15 ways to engage users in building a new social intranet


Looking for a clear and simple path to a new intranet? Download our free Intranet Buyers Workbook to learn 10 key steps in evaluating intranet solutions.

Social intranets have changed the rules of successfully launching an intranet. While in the past it was quite helpful to involve employees throughout the process, today it’s a virtual necessity.

A social intranet becomes an online community space and employees need to feel a sense of involvement and ownership starting early in the project so they feel it really is their community.

While many of the opportunities for engagement listed below are standard practice for building a good 1.0 intranet, each one represents an opportunity to build a sense of shared ownership and create a shared sense of excitement over the coming change.

15 ways to engage users

1: Send out evaluation survey for old intranet.

If you’re building a new intranet, chances are the current/old one is no good. But you need a baseline of data to prove it. 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 gripes 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 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 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. Even on a social intranet, good content is critical for success. 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. As important as meeting business and technical requirements is the need to find 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 and listen very closely to their feedback.

8: Run a contest to name the new intranet.

Holding a contest to name the new intranet can build excitement and build the brand of the new intranet. 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 alterntative to the naming process. A company’s culture, the project timeline, or other factors may make a naming committee a better way to select a name for the new intranet than a naming contest. The naming 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.

10: Inventory content on old 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, 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 cupcakes to the content owners who’ll be doing it.

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 tried and true tool for building user-friendly intranet navigations. Our Senior User Experience Designer, Selma Zafar, prefers to use Optimal Sort for online card sorting – an online tool that lets you gather results quickly and from far-flung locations in a way paper card sorting can’t.

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 for an intranet redesign project.

If you’re new to card sorting, check out Donna Spencer’s blog post Card sorting: a definitive guide for oodles of concrete tips and hints.

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.

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, an online facilitator and a sherpa. 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 good community managers and provide them plenty of guidance and resources. If community management is a critical part of your adoption strategy, check out the Community Roundtable, a group of community managers who share best practice stories and hear from experts in the field.

The means ARE the ends

The end results most people 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. The means you use to implement the project from the beginning will be reflected in the ends you achieve.

Looking for a clear and simple path to a new intranet? Download our free Intranet Buyers Workbook to learn 10 key steps in evaluating intranet solutions.


Join The Discussion

  1. Simon Goh

    Thanks for this post Ephraim. I like the point about engaging employees in all stages of the intranet and you offered useful tips on the types of activities we can conduct.

    I’ve been thinking hard recently on the design of social tools as compared to purchasing out-of-the-box solutions. I’m being more granular around the social features that enable the engineering of desired behaviours. And these behaviours should demonstrate clearly how they support key business outcomes such as improved employee engagement, customer satisfaction, revenue opportunities and etc.

    For example, the idea of affiliates: Discovery and recommendation of similar projects so that they can connect and share relevant resources with each other easily. This has an impact on employee engagement and customer satisfaction.


  2. Ephraim Freed

    I think you’re right Simon: Social tools need to align with clear needs of the business and employees so they help people work better. Simply installing social networking software and telling people to use it may create no value at all.

    The flexibility of social tools is a boon and a challenge: While the tools can be adapted in infinite ways to support different processes & needs, that lack of inherent structure leaves people feeling unclear about how to use the tools.

    It’s important to start with the business needs and then see how the available tools can be used or designed to meet those needs.

    It’s also important to remember that by giving every employee a face and a voice and then listening, a company’s leadership can increase employee engagement. This often has positive effects on the bottom line. The vague “employee engagement” value of a social intranet is hard to quantify, but still very important.

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