Social intranets part 5: support and evolution

August 1, 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 improving findability and process improvement. In this fifth and last part of the series, we look at supporting and evolving your social intranet.


Social intranets tend to rely much less heavily on central administration. Content is published by individuals and is self-governing, so less moderation is required. Generally, a good content management system should also reduce the need for IT interventions and the number of technical questions. Other key areas of support tend to be lighter.

Lighter launch

Social media platforms are able to take advantage of viral methods of promotion, such as users inviting their colleagues to join. For example, tools like Yammer often spread completely virally through an organisation, and are often not even authorized by the IT department.

Typical methods for launching social intranets include “road show” or “drop in sessions” which tend to be characterized by personalized one-on-one sessions with early adopters and champions, who can then go back into the business and spread the word virally and demonstrate the platform to their colleagues. Having these types of sessions means those that are interested are identified to intranet teams, who could follow up where necessary.

No formal training

Social intranets tend to be more intuitive, so in reality there should be no formal training program for users, although is likely to be different for specific site owners or authors.

Legal services firm RPC didn’t have a formal training program for their social intranet Edge. This was partly because it didn’t want to scare off potential users, partly to keep costs down, but mainly because it didn’t want to explain tools which had been designed to be intuitive.

Evolving social intranets

In looking at social intranets, there are some interesting observations about the overall approach of the intranet teams involved. Sometimes the development of social intranets tends to be evolutionary, with the interventions and improvements made by central teams based on real user behavior, rather than architected from the very beginning.

Encourage experimentation

By taking a non-interventionist and non-prescriptive view of user behavior, the teams have effectively encouraged the intranet and its related tools to be used for various different purposes. At RPC, many interactions with users were conversation-based to find out different users, and even the managing partner made a speech to the entire company encouraging people “to have a play.”

Make changes by observing behavior

By encouraging experimentation, central functions are able to observe user behavior in action and then take advantage of this to help enhance the user experience or drive adoption.

Take small steps

Taking a more iterative and evolutionary approach means success is more likely to be achieved. Whilst sometimes “big bang” approaches are needed for some intranet implementations, as the social tools tend to be quite flexible, incremental changes which focus on configurations, formation of templates and access to content or data, ensures that users are not shoe-horned into doing things in a certain way.

Taking sufficient time

The approaches mentioned above do not necessarily facilitate overnight success. Sufficient time needs to allow the tools to be embedded, as well as for intranet teams to feel they are equipped with the necessary information to be able to make changes in a way which would truly add value and have impact.

Nudge the intranet when you need to

However leaving users to get on with things is not enough to drive adoption. Very deliberate measures, such as facilitated collaboration or discussion, enlisting the involvement of senior management, and making incremental technical improvements, are integral to the success of 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.

Categorised in: Collaboration

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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