embarking on an intranet upgrade is likely to want to consider including social elements, and secondly anyone desiring to add social elements to their intranet may trigger the need for an upgrade or replacement.

In the next post we’ll look at the importance of involving senior management and some issues around presenting content.

Read further posts in this series:
Part 2: Leadership support and presenting content
Part 3: Risk and transparency
Part 4: Findability and improving processes
Part 5: Support and evolution

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.



Categorised in: Collaboration, Intranets

Steve Bynghall

Steve Bynghall is a freelance consultant, researcher and writer specializing in the digital workplace, intranets, knowledge management, collaboration and other digital themes. He is DWG’s Research and Knowledge Lead, a benchmark evaluator and research analyst for DWG.

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