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Everyone’s on Facebook, Why Aren’t They on the Intranet Too?

Thanks to all who came to my presentation at the ACMP 2011 conference – as promised you can find my entire presentation here!

In the fall I wrote a guest post entitled, “But I Don’t WANNA Change” about using change management techniques to encourage the adoption of social media within organizations. Over the past six months, I have seen how many people are interested in this topic, and I will be discussing it again at the Association for Change Management Professional’s conference May 1-4. One thing I have learned, however, is that even though social media is sweeping the world, that doesn’t mean your internal platform will engage your employees.

Social Media is Fast

Over the past five or six years we have seen a societal transformation take shape. Social Media has forever changed the way the world communicates. At the root of that change is behavior change; the idea that people had to learn to start doing something in a new way. There are always those early adopters (think Twitter users in 2007, Facebook users in 2004), but generally large-scale adoption of new communications tools takes years, often decades (think radio and television) – until now. Social media has raced across the globe in just a few years, with billions now taking part.

Social media has even had time to have what I call ‘nano-changes’ (nano as in rapid changes within a larger change). In the last several years we’ve seen a remarkable shift from blogs and discussion forums to instant update platforms like Twitter and Foursquare. There has also been a substantial move to mobile technology.

Behavior Change is Slow

So how does understanding this information help you build a successful internal social media platform? Because to unleash the power of social media you have to understand human behavior. We are social creatures, but businesses that assume our social tendencies will ensure the success of a new collaboration platform are gravely mistaken. Why? Because they underestimate one crucial human behavior, we are social creatures AND creatures of habit. Change is hard, change is work, and getting people to change behavior requires significant effort.

These platforms often fail because:

1. They are poorly implemented and explained
2. Users don’t have a clear understanding of why using the site will help them
3. Leadership doesn’t lead by example and engage users via the platform
4. The tools don’t provide meaningful, updated information
5. They weren’t designed with the end-user in mind, so the user interface is complicated or confusing
6. They don’t continue to evolve

Here’s my take on each of these issues.

1. Solve a specific problem: A poorly implemented and explained IT implementation will always fail. (And make no mistake building an internal collaboration platform is an IT implementation.) My previous post has some detail around this particular issue, but one point reigns supreme: build the platform to meet a business need. Define the goal clearly and help employees understand how this new platform will achieve that goal. Is your goal to train employees, improve morale, or communicate more effectively to a global workforce? Define the goal, then design the platform to achieve it, and then communicate the hell out of it!

2. Clear vision: If users don’t understand what it is or why they should use it, it’s because the vision for the project was not clearly articulated. Take this example:

We are designing a web portal that through a user authentication process will enable simultaneous global interactions in a safe, behind-the-firewall employee collaboration platform.
We’re creating a secure website where our employees can collaborate, share ideas, and inspire one another.

Articulating the vision is leadership’s responsibility, and the first step is to make certain people understand the critical elements. The second message clearly explains what it is, who it’s for, and what the benefits are, without using jargon.

3. Lead by example: If your CEO is still sending mass emails to everyone instead of launching the latest firm initiative via the new platform, then employees are receiving conflicting messages. Not only that, but if leadership is noticeably absent from the blogs, discussion forums, or communities created in the new platform then they are not reinforcing the use of the tool by modeling the behavior they expect to see – the employee thinks, ‘well the boss doesn’t use it, why should I bother to learn how?’

4. Content drives adoption: If people find the content engaging, informative, and useful they will return, if they don’t they are history. There are two parts to this: first, the content must be provided in an interesting manner. Don’t just post the company’s newsletter on the platform – make it interactive, use the discussion forum to determine the content for the next newsletter, etc. Second, the content needs to be consistently updated, which means you have to allocate enough resources to make sure the platform stays relevant and organized.

5. User first! It is always surprising to me how often the simplest (and arguably most important) issue is lost in the myriad of technical details – if the user experience is poor, they won’t use the site. Very few people will take the time and money to do a full, extensive usability review, but there are other options. First, there is ‘do-it-yourself’ usability that can be quite helpful. Steve Krug has a great book on this topic that has practical tips that really can improve any website. Another solution is to launch your new platform in beta, tell everyone it’s in beta, ask for their honest, candid feedback, and then (here’s the trick) listen to them! People are MUCH more forgiving of a new platform if they can see the site improving and evolving, which brings me to my last point…

6. Evolve, evolve, evolve: A platform that doesn’t grow with the needs of its users, no matter how well promoted it is, will ultimately stagnate and die. You don’t have to have a complete overhaul every six months, but you do have to continue to provide your users with more value. The other key here – don’t just add stuff, go back to your business drivers and add the stuff that reinforces those business objectives. Ask users what features or functionality they would like, and if it’s technically feasible give it to them.

Each of the issues above are core change management principles: creating a sense of urgency, articulating a clear vision, leading by example, and gathering feedback to continually evolve are all crucial steps to ensuring a successful internal collaboration implementation. It’s not build it and they will come, it’s more like build it, do all of this hard work, get them involved, and then they will come! But hey, better that than yet another wiki that no one uses, right?

After next week’s conference I will update this post with a link to my presentation.

First Photo Credit: Flickr, myretailmedia

Second Photo Credit: Flickr, jhoward413

Michael Murray is an Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he has helped clients use social media to engage people around the world and in the office across the hall.

Original post is available on “Social Media Strategery.”

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I’d also add that there are lots of different forms of social intranets that have very different outcomes.

Some are very “feed driven” – which is like Twitter or Facebook. For example, this is more like Salesforce Chatter. This is very good for serendipity. Not as good for longer discussion or sharing lots of info like a wiki or building a doc or full blog post.

Other social intranets are more GovLoop style with home page a mix of blogs, discussions, wiki, groups. A lot of these may be less active than a pure stream but different value proposition (really good content – more robust knowledge, better longer discussions)

Part of it to me is what you are trying to model and what problem to solve.

Courtney Shelton Hunt

Great insights, Mike.

GovLoop’s comment reinforces the importance of the guidance around points 1 & 2 in the post: defining your goals and objectives is the critical first step to ensuring success.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that there are many software packages that can provide organizations with what they need. Knowing they can buy the necessary IT capabilities, with little or no customization, can help project leaders shift the focus of the design and implementation phases to content and communication, emphasizing the fact that this is fundamentally a “people” initiative rather than a “technology” initiative.

And one last thought relative to point 3: in addition to having leaders engage and demonstrate their own commitment to the intranet’s success, it’s also important to identify other key influencers and have them assume leadership roles early on to help seed and feed content and develop momentum.

Courtney Hunt

Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

Michael Murray

GovLoop – I couldn’t agree more! There are a lot of different options when considering social networks and to choose what’s right for your organization starts by defining the business need. What problem are you trying to solve? Determine that and then you can have an intelligent conversation about what platform/tools/options are best for your organization!

Thanks for the comment!

Michael Murray


You’re absolutely right – there are a LOT of off-the-shelf options out there and for many organizations they can be used quite easily with little customization. Unfortunately in my experience what that means is the money gets sent somewhere else instead of to where it should be sent – to the PEOPLE side of things. The communications, training, and engagement necessary to successfully launch these networks is always underestimated. The bean counters think, ‘great, we just saved $5K, let’s do something else with it,’ instead of saying, ‘great, we’ve got an extra $5K to make sure people use this thing!’ 🙂

You’re absolutely right about identifying those ‘key influencers’ and getting them involved. That’s why I’m such a firm believer in a guiding coalition having more than just senior level staff. It needs to have junior staff, middle managers, and senior staff. Then each of them should act as change agents within their spheres of influence, until the effect is exponential within the organization.

Thanks for the comment!

Courtney Shelton Hunt

Thanks for your response, Michael. You made explicit what I was implying with my comment about intranet projects being “people” initiatives. New technologies may make these projects relatively inexpensive from a “cash out the door” perspective, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense to do them on the cheap. That can’t be emphasized enough it seems…