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Is a Social Intranet Your Company's Holy Grail or Holy Mess? there is one thing that became pointedly clear during my attending and speaking at the J. Boye Intranet conference last week, it’s that we are all experiencing different aspects of what it means to become a world-class corporate (social) intranet. The typical shelf life of an Intranet implementation averages about 18 months. This timeline can easily be extended when you add on the complexities of social layers. So if you feel that your company has been struggling for some time with not only the correct strategy, but also the implementation tactics of a social intranet… don’t feel bad.

You are not alone.

And, if the attendees of the Intranet track are any indication, you are most certainly in good company.

So what makes the social intranet your company’s holy grail or holy mess? Is it because your company struggles with engaging multiple demographics? Is it because you’re global, but focus too much on local? Do you lack the infrastructure to support a social intranet? Or do you simply not have the manpower or resources? These are all issues that I hear about quite frequently, and, to be honest, there is no tried and true answer. While you can listen and share with other peers who struggle with similar quandries, learning by example can only take you so far. At some point, the direction and actions you take must be tailored to your company’s specific needs and goals.

Avoid the Holy Mess

This may seem like you’ve heard this many times before, but I cannot say it enough. To make your social intranet an attainable goal, start by asking yourself a very basic question: What is the purpose of your Intranet?

Avoid the holy mess. Don’t make your Intranet social because you want to join the social business bandwagon. Make sure you have the right people, content and tools in place FIRST. Do you want your Intranet to be content-based for communications and/ or HR transactions? Do you want it to be completely social? Or do you want something that is a hybrid of the two? The only wrong answer here is to make the wrong decision for your business needs.

One of my most memorable conversations from the J. Boye conference was with someone who questioned the deployment of a completely social Intranet. The question was, how do you balance social technologies with key business objectives and messaging. Or put another way: how do you balance social apps like Yammer with important (static) content such as company policies and forms.

  • Content Intranet – don’t confuse social with being sexy. Yes, your Intranet should evolve. But, no one ever said that an Intranet that focuses primarily on content while also having a slick interface isn’t sexy. But a social Intranet that doesn’t have the infrastructure or resources to support it is NOT sexy. Until your business is ready to jump into the social intranet pool, keep your site a value-driven destination for your employees by sticking with what works. Content is key. If your content works then follow this favorite saying of mine: if it doesn’t suck, then don’t muck.
  • Social Intranet – an Intranet that fully embraces social technologies truly is the essence of a virtual watercooler. I have not yet seen a company making its core Intranet 100% social, but I have heard rumbles of some companies considering this. A social intranet could be anywhere from entirely collaborative sharing to employee-generated content on wikis and / or microblogs. Admittedly, a lot of information managers would be hard-pressed to convince senior leadership to convert to a completely social Intranet without sharing some honest-to-goodness business advantages or ROI. On the flip side, if you’re a company that is just now transitioning your Intranet from a static document repository, a completely social Intranet just might be the solution you need.
  • Hybrid Intranet – a hybrid Intranet is one that adds social layers to a pre-existing infrastructure. Personally, I think this makes for the most rewarding social experience for an employee. It combines all the communications and transactions that an employee needs to do in order to learn, plan and do their work and their life. While most organizations will see this as the “ultimate” vision, the road to a hybrid social intranet is not only long and complex, but it is also resource intensive as it impacts a multitude of systems and can be costly if an organization doesn’t already have the appropriate infrastructure in place. However, the long term payoff is a more enriching and value-driven Intranet for not only the company but also the employee.  Think about a day in the life of the average employee: publishing and sharing content in real time, learning and executing on key business objectives, supporting and recognizing ideas from peers, instantly communicating with global colleagues — a hybrid Intranet is the effective virtualization of all these things.

Attain the Holy Grail

So when it gets right down to the nuts and bolts… how do you do it? Again there is no simple answer. Finding and implementing a Holy Grail of an Intranet site is an attainable goal. But, there are four key cornerstones with which you must start.

  • People – Who is your Intranet for if not for the people? If your Intranet isn’t useful to the employees who are supposed to use it then you will most definitely find yourself in a holy mess. Design your Intranet based on the work and life of your employees — assess how your employees use technology both in their lives and their jobs so that you can make both more productive, social and simplified. Calibrate your Intranet knowing that how your organization is viewed by your employees varies not only by global and technological needs, but also by demographic ones.
  • Content – Your content is the meat and potatoes of your site. It’s the stuff that really counts. But how do you nurture a healthy flow of content? You need to know what people want and make it available to them. That means encouraging people to cough up the content and ensuring the right information bubbles to the top.
  • Process – Your intranet has to support the things your employees do every day: a site that allows them to learn, plan and do. Human processes are often overlooked in favor of technical development. But the best Intranets help people achieve key business objectives while also enabling them to more efficiently get their jobs done, and introducing them to the global colleagues with whom they need to do it.
  • Technology – If your project kicks off with the purchase of software licenses expect to waste time adapting your problem to fit the solution. Any project team that puts the technology cart before the business horse is asking for trouble. Your intranet must solve a communication problem, and needs more than a platform. Ensure high tech does not replace high touch – tools are not the story; tools are a vehicle for delivering the story

Reference: “Why Your Intranet Fails” by SmallWorlders <– an excellent read

Special note: if you would like to share the current state of your enterprise 2.0 and collaboration efforts, I encourage you to participate in the “State of Enterprise 2.0 Collaboration Survey” being conducted by Jacob Morgan of Jacob Morgan Marketing / Chess Media Group.

This post intentionally published on May 10, because … well… it is my birthday after all :)

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