If there is one thing almost all intranets have in common, it is that people complain about them. The appreciation of traditional intranets generally is somewhere on a scale between neutral and abysmal.
If you ask employees who have access to social intranets, they would rather be somewhere on the scale between neutral and extatic (at least on occasions).
Communalities of most traditional intranets are:
- Information is spread down- or outwards in the organization
- Content is created by a cadre of communication professionals
- The editors constantly debate structure and editor access
- Users have difficulties to find their way in the structure
- And just as much difficultyto find stuff when searching
- Much of the content is out of date
- An ever-present question for the company is “How do we make people use the intranet?”. (The response usually is to make it the default start page for all browser installations)
So what about social intranets?
- Content is spread in all directions by the people who know the topics, not by the people who know how to write about them
- The creators of collaborative content don’t care too much about the big structure. Only about the substance. And everybody have access to create content (but not everywhere, though)
- Structure is secondary, since content is found through searching, and by association with similar content and with people you trust
- Search works much better since it is based not only on search engine “mechanics” but is boosted by peer recommendations and social bookmarks
- Social intranets apply “Content Darwinism”. Almost all presentation is based on “recency of updating”. Hot topics and communities therefore float to the surface while inactive communities and stuff people aren’t interested in slowly sinks to the bottom. (It can still be found through searching for it though)
- As the intranet is seen as valuable and relevant, people will want to use it. There is no more need to make them go there.
Of course, it cannot be ALL social. The most powerful tool is blending the traditional with social. The communications folks may give some screen real estate away, but increased exposure of what remains is likely to compensate with a healthy margin for the lost real estate.
But, won’t the staff waste valuable time socializing via the intranet? No way! I’m constantly amazed by how the same kind of features result in such different uses on each side of the firewall. Or would you consider it a waste if:
- people find experts to help them solve problems fast and with proven solutions
- instead of re-inventing the wheel for the umpteenth time, people find documents from others that they can adapt to their current needs
- employees band together in communities to share and build common knowledge on topics of professional and corporate value
- knowledge is unlocked from employees hard drives, brains and desk drawers, shared and made available for the common good of the company… and for the future – an aspect to take into account in these days of retiring babyboomers and shortening average tenure
- and – much needed in many a company – the ability of employees to network and communicate in all directions bridge geographic and organizational boundaries helping to overcome the frequent suboptimization stemming from organizational protectionism.
- the criss-crossing of networks and communication generates chance meetings of people with other people or with unexpected information, a well known, proven and sought for environment for creativity and invention.
For me, it is very simple: the ability of implementing social intranets is the possibility for companies and organizations to show that “Our Employees are our Most Valuable Resource” weren’t just empty words.