The intranet homepage, protect it with a policy
The intranet homepage can be the most coveted piece of online real estate in your organisation. Everyone will have their own firm view as to how the homepage should be used to drive organisational imperatives.
Managing these competing priorities is difficult and intranet managers are often placed in the position of defending the homepage from its own popularity, In doing so they are ensuring that it is able to perform its primary task of directing users to the material that they require to perform their day-to-day jobs.
This is often an unpopular stance to take and is often assumed with little support or understanding from within the organisation. Some process is required to ensure that intranet managers do not buckle under the strain. This article puts forward the use of a homepage policy as a support mechanism for those managing intranet homepages to ensure that the homepage delivers value to the organisation.
Turning the homepage statistic
It is a controversial view that the homepage requires protection from organisational and business unit marketing activity and news items. The majority of homepages utilise 50 to 80% of their real estate for news and marketing activities. The challenge is to turn this statistic around so that 70 to 80% of the homepage real estate relates to navigation, specifically to helping users access the material that they want to access. The intranet is most effective as a news channel when it is used daily by staff, this means focusing on helping staff get their jobs done.
80% of the homepage real estate belongs to navigation
Intranet managers are responsible for the homepage
Homepage ownership is seldom cut-and-dried, whether formal ownership rests with corporate communications, marketing, human resources, information management or the intranet team itself, the intranet manager (irrespective of their reporting lines) has a leading role to play.
It will be the intranet manager who manages the intranet on a daily basis, making the hard calls about what can, and what cannot be posted to the homepage and suggesting alternative ways to place and profile those things that do not belong.
The first step to taking on this leadership role is to overcome the commonly expressed concern by intranet managers, that they do not have, or do not feel that they have, the appropriate status or mandate to manage such high-profile and often vocal stakeholders. Whilst attaining a thorough understanding of the online domain is certainly key, putting in place a policy will provide a tangible asset to support the intranet manager.
The policy will clearly outline what the homepage is for and how it should be used within the organisation.
Putting in place a policy
It is important that the intranet homepage policy is a straight forward document that can be used in everyday, real-life situations.
The homepage policy will be used at various stages in the content life-cycle; for new content authors the policy will form part of their training and induction package and will serve as a guideline in relation to homepage content. For intranet managers, the policy is a reference point for responding to requests from the business regarding placing content on the homepage. The policy is also a tool to assist with disputes over whether any given piece of content should or should not be placed on the homepage. In order to fulfil its role, the policy will need to position the homepage principles in a context that makes sense to a range of end-users from content publishers to senior managers.
Although the over arching homepage principles will be specific to any given organisation there are some that are universal such as:
- the primary purpose of the homepage
- the secondary purpose of the homepage
- the various roles and responsibilities of homepage stakeholders and managers
- how disputes will be resolved
Have a clear mechanism for resolving content disputes on the homepage
Getting the policy signed off
Getting the policy signed off will be the most difficult task undertaken in the process of putting the policy in place. The senior managers that will be responsible for signing off the policy are likely to be the hardest to convince that the primary purpose of the homepage is to provide navigation for users and that around 80% of the real estate should be retained for navigation.
There are two reasons for this; firstly, in many organisations the senior decision makers who will ultimately sign off the policy will not themselves be users of the intranet. For them, access to the intranet is often one-step removed, as the people who report directly to them usually access information from the intranet on their behalf and then pass it along. These senior managers are also likely to place importance on those items that should be considered secondary. For these people, the presentation of corporate news and driving or marketing the company culture are likely to be the most important functions of the intranet homepage. The challenge is to educate these senior managers.
Time and thought put in up-front will pay dividends in the long run. As with many other things, there is no easy solution for how to move senior managers along the continuum, and closer to the desired thinking, however if you can present the policy in the context that makes sense to them this is certainly a good start. Try to tailor approaches so that it answers their unspoken question, “What’s in it for me?” Sometimes a picture speaks a thousand words and presenting the policy alongside mock-ups illustrating how protecting the homepage from news and marketing ‘creep’ will assist their staff to do their jobs better will be helpful. This is especially the case where this can be linked to the key performance indicators or ‘hot’ topics for that area.
Depending on the history of the intranet manager within the organisation, putting in place the policy and driving the intranet homepage may be the first step taken to build the credibility of the intranet team, intranet manager and even the intranet itself. Initially it may be necessary to build up ones own credibility by ‘borrowing’ the credibility of others. This may mean employing the assistance of another respected team member to support or endorse the case or down loading material from experts off the internet.
However you choose to sell-in the homepage policy to senior managers, it is important to ensure that the approach taken with each person is well-considered. Taking a second run at getting the policy accepted after a failed first attempt will be difficult.
Homepage ownership is seldom cut and dried
Intranet homepage policy: examples
The tone, wording, format and the specific subject areas covered in the homepage policy will be specific to any given organisation. The following four examples are intended to be generic and are provided as a starting point for those considering putting in place an intranet policy. The maturity of the company intranet and the specific organisational culture and company brand will inform the specific policy.
1. Homepage ownership
Ownership of the intranet homepage and the corresponding policy resides with the corporate communications manager. Sitting within the corporate communications team, the intranet manager is responsible for driving and maintaining the intranet homepage on a day-to-day basis.
2. Governance and issue resolution
A governance group of senior managers facilitated by the corporate communications manager convenes on an as-need-basis. Membership is ratified by the executive team so that adequate organisational coverage is assured. Any disputes relating to the homepage will be escalated to the corporate communications manager in the first instance and then if necessary, onto the governance group for resolution. The decision of the governance group is final. A full charter for this group is available.
3. The primary purpose
The intranet homepage is the primary mechanism for employees to access the material required to carry out their jobs on a day-to-day basis, as such around 80% of the homepage real estate will be reserved for navigation. These navigational elements can be made up of the following:
- top navigation
- common page elements
- links into the site
- editorial space
The top navigation holds the site structure and links users to underlying content; common page elements such as staff directory and search are also present on the homepage.
The intranet manager is responsible for looking after the homepage editorial space on a day-to-day basis. The editorial space is used to surface site content on an ad-hoc basis. It is not intended to be a default for navigational workarounds.
Links within the ‘quicklinks’ section are managed by the intranet manager. These links are limited to those that are used often and used by a large and broad number of users. Links that are for a narrow audience, such as for a single business unit are handled within the ‘business unit’ section of the intranet.
The ‘quicklinks’ section is a navigational mechanism to link users to content that they want to access rather than as a facility for business units to push their own content out per se and is therefore driven by end-user demand.
Secondary purposes of the homepage include marketing activities and company news
Other links into the site should not mirror the top level navigation, rather these should provide users with a means to drill deeper into the site, or get closer to the required content from the homepage. These are presented in a way that provides context to the links. As the site is not organised around functional business unit structures, this is one way to order links, providing access to business unit landing pages across the organisation.
Other groupings provide links in the context of the business process, shared services are examples of this such as HR-related links and IT links. HR-related links include links to leave, supperannuation, HR forms, HR policies and update my details. IT links include links to log an issue, track an issue, order new equipment, check on system outages, IT forms, IT policies, contact helpdesk, etc.
4. The secondary purpose
Although the primary purpose of the intranet homepage is to drive users to the material that they are looking for so that they can carry out their day-to-day jobs the intranet homepage has a number of secondary functions.
These secondary functions, in their totality, are limited to no more than 20% of the intranet homepage. Secondary activities, include, but are not limited to the following:
- Presentation and positioning of the organisational brand to staff as reflected through the formal elements such as colours, font and display of the logo as well as in the general tone of the language used throughout the site.
- Use of the homepage as a lead-in to the news channel profiling those activities and telling those stories that are most important to the organisation.
The homepage can be employed to profile business unit or organisation-wide initiatives. Marketing campaigns are temporary items on the homepage. The intranet manager is responsible for implementing and facilitating a system for managing these.
Making policy work in practice?
Those intranet managers who have an intranet homepage policy in place report that it gives them the confidence to manage the homepage effectively, particularly when it comes to managing senior or particularly insistent staff. Within these organisations the governance group is rarely if ever invoked as an escalation point as the policy provides the context for decisions and sets down the primary purpose of the intranet homepage as a navigational mechanism. The policy also sets the expectation that anyone placing information on the homepage should be doing so with their own customers, the end-user in mind.
A policy will place the homepage in context within the organisation
Putting in place a homepage policy will certainly provide some welcome support to the team that manages the homepage on a day-by-day basis, moreover it will also provide a clear direction to business units and senior managers on what constitutes acceptable use of the homepage and how they should plan to utilise this space.
The homepage policy is a practical tool to assist organisations and intranet teams to deliver real business value through the homepage. Help your intranet team manage the pressure that comes from regularly dealing with a wide range of competing interests from across the organisation. Demand for homepage real estate is commensurate with intranet success; the more successful the intranet, the greater the demand from the business for homepage real estate. Those that have put in place a homepage policy have reported a reduction in disputes over homepage real estate as well as a reduction in conflict between intranet business stakeholders and the team that manages the intranet.
Finally, those that have a clear, concise policy in place and that are able to suggest viable online options for marketing activities have reported zero escalation of homepage disputes to the intranet governing body.
Everyone likes to understand the boundaries and the rules of the game; an intranet homepage policy will set this out for everyone in the organisation.