Social intranets part 3: risk and transparency

July 20, 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-centered.  In this series of blog posts we examine some of the aspects of social intranets.   Last time we looked at the themes of leadership involvement and presenting content. In this third part of the series, we look at issues around risk and some of the associated benefits of transparency.

Reducing risk

Social media needs a different governance model from more traditional published content.  Responsibility is generally down to the individual.  A light touch to governance is appropriate – this is more about reducing risk and limiting the chance of offensive or sensitive comments. Heavy handed moderation reduces the speed of publication, becoming an administrative overhead and can negatively impact the dynamics around collaboration and communication.

Elements commonly found on social intranets include:

No or next-to-no moderation

Although it may not always be feasible in heavily regulated environments, many social intranets effectively have no moderation of user generated content.  Content appears once posted and the social intranet is self-governing. There are very few instances of having to take down content or discussion threads.

No anonymity

Having content which is not attributable to an individual undermines social intranets.  Not only is it the sort of policy that makes senior management nervous about buying in to a social intranet concept, but also individuals tend to post better and well thought-out responses if they know it is attributed to them. If you want to have a social intranet that is self-governing this is a given.

An interesting recent buck to this trend is at Lexis-Nexis who use an anonymous persona on Yammer, known as the Phantom, to post provocative questions to senior leaders and effectively acts as a controlled channel for anonymous questions.

‘Report this’ button

Having a ‘report this’ button to notify a central resource of any potentially offensive or risky content is good practice.

Don’t sanitize the content – put the emphasis on individual responsibility

As we will discuss in a moment, the best social intranets discuss sensitive business issues which may imply criticism of the way things are done in a company. Inevitably this may occasionally step over the line.

When on the rare occasions that a comment or post does get reported, on some social intranets the teams involved generally do not pull the comment down immediately unless it is obviously offensive or illegal. Instead they go back to the individual and ask them to withdraw or amend the comment. This helps preserve the ethos of the intranet as a place to have transparent and open conversations.

Distinguish between user generated content and corporate content

As already mentioned in the previous post in this series to satisfy risk most organizations make a clear distinction on their intranet between official corporate content, prepared by the internal communications team, and content from users.

Have a usage policy

Obvious to say, but having a clear and visible usage policy on user generated content (commenting, blogging, discussion groups etc.) for your social intranet helps avoid ambiguity, satisfies your risk department and underpins sensible usage.

Benefits of transparency

With more interaction, less moderation and no anonymous posts, social intranets are inherently more transparent than traditional intranets. Of course, some areas – for example client or project team spaces – will still need to be private, but this new transparency has some real benefits.

More engagement

There is still work to be done to show how intranets can support and increase employee engagement, especially as most employee feedback surveys frame questions in terms of the overall effectiveness of internal communications.

However, the links between social intranets and employee engagement are obvious. Giving the entire workforce a channel where they have a voice that lets them directly question senior management and see what is happening, helps reinforce the type of open, honest and mature company cultures where employee engagement tends to score highly.

Authentic conversations

A strong theme across some social intranets is the authenticity of the conversations. Topics can be uncomfortable and provocative. In fact at some organizations intranet teams have deliberately started threads which are worded to draw a reaction.

In companies where there is very open dialog, this can be a challenge for senior managers who may be expected to respond to criticism which appears in a discussion thread, or in comments on an article.  When this also starts to happen often, employees may start to see this as a standard way of communicating with management.

To some risk-averse functions where wording is important (for example HR) this may be difficult, but ultimately there is great value in these conversations.  If widespread enough they can be used as  an important barometer of the company mood and even be referenced into standard management reporting processes.

Facilitated serendipity

Luis Suarez of IBM has used the term ’facilitated serendipity’ with reference to stumbling upon content and people of great value.  This is a great opportunity for social intranets, and there is a chance for users to discover other activities and experts across different business divisions.

There are different ways that this might happen. Surfacing content through activity streams or displaying the latest discussion threads can create a sort of ’ambient awareness’ – so that something of value might catch the eye.  In other cases, this may be facilitated by social book-marking, search, through individual’s profiles or cross-referencing user generated content in corporate content.

Next time we’ll be looking at issues around findability and using social tools for core processes.

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, Strategy & governance

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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