Considering how much social networking websites have changed over the 4 years between our social-intranet research rounds, it’s remarkable that almost all of our original findings continue to hold. Given this stability, it’s very likely that the following conclusions will remain true for many additional years:
Little training is required. Users take to social tools easily when they’re given them for the right reasons and in the right work context. It takes little training, transition time, or urging to get people on board. In general, you should design social tools that employees can easily use without special training. In addition to following usability guidelines, you can achieve this goal by emulating popular designs, such as the 5-star rating system known from Amazon and Netflix. Two other important points to bear in mind:
Even people who heavily use internet social tools can benefit from training on the appropriate code of conduct for using social tools in the corporate context.
Avoid advertising the new tools as “new tools.” Instead, simply integrate them into the existing intranet, so that users encounter them naturally. For example, you could turn an existing bookmarking (or Quicklinks) feature into a socially shared bookmarking feature without great fanfare.
Designing social media for an intranet gives you a major advantage over similarly tasked internet designers. You know enough about employees and their workto pre-select stuff that they’ll likely find interesting. You can, for example, pre-populate news feeds with relevant information; if you offer users a blank screen to customize, they’ll often experience the social-media equivalent of writer’s block.
Community management is vital in social environments. Community managers are most effective when they manage with a light hand, guiding the conversation rather than controlling it. Designated community managers should serve as facilitators and moderators; they can also reignite slow areas. Ultimately, by keeping a finger on the pulse, community managers will know when it’s time to pull the plug on a topic rather than flog it beyond its time.
Not all users are producers. Although social software has matured, the participation–contribution ratio has remained steady. As with the open internet, there’s substantial participation inequality in enterprise communities: some employees participate a lot, while others mainly lurk. It’s therefore important to value a community based on a combination of posting and use, because those who lurk also benefit.
When calculating ROI, it’s important to give your Enterprise 2.0 initiative credit for the value that employees contribute to the company based on their increased knowledge and understanding.
Even a few active contributors can add substantial value to the entire organization. In our case studies, this was often true for tagging and rating systems, which considerably improved the quality of results prioritization for notoriously ailing intranet search tools. Traditional web methods for relevancy scoring don’t work as well on the smaller scale of most intranets. For example, counting links works only if you’re doing so across a huge base of links. But, even if only a few employees tag a page with a given keyword, it’s likely that the page will produce a good search result for that query in your organization’s context.
The relationship between “official” and user-generated content is a delicate dance. As it grows, user-generated intranet content can help address many employee questions. However, official content about policies and positions still has a role. You shouldn’t segregate these two types of content — the guideline to provide a single federated intranet search, for example, remains more relevant than ever. Still, your design should reflect the different statuses of different content types: label official information as such, and perhaps color-code it as well for easy scannability on SERPs (search engine results pages) and other lists.
Search must be integrated. In the enterprise, information retrieval is always a challenge. Social adds another layer of complexity and an exponential amount of data to parse. The social stream is swift and rich with knowledge, and search is the only realistic way of harnessing that information. In user testing of intranet search, we’ve found that it’s essential to provide a single, unified search across all intranet resources. This finding was replicated for social intranet features: they should be searched as part of the overall intranet search, rather than having individual siloed search engines for each social tool. Depending on the implementation, the need for integrated search can be a strong argument against outsourced or hosted social software, because many SaaS services don’t support federated search.
Today, many companies see intranet information sharing and other social features as offering true competitive advantages. It’s not something to build because it’s fun — it’s a workday utility. Social tools are an expected part of a knowledge worker’s standard toolkit, and many executives recognize this.
Although many companies have official management support for social intranets, others are not yet ready. A company culture that values openness and communication is essential for social projects to succeed. Absent such a culture, adding deep social features is probably wasted effort as employees or managers won’t want to use them.
Widespread use of internal social media breaks down communication barriers. Although that sounds good, it can threaten people accustomed to having a monopoly on information and communication. Ironically, corporate communications departments sometimes resist the move to broader communication. They’re better served, however, in finding ways to increase new media’s value rather than trying to suppress it.
So, before implementing intranet collaboration tools, you must consider your company culture. If people are strongly committed to the “knowledge is power” tenet and don’t want to share, then sharing technologies will obviously fail.
Also, there’s still concern that, given social tools in the workplace, workers will fritter away their days and not get any work done. What we actually find — in companies with vibrant social platforms — is that employees are no more inclined to fritter away their work hours on non work-related communication with social tools than they were likely to do before these tools existed.