How to build a social intranet that employees will love

Use this nuts-and-bolts guide to ensure your intranet gives employees the tools and connections they need to do their jobs better.

Untitled Document If you’re an internal communicator, you’ve likely had your heart broken by an intranet.

You devote countless hours of research and experimentation into crafting a site your employees will love, only to see them shrug it off and forget that it exists.

How can you avoid the pain and heartbreak? How can you ensure your intranet will win over staff and become an invaluable resource that they can’t imagine working without?

Sarah Nilson, senior corporate web strategy specialist from QuintilesIMS, shared how her team constructed such an intranet in a session titled, “Creating an enterprise social intranet in ‘the cloud’ to connect a global staff and open up communications” on March 29 at Ragan’s Social Media Conference for PR, Marketing and Corporate Communications at Walt Disney World.

Here is some of her advice:

1. Determine the must-have features.

Any intranet’s primary goal is to provide employees with the materials, information and resources they need to better do their jobs. Figure out what your employees need and want and then go from there, Nilson advised.

“Drag things around to where they make the most sense. What needs to be prominent, and what needs to be off to the side?” Nilson asked. “You want to have your ideas, plans and priorities lined up before you start creating something, or else you’ll have to take it all apart.”

Additionally, remember that even though you hope employees will use the intranet to socialize and connect with their co-workers, not all staff will be onboard. As Nilson noted, “One of the largest groups on social media is lurkers. Just because a lot of people aren’t interacting doesn’t mean it’s not valuable… They’re getting information that they might not have otherwise had.”

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2. Consider your intranet’s past.

Listening to Nilson speak about the QuintilesIMS intranet, you’d think she was talking about a living, growing, evolving being. She explained that intranets should constantly change to keep pace with employees’ needs and habits.

Your first intranet might have only featured basic information, like open enrollment dates and administration updates. However, as you learn more about what your employees want and need, make sure you keep the features that work and cut the ones that don’t.

“You’re still keeping all the best parts of the other evolutions of intranets,” Nilson said. “You never start from scratch—you keep going as things change. We’ll always have news and policies … but the social element of an intranet really empowers the organic distribution of knowledge.”

3. Be smart about new technology.

When it comes to cool intranet technology, the cloud leads the pack.

“The cloud is part of our everyday lives whether we like it or not,” Nilson said.

She used Spotify as an example. Say you’re at work listening to a song on your laptop. If you decide to go for a walk at lunch and want to listen to some tunes on your phone, Spotify will ask if you want to resume the song on your phone from where you left off on your laptop.

Imagine if your intranet could offer that same consistency. “This is the type of experience your employees are living day in and day out, and they expect the same from you,” Nilson said.

However, she warns that you shouldn’t try new technology just to be new. The technology has to make sense for your organization and the way its employees work.

4. Train employees by example.

So you’ve built a solid intranet and are ready for employees to use it. How do you educate them about what type of content they should share and how the new features work?

Nilson recommended educating managers about the platform and how employees should use it. She also suggested training at least one person in every business unit who can then educate the others in his or her department.

She also advocates leading by example. “It’s using the platform itself to educate people as time goes on. We interact with people directly through the platform.”

Say an employee posts an article to the organization-wide feed that would make more sense in a smaller community. Leave a comment complimenting the post, but remind the poster that everyone in the organization can see it, and that it might get a better response in a niche community. Eventually, employees will catch on and even start self-policing communities—which will only make your life easier.

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