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First, what is an intranet?
Definition: An internal website that helps employees get stuff done.
See our full blog post defining “intranet” for a detailed explanation and a fun bit of controversy in the comments.
Next, what is “social”?
“Social” may be the most overused word in technology today. I think you’d find, though, that the average businessperson would struggle to define “social software” and “social media”, resorting to feeble references to Twitter and Facebook.
Social is really just about people interacting with each other. “Social software” is software that enables users to interact with each other. “Social media” is content (“media”) published by a bunch of people who can interact with each other and the content. An “ice cream social” is a party where people interact with each other while eating ice cream. (Given the choice, I’d pick an ice cream social over any other kind of social, any day.)
Definition of “social intranet”
So, to the point of this post. The definitive explanation of a “social intranet”:
An intranet where all employees can author content and connect easily
It takes two things to make an intranet social:
- Authorship: The ability for everyone to create content
- Connections: The ability to see the people behind the content and to connect with them in some meaningful way
Traditional intranets have very narrow authorship, restricted to a small handful with official “editor” permission. Traditional intranets also lack connections. Content is basically anonymous and shows no social context, no connection between pages and specific people.
A social intranet allows all employees to author rich content, connects every piece of content to a specific, living and breathing person, and helps people connect with each other. On a social intranet the “people layer” permeates the entire site and makes every page more personal and more human.
Origin of the term “social intranet”
I’m proud to say that I coined the term “social intranet” back in early 2009. Well, it might have been Darren (our CEO). Or maybe we both cried out the term in unison during a moment of epiphany in a meeting. We can’t quite remember which one of us it was, except that we both erupted in enthusiasm when we realized we had captured the term that explained what ThoughtFarmer was (and is). I suppose we should have recorded the event and ran to the trademark office. In any event, we’re pleased the term has taken off.
Not about specific tech tools
We’ve seen some interesting definitions of “social intranet”, some that are too complex and others that define the term based on the specific software tools that have thus far been popular on social intranets (such as blogs, wikis, activity streams, etc.).
Those definitions can be helpful, but limit themselves with reliance on specific technology and formats. Just because you don’t have a blog on your intranet doesn’t mean it’s not social. And the specific tools available next year may not be on this year’s list.
Who knows what new enterprise technology will be common on the intranet of the future? We’re not sure. But we’re pretty sure wide authorship and the formation of connections will be at the core. What really matters is that social intranets humanize the workplace and give every employee a face and a voice.