There’s a lot of confusion around social intranets—what they are, what they include, if they’re any good.
This short article will address these questions in the clearest way possible. And for that, we need to first address…
The social intranet fad
A short time ago “social intranets” were a big fad in the intranet world. They were solutions that mimicked popular social media tools in an attempt to improve employee engagement and social interactions.
Many of these failed, for many different reasons. But, one of the primary reasons was because they were purely social. They didn’t offer useful work-relevant tools that helped employees get their jobs done.
When I refer to social intranets in this article, I’m not referring to the social intranets above. I’m referring to intranets that first act as intranets (help people to get their work done), then support and encourage social behaviour in a company.
The reason I’m doing that is because there are many of these social intranets still on the market, and they advertise themselves with that language.
What is an intranet?
As you can already tell, the language surrounding intranets is complex. To keep our heads straight, here’s a simple definition of an intranet:
An intranet is an online network that’s private to your organization.
In short, it’s intent is to help employees get work done—to find important documentation, know who does what, and stay updated on company news. To some extent an intranet is like a digital version of your physical office.
What makes an intranet “social”?
The fundamental philosophy underlying social intranets is to connect people. A social intranet is one that connects people to each other, not just files and updates.
But, a “social intranet” should be an intranet first. It should provide the tangible benefits of an intranet. Then it can do a great job of encouraging social behaviour.
What are social intranet features?
The easiest way to describe social intranet features is to say that they’re features that enable communication and connection to people.
There are common ones, such as company blogs and activity streams, but there are so many more. Too many to list. And, even if we could list them, it wouldn’t be particularly useful…
Firstly, as mentioned above, intranet companies have taken very different approaches to building social intranets. So, you most likely won’t find an intranet with all of these features.
Secondly, even if you had an intranet with all of these features, you may not end up with the social behaviour you’re looking for. The next section explains why.
How do you find the right social intranet features for you?
Really, the best way to find out if you want social intranet features is to not start with a list of features at all.
If you started this way—with a list of features you want—you’d probably end up with a great looking toolbox of interesting features, but they wouldn’t map to your needs or help you achieve your end-goal.
Instead, you should start by clarifying what your needs are: What results do you want to achieve with your intranet?
By starting in this way, you’re more likely to find a solution that’s right for you. You can take your list of desired results to an intranet provider and ask them to explain how their platform will help you achieve your goals (and has helped others with similar goals).
In this way, you’ll soon find the social intranet that’s right for you. (If you want to check out five of my favourite social intranet features, you can jump to the bottom of this article.)
Do you even want social intranet features?
Before I wrap up this article, it’s worth addressing this question. Many companies don’t even know if a social intranet is right for them. Here’s the truth of the matter...
Social intranets can be incredibly beneficial. They can improve communication and collaboration. They can streamline work and improve morale.
However, they can also be noisy, full of chatter, irrelevant to work, and go completely unused.
Balancing these two dichotomies is extremely challenging, and we’ve written an article on that if you want to learn more.
Never forget that your intranet should be work-relevant. Even if you want it to encourage socializing between employees, your intranet should still help people get their work done. Otherwise, they won’t have a good reason to be using their intranet regularly, and it will quickly become a burdensome task at the bottom of their to-do list.
Ok, but if you had to name a few social intranet features?
Alright, I hear you. You want to walk away from this article with at least some idea of which social intranet features are more mission critical than others. Here are some to consider:
Open publishing rights. Giving everyone in your company the ability to publish articles, updates, and photo albums will lower the barrier to more communication and social behavior. Make sure the publishing feature is easy to use (even for the least tech-savvy employee).
Commenting. A big part of social behavior in a company is enabling a transparent two-way dialogue (between leadership and employees, and among employees). A feature that allows everyone to comment on shared articles, photo albums, and events, encourages social behavior.
Instant messaging. Instant messaging features enable conversations and collaboration between individuals as well as groups. Look out for intranets with instant messaging features that work well on both mobile and desktop.
Activity streams/feeds. These feeds are akin to Twitter but purely internal. They encourage short, live updates that reflect what’s happening at your company in the moment. If everyone has access to the activity stream it can become a very social place, with ‘likes’ and threads of responses.
Recognition. A recognition feature enables employees to publicly recognize each other for good work or going above and beyond. The small details that make up your business will get showcased and everyone will get a better understanding of what’s happening across the company.
Social intranet features will differ from one intranet to the next, but they should all have the same intent: to encourage connections amongst the people in an organization. To find the intranet solution that’s best for you, start with the end results you want to see rather than a list of features. Then get in touch with intranet providers and find out how their solution will help you achieve your results.