Ilana Friesen has over a decade of communications and intranet management experience. Her experience ranges from traditional platforms, like SharePoint, to social intranets, like ThoughtFarmer. We’re fortunate enough to have her write for our blog.
SharePoint and I had a rocky relationship in the past, but it worked and I was fine with that. It was a decent content management tool, despite the occasional technological glitch. Sure, it wasn’t easy to change page layouts or paste content from other document management sources. And, collaboration happened on separate team sites, making project work clunky at times. But the technology enabled me to review, approve—and essentially control—content before it was published. Being an intranet content approver allowed me to prevent disasters like abstract employee profile photos, awkwardly formatted cafeteria menus, never before seen page layouts, and bizarre witticisms on random pages.
Awhile back I managed a SharePoint intranet used to communicate organizational updates and messages to a complex group of employees. Some were gung-ho about using new technology, while others had a full-on adversity to it. With its lacklustre design and cumbersome features, the traditional intranet was more of a bulletin board than a tool for helping people work better. People hardly used it. When there was talk of upgrading the intranet to help create a culture of openness, collaboration, and community, I was all ears.
Heading into the social intranet unknown
One day I heard some exciting news during a communications team check in—the intranet would be getting a major facelift. The organization was going to adopt ThoughtFarmer’s social intranet software. I’d never managed or even heard of a social intranet. Was it like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but for work? The concept of the digital workplace was relatively new. People mostly worked in physical offices. Actual water cooler discussions around actual water coolers were still a thing.
But then the frightening realization dawned on me—any employee could create and publish content! I envisioned total chaos ensuing after launch: literary fisticuffs in discussion forums; novel-sized news articles on the homepage; HR processes written in Shakespearean English; and clip art-ridden pages. Also, for those who were scared of technology, I had no idea how we were going to convince those folks to adopt a social intranet.
The turning point
The way I saw it, employees weren’t interested in embracing social features or wide authorship—an opinion I based on cultural dynamics and behaviours. Enabling other departments to publish content in the past often resulted in what looked like a host of different intranets in one. I championed for a platform that could centralize the content management and publishing process, but to no avail. The organization wanted to make the leap to a social intranet and I had to get on board.
I made an effort to arm myself with information to help ease my obsession with not being able to control content. I read ThoughtFarmer’s real-world case studies about how organizations with similar goals used social intranet software to transform their organizational cultures and successfully manage content. They didn’t look at wide authorship and open communication as hindering to their accomplishments. They used it to their advantage. It was at that point that my opinion of social intranets started to change.
A new way of working
After we launched our new social intranet, people starting working differently. HR and IT received fewer enquiries. Employee profiles and other rich features enabled colleagues to connect, collaborate, and build relationships. People had quick and easy access to important news and information. They shared opinions, formed communities, and to my surprise, created great content.
Providing content owner training and coaching meant less awkward content interventions in the future. Practical “how-to” videos helped educate employees on how to use new features, like content editing tools. Knowing people had the support they needed to collectively manage our new intranet made it easier to relinquish control. Plus, the time I saved reviewing and approving content allowed me to focus on other priorities like creating a killer intranet strategy.
Before I used ThoughtFarmer’s social intranet, I favoured SharePoint for its structured content management process. What I realized after adopting a social intranet is that I could manage content without controlling it. Narrow authorship, restricted to a handful of people with editor permissions, hindered real-time connections. It also delayed the delivery of important messages. On a social intranet, I accomplished everything I needed to do at work in a central location.
I saved a lot of time editing and approving content—a big part of my job as a SharePoint intranet manager. Experiencing both platforms has provided me insight into what it’s like to manage a traditional and social intranet. Given the choice in today’s digital workplace, I’d make a social intranet my sidekick any day.
Read our article, What is a social intranet? The definitive explanation to learn more about social intranets and their key role in today’s digitally-powered workplace.