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‘Social’ is now standard in the world of intranets, yet success with social intranets isn’t quite so common. There are many pitfalls to avoid and decisions to make, so it’s not simply a matter of enabling the commenting capability on a CMS (though that’s a good start), or starting a Yammer network.
Here are six key tips for being successful with a social intranet initiative.
Align with business objectives
This may seem like a given, but a social intranet initiative must be aligned with a business’s stratgy and objectives. If a business isn’t genuinely focused on implementing and executing its strategies with the benefits of social capabilites in mind, the ‘success’ of the social intranet is immediately limited. Having social in mind means actively aiming to capitalise on the capabilities, data and intelligence that come with adding a social, collaborative layer to an intranet.
Ensure executive and manager support
Social intranets gain momentum the more that all levels of employees participate. However, while ground-up or ‘grassroots’ participation is obviously important, so too is the participation of senior executives and managers. If employees can see their managers comfortably using social features and leading by example in terms of participation, transparency, a willingness to share ideas and ask for input and feedback, they are much more likely to accept the motivations and marketing around the site and adopt the behaviours themselves.
Beware of language pitfalls
Social intranets are here because of the meteoric rise of sites and services such as Facebook and Twitter, and their ancestors MySpace, Bebo and more. Yet, as much as people love Facebook, the idea of such a service in the workplace can polarise opinion and give rise to criticisms of time wasting. Whether such criticisms are valid or not, discussions like this can torpedo a social intranet initiative before it even begins. Keep direct comparisons to a minimum and, where necessary, adapt language to ensure it’s more in tune with the business in question.
Use web conventions where appropriate
While it’s not advisable to refer to your new site as ‘Facebook for the business’, many of the smaller details within popular websites and services are worth adopting because they’re exceptionally well refined and now part of common vernacular. For example, interactions such as to ‘follow’, ‘unfollow’ or ‘add’ a network member (friend, colleague etc), or ‘like’ a post or comment, are now increasingly familiar on enterprise systems. If the language in a particular product seems unusual, it’s worth customising to reflect more common terms.
Focus on work, not the technology
It’s not just language that can rub people the wrong way. Just as asking people what they want on an intranet is a poor idea, asking people how they will use technology features can also lead to sub-standard solutions. It’s more effective to understand the challenges people have in collaborating, in sharing ideas, in finding information or people. Strive for a needs-based solution; ask colleagues to recount the last project or initiative they worked on, or how they might go about typical tasks – document co-authoring, planning, meetings and so on – and see how effective those processes are. Then see where the technology might be able to refine or enhance those workflows.
Strive for a high-quality user experience
Many web services offer beautiful interaction, interface and experience design. It’s fair to say that most enterprise software environments and products fall well short of this.
Even with some vendors insisting their products are good enough ‘out of the box’, building on the vanilla interface is often highly desirable. The overall user experience of a product, site or service can make or break its success and this is even more true for something that typically sees low early take-up such as a social intranet. Strive for beautiful, smooth and refined design, test early and often, and be prepared to go back to the drawing board if something doesn’t work.