9 Tips For a Successful Social Intranet Pilot

You and your team have spent long hours configuring, organizing, and testing your new social intranet. After careful planning and lots of work, you’re just about ready to roll the intranet out across your entire organization.

But questions still remain.

Is the information organized correctly? Are the right tools in place? Will people use the intranet the way you hope they will?

Wouldn’t it be great to know the answers to these and other questions before you launch?

That’s where a pilot initiative can help. Give your intranet a test drive—uncovering critical insights and confirming your approach—before launching your new social intranet across your entire organization.

Here are some tips that will make your pilot a success.

Tip #1: Pilot around a specific event or project

Without an actual task to perform, how will people know if the intranet can work in real-world scenarios? Ensure that the pilot is more than an exercise in random-clicking by centering it around an actual business event or project. Some events or projects that you could use for a pilot are:

  • An off-site strategy meeting
  • An upcoming tradeshow
  • The intranet project itself

Penn State Outreach launched a ThoughtFarmer intranet within a tight timeline. To maximize adoption, they designed a user-centred, attention-grabbing, and interactive launch campaign which included a 20-person pilot. Made up of campus-wide volunteers, the pilot helped the launch team see how the software performed before the official launch.

Tip #2: Choose the right group

Size: Keep your pilot group size manageable. You need enough people participating to make it interesting and useful—10 to 50 people is a good size.

Attitude: Choose people who aren’t afraid to experiment or use new technology. Start with people who are tech savvy or with groups that are most in need of online collaboration tools.

Seniority: Try to get one or more senior leaders to actively participate in the pilot. The rest of the group will be more likely to view the pilot as important.

Tip #3: Include an influential senior person

If you don’t own the budget for your project, get the involvement of the person who does. If that’s not possible, involve a senior person who can make things happen. Your pilot will be more successful if it influences the people who approve the budget.

Tip #4: Set up a basic navigation structure

Develop a basic navigation structure to help users complete tasks during the pilot. It’ll provide some direction and organize how users interact with the pilot intranet—much easier than starting off with a blank slate.

Sample top-level navigation structure:

  • People (Employee Directory)
  • Policies & Procedures
  • Locations
  • Tools & Links
  • Departments
  • News
  • Community Forum

You might also try building out the structure underneath some of the top-level items.

Departments:

  • Finance
  • HR
  • IT
  • Communications
  • Research & Development
  • Sales & Marketing

Be careful not to get too granular in the way you define the initial information structure, or your intranet might seem too restrictive. Stick to one or two levels from the global (or top-level) navigation. With a well-designed social intranet, it’s easy to move pages if you need to subdivide or rearrange sections in the future.

Tip #5: Populate some initial content

Users learn by example. People find it easier to imitate content if they see how others have already populated it. Social intranets are generally easy-to-use—as long as people see that something is possible, they can usually figure out how to do it on their own.

Populate user profiles. Employee profiles are a central part of any intranet. Populate them with an initial import from your active directory system with as much data as you have available.

Make it a group effort. You can populate a bunch of content in a single day. Try getting four or five of your pilot members together for an all-day content population fest. Penn State University used this approach to populate content prior to their intranet launch.

Give users a reason to return. In the early stages of the pilot, make sure there’s something new on the homepage every day. News items, polls, or the cafeteria menu work well for this purpose.

Tip #6: Set up email notifications

Many social intranet solutions send an email when someone responds to your comment or edits a page you’ve created. Make sure these notifications are enabled—they keep online conversations flowing and drive repeat traffic to the pilot site.

Tip #7: Set up a collaboration space

Use the team collaboration features available on your intranet to encourage interaction and online collaboration during the pilot. A dedicated discussion forum provides users with a community space to actively share feedback and document findings while testing out new features. As with other intranet pages, pilot users will benefit from receiving an email notification anytime content is updated on group pages.

Tip #8: Assign specific tasks to the pilot group

Give your pilot group specific tasks to accomplish on the intranet. It’ll help you gather useful feedback while people interact with the new social software. Sample tasks:

  1. Add a photo of yourself and fill out your employee profile
  2. Share the agenda of your next meeting on the intranet
  3. Forward a useful email thread to the intranet (if it supports automatic page creation from emails)
  4. Publish a news item about the intranet pilot and upload a supporting video

Tip #9: Promote, launch, and follow up

Promote. Prior to the pilot, send several email communications to your group to get them excited about participating. Include links to any collaboration spaces you create. This will encourage participants to check out new features and get to know each other.

Launch. Hold a launch event for the pilot. If you’re in a single office, reserve a boardroom, run a short demo, assign tasks, and provide some snacks or treats. If people are dispersed across multiple locations, launch via a web conference. Try pairing your email communication strategy with short videos to create a human connection with pilot users (especially if they don’t physically work together).

Follow up. Schedule group or individual follow-up meetings for the week after the pilot launch. See how users are doing with their tasks, and answer any questions they may have. A weekly or biweekly group meeting to review progress will help keep things moving. After the pilot, consider sending an online survey to gather the group’s feedback on their experience and any additional suggestions for improvement.

Create an intranet that people will love

The confidence of knowing you’re moving ahead with an intranet that people will love is an important benefit of testing out your new social intranet. You’ll have the opportunity to fine tune any details based on crucial feedback and ensure the hard work you’ve put in meets your diverse audience’s needs. It’s a win-win for the project team and the organization, and a way to ensure you launch an intranet that helps people work better, together.

Involving employees in each stage of your intranet project helps build a shared purpose and encourages adoption. Find out more in our article, 15 ways to engage users in building a new social intranet.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2009 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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