Social intranet communications

For all the talk on technology, particularly social and mobile technologies, an intranet is mostly people and process. And it is not a communications or IT project, it is a *business system* meant to support and enhance the entire organization including communications, IT, HR, etc.

The focus must first be on governance — namely ownership, executive stewardship, and process — and content, and then social, mobile access, etc. should follow. As they say: don’t put the cart before the horse. Our horse is our people, the cart as a technology only facilitates the movement of knowledge, ideas and work. If you put people first, starting at the C-Suite, you can’t help but be successful.

A successful intranet needs, first and foremost, executive sponsorship. The best intranets on the planet have CEOs and Presidents who actively seek to invest in the intranet, and are champions of the intranet and the digital workplace (to use an overused, hot moniker). Moreover, great intranets have executive sponsors that are great communicators — they are active users of the intranet themselves, and they actively talk about and promote use of the intranet.

And speaking of process, if you build it they will not come. As I’ve said many, many times there will always be the keeners in IT and Communications that will use the intranet, but the average employee needs a reason, and a slight push. That’s where the CEO helps.

Leading intranet leaders Unisys and Best Western made dedicated videos promoting the intranet (both featured at the recent Intranet Global Forum in LA (, and use the CEO to actively promote the intranet. The Unisys social intranet promotional video leads with footage of the CEO using the intranet, and then discussing the value and importance of the intranet. Leading us to the second most important ingredient for an intranet, money.

best western intranet design mar 2014
The Best Western intranet / extranet

Outside of the great intranets, while the adoption of enterprise social media continues to grow, these tools continue to be poorly deployed and adopted. Many organizations have piloted or trialed, or attempted a wider release of some enterprise social business tools, most tools continue to be isolated and poorly deployed. All too often, free or vanilla solutions — often the out-of-the-box (OOB) social media solutions that are bundled with CMS or portal solutions, namely SharePoint 2010 — are introduced to employees with little thought for business requirements, user requirements and little or no change management.


It is little surprise to see that satisfaction levels with enterprise social media tools is at an all-time low. In fact, both employee and executive satisfaction rates on average point to failed enterprise social media programs:

• 73% of employees rate their internal social media tools as poor or very poor
• 59% of executives rate their internal social media tools as poor or very poor

The results reveal a darker, more pessimistic lining to the social business cause: most organizations are not truly social, just flirting with social, and have no real commitment to social business. Many are playing with and even finding some limited success with a smattering of social tools, but using and integrating social media into most aspects of their day-to-day business — inside and outside the firewall — is still an evolutionary leap some years away for most. Part of the reason is the lack of money or investment.

Most organizations spend little or nothing on their enterprise social media tools. Most organizations that implement social media tools spend between US$ 0 and $25,000; 34% have spent $0
and $10,000. No surprise, sometimes, you get what you pay for. A vanilla solution can produce vanilla results or worse, if it is not accompanied by the requisite change management that all social business thrusts require. The notion that “if you build it, they will come” does not work for social business; this isn’t baseball and social business is more than setting up a corporate page on Facebook.


Social media tools are so simple and inexpensive to deploy that it is incredibly easy to be lulled into complacency until your initiative begins to fail. Often, failure is simply a lack of use or adoption by users. Just like the real-life relationship killer, the biggest reason for social intranet failure is apathy.

There are two primary reasons for the low satisfaction levels: vanilla or free / open source solutions with poor functionality (e.g. MediaWiki or bundled tools in platforms like SharePoint 2010), and little or no change management / communications planning.

The dangerously low satisfaction levels with social intranet tools are fueled largely by the lack of user take-up (adoption): employees need a reason to use social business tools. Social intranets require active communications and change management. If you don’t communicate the value of the intranet, as the CEOs at Unisys and Best Western do, then I can guarantee employees won’t flock to use the intranet.

Using social business tools represents a mental and cultural leap for most. Successful integration of social media into the daily operating lives of employees, namely on the corporate intranet, requires careful assessment, planning, governance and the aforementioned change management.

See my full column on Social intranets: The change you wish to see

Also read Great Intranets Part I: The Unisys Intranet


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