Social intranets have changed the rules of successfully launching an intranet. Today, we’re seeing more robust and vibrant intranets with social and mobile-enabled features to support the rise of the digital workplace. While in the past it was quite helpful to involve employees throughout the process, today it’s a virtual necessity.
A social intranet is an online community space. In order to build a fruitful community, employees need to feel a sense of involvement and ownership early on in the project.
Many of the ideas listed below are standard practice for building an intranet that adds value to an organization’s internal communications strategy. Each one represents an opportunity to build a sense of shared ownership and community, while generating excitement about the new site.
15 Ways to Engage Users
1: Send out a survey to evaluate your existing intranet.
A simple survey that measures employee satisfaction with the existing intranet can be a useful tool for gathering feedback. Try creating a simple survey about satisfaction with the current intranet. If you word questions carefully, you can re-apply the survey six months after you launch the new intranet and compare it to the baseline data about the old intranet. You can then continue to send out that same survey every 6-12 month to monitor satisfaction with the new intranet. Keep in mind that self-reported satisfaction surveys are not a complete approach to measuring the value of an intranet.
2: Hold focus groups about intranet problems.
Focus groups are a useful way to capture feedback about the current intranet and gather information about employee needs. Focus groups, as opposed to individual interviews or surveys, create shared experiences (“social” experiences, if you will) that help create a sense of connectedness among colleagues. This can start to lay the foundation for the sense of connectedness a social intranet will instill.
3: Interview employees and key stakeholders early on.
Stakeholder interviews have been a key ingredient in intranet planning as long as intranets have been around. They are an opportunity to listen to staff and leaders throughout the company and build relationships you’ll need throughout the project. Be sure to follow up with all interviewees on an ongoing basis to maintain their sense of involvement.
4: Observe employees in their daily workplace.
This technique is a secret of some of the best intranet managers in the world, but is standard practice for usability experts. Workplace observation gives the intranet team very real-world insights into how people work on a daily basis and the information and tools they use to do their jobs. It can provide much more realistic information than approaches that require participants to self-report.
5: Ask employees to post ideas for the new intranet.
James Robertson famously said “don’t ask users what they need on the intranet” (see James’ blog post on the topic). While that’s a good motto for intranet managers, it can’t hurt to ask people for ideas for the new intranet. Be clear that no idea is gauranteed to make it into the final product, but give people the chance to share their thoughts. You may discover brilliant and innovative ideas the intranet team wouldn’t have come up with.
It is important to set clear expectations about a process like this. Up front, explain how ideas will be vetted and what rewards or prizes will be given, if any. Try to hold this process in an open online space where employees can see and comment on or contribute to colleagues’ ideas.
6: Create a group for content owners.
As soon as you start the project to build a new intranet, get cozy with your content owners. Useful and effective content is critical for success. Content owners play a critical role in your project by acting as a support system in carrying out content-related tasks to ensure information is accurate and up-to-date. They also act as champions by sharing the benefits of the new site and supporting colleagues with project efforts, such as training new and existing content authors.
Intranet manager Tanis Roadhouse highlighted the need to “treat content owners like royalty” in her blueprint for building a social intranet.
7: Involve key employees in product evaluation.
Finding the right social intranet software is as much art as it is science. Meeting business and technical requirements is just as important as finding a good cultural fit. Strategically select employees to involve in the product evaluation process. Don’t make them scour complex requirements spreadsheets, but do give them demo access if it’s an option and let them get their hands dirty. Consider involving content owners in this process as well, as they will likely have some useful feedback to share.
8: Run a contest to name the new intranet.
Holding a contest to name the new intranet can build excitement and establish the brand. You’ll want a structured process that’s timed right to fit into the rest of the intranet project. See our case study of crowdsourcing the name for a new social intranet for specific ideas on how to implement a naming contest.
A naming committee can either be the governing group that oversees the naming contest or an alternative to the naming process. A company’s culture, the project timeline, or other factors may make a committee a better way to select a name for the new intranet than a contest. The committee could include stakeholders, content owners, and even an executive.
9: Hold voting on graphic design alternatives.
If your intranet project includes the time and budget to compare several design alternatives, this can be a great opportunity to involve employees. Create a simple system for people to vote or comment on two or three different design concepts and be clear from the start about how employee voices will be weighed.
It’s a good idea to make sure the intranet project team and executive sponsors are comfortable with all of the options you’re putting out there. This ensures everyone is ready to embrace whichever option employees choose.
10: Inventory content on existing intranet.
This may be the least glamorous way to involve users, but it’s one of the most critical for building an effective new intranet. Usually the content owners conduct the content inventories (sometimes referred to as “content audits”), guided by the intranet team. This can be a time consuming process, so be sure to start it early and provide plenty of support and coffee to the content owners who’ll be carrying out this activity.
Alternatively, the intranet project team members can conduct the content inventories themselves, but then work closely with content owners to review the results.
11: Run online card sorting.
Card sorting is a standard and common process for involving employees in developing an intranet information architecture (or site navigation) in a meaningful way. It’s a structured approach for gathering employee input on how to organize the information on your intranet, whether online or face-to-face. Card sorting can be an opportunity to involve a very large group of employees in a substantive way. You can read about Intranet Manager, Luke Mepham, and how he involved 1,200 global employees in card sorting exercise for an intranet redesign project.
If you’re new to card sorting you can learn the basics in our article, How-to guide for intranet card sorting to help you run this type of activity within your organization.
12: Run online task testing.
Task testing is another standard tool in the User Experience Designer’s toolbox and can follow a card sorting effort. While card sorting helps you understand how employees group content in their minds, task testing lets you test how well a draft intranet navigation helps employees complete actual daily work tasks. We like to use Treejack for online task testing. This can allow you to engage large numbers of users, including those in remote locations.
Check out our how to guide for intranet task testing to learn how you can carry out this process for your intranet project.
13: Run user testing on mockups or pilot site.
User testing is similar to task testing, but happens on a live site or mockups that include page layouts and some graphic design elements. User testing provides a third round of validation for the navigation structure you are creating for your new intranet and can inform the layout of pages. It involves a smaller group than task testing and card sorting and is a little harder to do remotely.
14: Create pilot groups on new intranet.
If your project timeline allows it, include a period for pilot groups to test out your new social intranet. Most social intranet software includes features for groups (communities, teams, etc) to work together online. Carefully select groups for the pilot phase. Try starting with teams or employee communities that are either tech savvy already or that are most in need of online collaboration tools. Be sure to listen carefully to your pilot users and treat them as partners. The pilot effort can provide critical insights into how to launch and manage group pages and pilot users may become active champions who help with adoption after launch.
15: Identify community managers for early adopter groups.
A key component of social intranets is community spaces and a key success factor for online communities is having effective community managers. A community manager is like a content gardener and an online facilitator. By building a community management strategy into your intranet plan you can increase the chances of adoption of the new social intranet and ensure employees get real value out of it.
As you identify communities that could benefit from your new social intranet, reach out to staff members whom you think would make effective community managers based on their role and their relationship with colleagues. Provide them with plenty of guidance and resources.
Build a culture of collaboration, together
The end results most organizations seek from their social intranets are high levels of connection, knowledge sharing, and employee engagement. The best way to achieve this is to take a truly collaborative approach to planning and launching your social intranet. Putting the time in and actively engaging all of your stakeholder groups from the beginning will reflect positively on your end result and the success of your new intranet.
Read more about the key elements that can help maximize adoption and promote user engagement in our article, 5 steps for crafting an internal communications plan for your intranet project.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2011 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.