IBM’s 407,000 or so employees are all on track to become communicators.
How, and why? The company’s intranet, w3, has undergone an evolution over the past decade as more tools encouraging employees to generate their own content—blogs, an internal wiki, social bookmarking tools, file-sharing—have led to a deluge of posts.
“With the introduction of these tools, by volume, the amount of Web pages and Web content being created by employees quickly overwhelmed the professional publishing volume. Employees adopted the use of these tools,” says Ben Edwards, IBM’s vice president of digital strategy and development.
If employees are doing all the writing, what are the professional communicators doing? Curating content, says Edwards.
“Curation is a response to a world of content abundance,” he says. “We’ve come from a world of content scarcity, where there was very little content and very little need to filter it. We’re now in this world of overwhelming content abundance.”
While still producing company-branded articles and press releases, IBM’s communications staff is also tasked with the blogger’s job of finding the best of what employees are generating and delivering it to their colleagues.
Encourage and filter
Edwards says IBM hasn’t quite articulated a systematic way for communicators to filter employee-created content, but he says the key is to think like a blogger. Bloggers “instinctively” do two things, he says: They point to content created by others via links, and they provoke discussion.
“Our task now is to take the skills that bloggers have developed in curating content and rolling them out across our content teams,” he says. “What stands out is really the editorial judgment. You need to have a good sense of what’s important.”
Another task for communicators is making sure that employees continue contributing, Edwards says. “We have an increasing focus on enabling IBMers who are not professional communicators to use these tools more effectively to drive business value for IBM,” he says.
Its WikiCentral is “responsible for a lot of the volume” of employee content, Edwards says. Employees chiefly use it for collaboration on projects and sharing of documents, he says.
“Having a single instance of project documentation that all members of the project work off is a far more efficient way of running a project from a document creation and handling perspective than passing attachments via e-mail, where you run through dreadful version-control issues,” Edwards says.
As with Wikipedia or other wiki sites, anyone with access to IBM’s intranet can edit WikiCentral articles, he says. The edits are logged and transparent. About 200,000 of IBM’s employees use WikiCentral, he says.
Employee blogs are a little different, Edwards says, in that they’re more personal and opinion-based. Team leaders often use them for rallying teams around causes or movements, he says.
Articles intended for companywide consumption gain little traction, he says. “They’re so general that they lack relevance.” Instead, Edwards says, items must be directed toward what specific groups, whether they’re linked by industry, geography, job description or what they’ve found interesting in the past.
|Hear more from Ben Edwards on IBM's intranet and the role of content curation.
Rather than having a single static home page for all w3 users, IBM offers specific employees links based on desired content, group affiliations or personal preferences. “The content is called to the page based on what we understand about you,” Edwards says.
By next year, the home page will be even more personalized, using a system similar to the one Amazon uses to offer specific products to logged-in users.
“We’re moving to a framework of Web services that then populate pages dynamically, on the fly,” Edwards says.
On top of that, he says, users will be able to drag-and-drop widgets to and from their intranet home page. However, some items on the page, such as a corporate news feed and IBM’s stock price, will be permanently on the site for everyone.
“You cannot remove our share price from the home page,” Edwards says, “because we believe you should pay attention to our share price.”
Mixed with eye-catching, employee-generated content and access to platforms with which to create content, those corporate messages will have more impact, he says, because more employees will be using the intranet.
Building from the “killer app”
IBM’s intranet started out “extremely fractured and fragmented”—it was a number of different sites—until it was consolidated in the 1990s, Edwards said.
Once it became a single intranet, IBM focused the site’s functionality on its “core killer app,” Edwards said, its employee directory. He says he advises other companies building intranets to do the same.
“Build outward from the thing people actually use the intranet for, which is overwhelmingly looking up other employees for contacts,” he says.
That led to IBM’s adding blogging functionality to the site—along with social bookmarking tools, file sharing and eventually WikiCentral—within the last decade or so.