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A Social Intranet – Part 1: Two-Way Communication between Management and Employees

Having just launched a new intranet site that allows for a more collaborative and, what I hope is considered, a more productive environment, this post from the IABC CW Bulletin resonates very strongly with me. So much so that I thought I would make it available here. Enjoy! :-)

Making Your Intranet Social

by Jonathan Pollinger (via IABC)

Social media continue to see huge growth: Facebook now has over 500 million users and Twitter has 175 million. In November, YouTube announced that 35 hours of video are uploaded onto its servers every minute.

In this hyper-social environment, people prefer to take advice and recommendations from friends and other consumers, and are less trusting of traditional broadcasting and advertising. (In a May 2010 survey from Alterian, 95 percent of respondents indicated that they don’t trust advertisements.) Two way conversations between consumers and brands is now the norm. There’s been a media power shift because it’s not just the BBC, ABC or Channel 9 who have the capability to communicate to large audiences. Everyone now has the ability to broadcast and to communicate via blogs, across social networks or by uploading video.

These trends have implications for the way employees expect to be communicated with, and for the tools used for that communication, such as the intranet. Employees now expect a style of communication between themselves and management that is similar to the two-way conversations enabled by social media. It’s no longer good enough for businesses to broadcast companywide messages telling employees what’s happening and what they should be doing. Employees now want to have their say, in the same way that they do with friends, relatives and brands. They want to be involved in decision making and to have the opportunity to display their knowledge and expertise. They also want to be able to locate quality information easily and quickly, so that they can carry out their roles to the best of their abilities.

But what can employers do to provide a more social environment, with greater opportunities for two-way conversation? Before investing in new intranet technology, a company first needs to be sure that the investment will help employees do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. This can be established by soliciting feedback from employees through surveys and focus groups, and analyzing existing ways of working to determine where improvements can be made. Second, a company can make its intranet more social by replacing the existing intranet with a social intranet such as Interact 4 or Intranet Connections, by adding social features to an existing intranet or by adding a new social network, such as Yammer.

To make an intranet more social, you can add one or more of the following features:

Personal profiles
A standard feature of all social networks is the profile, a page or area that displays information about a member of that social network. In the corporate world, this often takes the form of a company directory. At best, this will be similar to a LinkedIn profile and will display work history, skills and expertise, current projects, contact details, and one or more photos. At worst, this will be a spreadsheet with names and extension numbers.

To improve personal profiles, you can improve an existing company directory or create a new one. If the company is using Active Directory, a Microsoft program that stores information and settings in a central database, then data can be pushed and pulled to the company directory as it is updated. This approach not only displays useful information, such as the individual’s role in this company, but also improves the quality of personal data. For example, when employees move and update their location, this information is updated on Active Directory—which in turn can provide the new location to other company systems. Tools such as Yammer and Socialtext also come complete with profiles that can be updated by employees—which is a more efficient process than if done by an administrator.

With a little planning and good use of technology, it’s possible to transform a basic company directory into a searchable skills database. This can dramatically help the flow of knowledge in an organization.

Status updates
Facebook asks the question, What’s on your mind? while Yammer poses, What are you working on? Status updates are a key feature of social intranets, and are integral to both external and internal social networks, which makes them difficult to bolt on to an existing intranet. They do come as standard with Yammer, Socialtext and social intranet solutions. Status updates in a corporate environment help raise awareness of what each employee is working on. This can help to encourage collaboration among those who may be able to help with specific projects, as well as provide a sense of common purpose.

To facilitate a two-way conversation across an organization, a good messaging system is vital. This type of system could include real-time conversation capabilities (i.e., instant messaging), video communications and presence indicators that display a person’s whereabouts (for example, whether someone is online or offline, or in or out of the office).

Closed groups
Closed groups, or groups restricted to certain members of a social network, can also be useful. In a corporate environment, a closed group could be set up for a specific team or project, allowing members to focus on a particular goal. Closed groups can also be important if a project is sensitive or confidential.

One solution that provides all of the above social features is the new Facebook Groups feature. Profiles and status updates are provided via the standard Facebook approach, and group messaging allows “one to all” communication within the group. In addition, users can post to the group’s wall to highlight topics, activities and useful articles. As comments can be added below posts, these can become threaded conversations. You can also create and save documents—a first for Facebook—although they can’t be exported or imported.

Obviously there may be concerns about Facebook hosting company data, but for lightweight projects, this could be an interesting solution. Unlike the other options, no financial investment is required.

Jonathan Pollinger is the owner of Intranet Future, a consultancy that advises clients on the use of social media both inside and outside organizations. You can contact him via e-mail at or on Twitter @jonnop

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