Creating and growing a useful and used intranet is challenging; success is not guaranteed. Many companies have focused on document management, or team collaboration. Obviously, these are important activities that intranets should support. But Bryan Schoening (pictured right), the co-founder and Chief Product Officer at ElevatePoint, argues that a successful intranet should provide a much more “comprehensive communication experience”.
Founded in 2009, ElevatePoint helps companies of all shapes, sizes, and industries to create modern intranets that drive internal communications and strategic alignment – something that Schoening and the team at ElevatePoint refer to as “purpose driven work”. Ultimately, its technologies and services help organisations to implement a communication-based intranet for better employee engagement.
Schoening has a background in technology that goes back to the early ‘80s. He has been at C-levels at several start-ups, and worked for Microsoft for about 10 years: he helped to develop the features for some of Microsoft’s best known product offerings including Office and SQL Server. But, since co-founding ElevatePoint, Schoening has been working closely with corporate communications teams to understand and address the common challenges they face when they need to build, roll out, and evolve their company intranets.
Schoening keeps in mind the many purposes of an intranet, while helping comms teams get the best results from their communications.
In this interview, he walks MARGINALIA through the challenges and components of a communication-based intranet. The objective is to improve employee engagement and increase intranet use, and he offers four vital components.
Gloria Lombardi: Based on the feedback that you receive daily, what are the main challenges that companies face with their intranets?
Bryan Schoening: Typically, we hear five types of statements from companies – whether they are large or small organisations:
1. After having invested time and money into the intranet, employee adoption and usage is very low, and the stakeholders cannot figure out why.
2. The intranet is used to store documents, and while the organisation recognises the platform is capable of doing much more, it doesn’t know how to move past the basics.
3. The intranet is ungoverned and in disarray: there is almost no information architecture in place or, if there is, it is poorly designed. The content is spread out all over the intranet. Nobody can find what they need, which of course, undermines employee trust and adoption.
4. The current intranet simply does not manage communications well, and management are wary about developing a custom solution that could be time consuming and costly.
5. Finally, we hear a lot from communicators in particular, that the organisation suffers from unmanaged and unmeasured ad-hoc communications. Ultimately, employees complain about communication overload and poor message relevance.
GL: What is your advice to organisations that would like to overcome these obstacles?
BS: It’s a matter of focus and goals. An intranet may feel like a general platform for everything and anything, but communications should be a priority for many organisations.
Our view at ElevatePoint, is that an effective modern intranet must include a robust, pervasive, engaging, and personalised, communication experience.
GL: Could you walk me through each component and share some guidance on those four areas? Let’s start with the robust aspect.
BS: Company intranets often show only the latest news articles on the home page (and only the home page) using a rudimentary list of headlines. That’s fine, and it can achieve some organisational goals.
But to deliver truly relevant and useful communications, a fully-featured and robust solution is needed; something that goes beyond the simple list or carousel of news on the home page.
A good communication solution should include a dedicated centralised publishing centre: the area for content contributors to go and get their work done. It should have an editorial calendar that allows the team to manage the whole editorial process in a consistent way. It has to have reusable news presentation components that can be incorporated across the intranet. And, the ability to tag and classify articles for easy categorisation drives powerful scenarios such as news targeting and search. The solution should support the news contributors as well by delivering a great reading experience.
Another critical aspect of a robust solution is measurement. Without analytics, communication teams can’t know the effectiveness of their communications strategy. They end up being unable to adjust or pivot their work in an informed way to better engage the workforce. That is problematic. A solution must be able to provide both high level and aggregated analytics around views, social interactions, top readers, etc. So the comms teams can understand which communications are effective and less effective, and then make tactical adjustments.
A robust solution supports the entire communication life cycle – from planning to scheduling, publishing, and monitoring employee interactions.
GL: What about the pervasive component of a communication experience?
BS: We typically design a homepage to incorporate the latest news, popular news, and highly rated news (items with high levels of social interaction). The home page is obviously a great place to communicate globally with employees.
But, although homepage news is crucial, the reality is that employees spend most of their intranet time elsewhere.
People may be referring to guidelines within a departmental area, or contributing to a big project via a project site. The news experience needs to pervade the intranet by being present on these important tactical sites. News can be presented contextually across the intranet, not only on the home page. News related to the department, project, or country / location can be presented to those visiting the specific area of the intranet.
GL: What does the engaging aspect of a communication-based intranet mean to ElevatePoint?
BS: Considering how people consume, interact with, and share news outside of work, employees expect a modern news experience in their professional life. The intranet can be the organisation’s news hub, offering different channels, and helping people get involved with the topics that matter to them.
At ElevatePoint, we find that the more we can match the intranet news experience to the familiar public news experience, the greater degree of engagement and adoption can be achieved.
GL: Finally, what can you say about personalisation?
BS: The ability to deliver personalised communications to each person from the same home page or landing page is extremely powerful.
It’s about having the ability to tag and classify news articles, and map topics to people’s profiles. This targeting allows the company to deliver specific communications to each employee via the same homepage / landing page. In other words, different people have a different experience of the home page, so news is always relevant to them.
Personalisation dramatically reduces communications overload and increases message relevancy – because employees only see (by default) the communications that are relevant to them as individuals, based, for example, on what they do and where they work.
They can of course freely browse all the other news – nothing is stopping anyone from doing that. But the goal is to personalise and target news so that people’s experience is relevant and useful.
GL: Implementing a communications-based intranet seems to be an effective way for companies to boost intranet adoption. What are your top tips to develop engagement and trust?
BS: Improve information architecture – make it easy to navigate. It’s vital to get the information architecture right, and to provide clear navigation aids. Never cut corners when planning and testing your information architecture. The time spent ahead of implementation is a valuable investment in the long-term success of your intranet. Get it right in the planning stage or you’ll regret your haste in the months and years ahead.
Flatten site hierarchy and consolidate content into knowledge centres. Many intranets are built upon a deep hierarchy, with multiple levels and sub-sections. This can happen organically over time, particularly when there’s minimal intranet governance in place. They end up allowing anyone to create any sort of site anywhere, with no oversight on the purpose, UX, or look and feel. I advise organisations to use a few levels as possible – ideally just two. Content should be consolidated into a management set of centralised, top-level knowledge centres, including policies, procedures, forms, and similar, topic-specific reference material.
Create a compelling home page experience. The global homepage can make or break how employees feel about the broader intranet. If they don’t like the look or struggle to get around the home page, their enthusiasm for the whole intranet wanes.
So, it is critical to invest heavily in this primary piece of real estate: make it a compelling experience, delivering content that is of highly valued and useful, and lay it out nicely.
Implement good search capabilities. If employees cannot find what they need, they will eventually stop trusting and using the intranet. Implementing a good search centre solution, which has targeted search, refiners, and filters, for example, is an obvious requirement. You want the search experience to support employees research, enabling them to find what they need for their next presentation, allowing them to get the guidance necessary to make their next decision, and to support productivity in every way.