Employees shrugging off your intranet? It’s probably the platform

Posted on October 14, 2013 7:35 pm by | Internal | Intranets | Technology

square peg in a round hole

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I see my share of intranets.

The intranets I see tend to be the home to content produced by excellent communicators. These smart people understand the role of content in an employee communications strategy. They produce great articles, video and audio. Employees who view their content almost universally like it. Usually, they call me when they can’t figure out why, despite all this, employees turn to a variety of other channels for news, information and collaboration before they turn to the intranet.

In a lot of cases those other channels aren’t optimal. People who need information aren’t on the right email lists, information cascades fail miserably, and line managers are inconsistent in their face-to-face interactions. Still, employees rate the intranet below these channels.

The more I see great communications stagnate in intranets that are more nice-to-have than need-to-visit, the more I see a lowest common denominator. The platforms communicators are stuck with are not compatible with good communications.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these platforms. They’re great at doing what they’re designed to do, whether that’s hosting robust communities or serving as a central team site. None of them, though, were ever meant fulfill the triple function of giving employees a dashboard view into their work lives, enticing them with an attention-grabbing front page for the most important and interesting content, and making it easy for them to engage and participate.

Instead, communicators have to pound the round peg of effective communication into the square hole of a platform with a constricting set of limitations that mangle communications into a mess that is hard to search, buries high-priority information, creates hard-to-find fiefdoms, and discourages engagement.

Too few of the communicators struggling with these platforms had any say in the their selection. That has to change. Internal communicators must influence the approach the company takes to the way content interfaces with employees, including the tools the company will use.

The Huffington Post recently announced it was implementing a comprehensive and substantial customization of WordPress, the popular content management platform. The Huffington Post has the money and expertise to overhaul WordPress, to deconstruct and rebuilt it to suit its needs, which are based on a desire to deliver its content so it grabs and engages readers. The same goes for other popular content sites; they control the platform so it’s as close as it can be to the perfect reader experience. Internal communicators don’t have that kind of leverage, but they need to inject themselves in a process that historically has been made by IT.

The best intranets are approached from a platform-agnostic perspective. Instead of figuring out what can be done with as SharePoint, Jive or other tool, the process begins by understanding what employees want and need, how that synchs up with messages leaders want employees to internalize, and how an online mechanism can capture employees’ imagination and make the intranet a source of FOMA—Fear of Missing Out.

With that knowledge, it’s easy to create a requirements document, a list of everything the intranet platform must be able to do. Working together, IT and Employee Communications can design a multi-platform system with the best content and collaboration features, or send an RFP to vendors of software that fulfills all those requirements.

But just as the newspaper business never would have taken off if the daily edition could only be printed on toilet paper or cardboard boxes, your intranet will never take off if the platform won’t let you communicate well.



  • 1.So true! But you can't always blame the platform. You mean you actually have to ask the employees what they want? What a novel idea. If I use the example of my past employers intranet it really did not provide any valuable information or the opportunity to interact in any meaningful way for the employees let alone increase opportunities and profits and most of the time it was out of date, Based on experience any companies intranet needs to be driven from the bottom up addressing all the employees needs not a top down driven exercise.

    Moe Schwartz | October 2013 | Montreal

  • 2.Moe, I'm in complete agreement, which is why I added the caveat to my post that the platform is most likely to blame IF you're doing all the other things right. I increasingly see content that DOES exactly all the right things, based on employee research and feedback, yet employees STILL don't use it. They say they LIKE the content, but they complain about searchability and other platform-specific problems. Of course, you have to start by publishing the right content. But as I said at the end, no content works well if it's on the wrong platform.

    Shel Holtz | October 2013 | Concord, CA

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