A growing number of organisations are wondering how they can improve their intranets so they are used more effectively by staff. At Work Out Loud we firmly believe that the best approach is to make your intranet more ‘social’ so it becomes the place staff go to in order to discuss ideas with colleagues, share information, and collaborate on projects.

Here we explain why traditional intranets can become moribund, and look at the different ways you can go about creating a more social intranet.

Traditional intranets

Many organisations now have internal websites – or intranets – which are used to share information with staff.  Typically they are used to communicate news and key messages, and as a convenient place to store company wide information like staff directories, internal forms and HR policies.

Despite all the work that is put into them, traditional intranets tend to be poorly used. Staff will go to them if they need to look up an HR policy or download a holiday form, but don’t visit them on a regular basis.

One of the reasons for this is that traditional intranets were only designed for one way communication. So while employees could read the latest company news, they couldn’t post a comment or raise a question about it. Nor were staff able to post their own news and information, or link up with colleagues across the organisation.

Social intranets

Businesses have come to realise that while employees do not spend much time on their corporate internet, they do use social software platforms – like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter – to communicate with colleagues and friends. As a result many are now trying to create their own ‘social intranet’

A social intranet enables staff to link up with colleagues across the organisation to share information, collaborate on particular projects, and of course socialse with each other. Organisations which have successfully introduced social intranets find that they not only boost usage, but lead to real productivity improvements by helping staff to work out loud [add link to page defining what ‘work out loud’ means].

There is no hard and fast definition of a social intranet,  but you would expect one to have tools that enable staff to:

  • Create their own personal profiles like the ones found on Facebook or LinkedIn.
  • Message colleagues
  • Write their own blogs, and post comments on any page.
  • Set up collaborative working spaces where they can get together with colleagues to work on particular projects.
  • Create their own personalised ‘activity streams’ which alerts them when relevant new content is added to the intranet.

Of course as well as being more social, intranets still need to fulfill some of their traditional functions and make it easy for staff to find  HR forms, policies, and other key company information.

How do you create a social intranet?

There are two broad approaches to creating a social intranet. The first is to use a dedicated platform solution, and the second is to develop the functionality you want with the help of a content management system.

Platform solutions

Platform solutions are cloud based applications where your organisation buys its own private area on a SAAS (software as a service) basis, paying a monthly or annual fee for each user.

The big advantage of using an established platform is that it will have well developed ‘social’ features which you can deploy straight away.

Platform solutions are a good choice for organisations where the priority is to increase online social interaction and collaboration, and to create online communities. However while you can add corporate branding, and configure how it works, you will not have as much control over the look and feel of a platform solution as you would get from building your own social intranet.

There are a now a huge range of platform solutions available. Some like Jive and IBM Connections are aimed at large corporates, while others others like Confluence and Socialtext can provide cost effective solutions for smaller organisations. You can even create ‘free’ social intranets using products like Google Sites.

There are inevitably advantages and disadvantages to using a platform solution.

  • Pros


    • You can deploy a new social intranet very quickly as no development is required
    • The social and collaborative working features in an established solution will be much more sophisticated than ones you can normally develop yourself. You also automatically get access to new and improved features as soon as they are released.
    • With a cloud based platform you do not need to worry about how you will host or provide technical support for your intranet.
  • Cons


    • There will be limits on how far you can configure your social intranet to work in a particular way.
    • If your social intranet holds lots of complex content – for example a corporate knowledge base – a platform solution may not be the best way of managing this.
    • Per user licensing can make a SAAS solutions seem expensive. However you will have to balance this ongoing cost against the savings you are likely to make from not having to develop, host, and support your own social intranet.
  • Build your own

    An alternative approach is to build social intranet features into your own intranet. This is something you should consider if you already have have an intranet you are happy with, or need to develop a solution with particular features that you are unlikely to find in platform package.

    Building your own social intranet does involve software development, though the amount required can be reduced if you use a modern content management system (CMS) which comes with a ‘toolkit’ of social software features.

    There is a big range of commercial CMS packages you can use, but these will normally involve both one-off licence fees and ongoing ‘support’ charges.  Alternatively you could use an open-source content management solutions like Drupal and Umbraco which dooes not involve any licensing costs, but will require you to undertake more development work to get your intranet up and running.

    It is more difficult to calculate the overall costs for a bespoke social intrant than it is for a platform solution. As well as any CMS licensing costs, you will need to employ web developers, and buy or lease servers for developing, testing and deploying your intranet.

  • Pros


    • You can tailor your intranet so it has the exact feature and look and feel you want.
    • If you already have an intranet you are happy with it may be more cost effective to add on the social features you need, than to replace it with a package solution.
    • Using a CMS solution makes it easier to manage complex content.
    • Compared to a SAAS solution there may be lower ongoing licensing costs  – or none if you use an open-source CMS like Drupal.
  • Cons


    • The social software tools you get with a CMS ‘toolkit’ is likely to be more limited than the equivalent functionality in a platform solution.
    • It will take longer to develop and deploy your social intranet and you may incur significant up-front costs in doing so.
    • You will have to meet the costs hosting and supporting your intranet.
  • Other options

    Other options

    There are of course other options. You could always implement a social software package alongside your existing intranet, but unless they are well integrated you may find that staff become confused about where to look for information.

  • How do you choose?

    Determining what is the best approach for your organisation may not be straightforward and is likely to involve balancing a lot of competing factors.

    Work Out Loud is not tied to any vendor, and can provide you with the independent advice you need to help you select the right solution for your organisation.

    Contact us to discuss how we can help you make your intranet more social.