Marketing and Promoting Your Intranet

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (16-Jun-2004)

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Long gone are the days when salesmen travelled from town to town with little more than a suitcase of their wares, a collapsible table, and a slew of empty promises to cure rheumatism, toothaches, and back pain with a single swig from their bottle of magic elixir—a concoction advertised as a paint remover at another town.

Back then, perhaps because of the combined gullibility of uninformed consumers and the quick tongue of slick salesmen, you could sell just about anything to anyone. But nowadays discriminating consumers, a multitude of choices brought on by competitive markets, and more readily available product information and reviews are the rule rather than the exception.

People expect to get what's advertised, and the consequences of not delivering what's been promised will have disastrous long-term effects on their perception of your ability to deliver an end product. These consequences are even greater in a company that makes claims to increased productivity through the implementation of a much heralded corporate-wide system to be introduced by IT. If you make these promises too often, without the results to back it up, employees will begin treating these claims as background noise, with as much weight as their daily dose of spam.

Differences Between Internet and Intranet Marketing

Internet and intranet Web sites, though based on the same technology and may appear outwardly similar, serve two very different purposes. A publically accessible Internet site is a tool used to advertise a company's products or services, whereas an intranet is the product.

And because of this, you need to use different approaches to promote each site. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that there are certain cases where it's not necessary to actively promote an Internet site beyond including its URL with the rest of your corporate advertising—brochures, press kits, television and radio commercials, newspaper ads.

You don't need to promote an Internet site because it's only a marketing vehicle for your products or services; that's what you're trying to sell, not the site. People will most likely seek out a company's Internet site on their own while trying to find product or service details. In this respect, actively advertising an Internet site is akin to advertising a telephone number.

However, an intranet is a completely different matter. An intranet is not a marketing vehicle for a product; it is the product. Without proper system promotion, users won't know about the existence of an intranet or the true value of the content contained within it. And the time, money, and effort expended to build an intranet is far too great to hope users will simply happen upon it by chance.

Intranet Rollout: Loud Versus Quiet

Most company's are familiar with the traditional method of system launch: creating a buildup of expectation, led by a high-profile marketing campaign, prior to the system's official launch date. But a trend that's been gaining momentum is the idea of the non-launch, or a "quiet" launch. Unlike the fanfare often associated with traditional, "loud" launches, quiet launches rely mostly on word-of-mouth and low-key promotion.

The idea of using quiet rollouts as opposed to grand system launches came about as a result of user communities that have grown wary, even cynical, of past IT system rollout failures late launch dates, missing features, marketing that exaggerated true system value, or the system not living up to the hype. Creating a lot of buzz surrounding an intranet launch in this type of cynical environment will cause users to think, "Oh great, here we go again. What is it this time?"

Here's a breakdown of launch characteristics:

Loud Launches Quiet Launches
Uses high-profile marketing campaign to create public awareness of the coming system prior to launch.

Maximum exposure is created to build up the user community's expectations, treating the official launch date as a special event in the corporate calendar.

Best used when the system is 100 percent complete, able to deliver on everything that's been promised, and the user community hasn't been marred by past failed systems.

Little-to-no pre-release marketing campaign or even a formal release date

Relies mostly on word-of-mouth and other low-key promotional methods to gain exposure and public awareness of the system.

Best suited for companies whose user community has grown wary of past IT system rollout failures.

Ten Ways to Increasing Intranet Exposure

Regardless of whether you decide to implement a high-profile or low-key system launch, there are numerous ways to increase intranet exposure from within your company. Many of the methods mentioned below can be used concurrently and will be most effective when you understand your user community.

1. Intranet Presentations
It's not always feasible to provide presentations to the entire company—especially for larger corporations with thousands of employees, or employees working from remote, satellite offices where time zone differences with corporate headquarters may make it difficult.

But presentations can be given to smaller groups—department heads, group and project leaders—highlighting key intranet features and the types of content that can be found in the system. Then they, in turn, can introduce the system to their own staff.

The added benefit of this top-down approach will allow intranet marketers to adapt their presentation to focus on each department's key needs (targeted marketing is discussed below). And, since you're presenting to much smaller groups of key individuals, satellite offices can be introduced to the intranet with the use of a real-time Web conferencing software such as WebEx a tool that I've had success with in the past.

2. Targeted Marketing
Rather than using a blanket marketing model to introduce your intranet to potential users, you should focus on the needs of each individual department or workgroup, highlighting the features and content that will be of the most use to them.

Since first impressions play such a big role in system adoption, users should always be made aware of those features that will be most applicable to them during their initial exposure to the system. Once their attention has been piqued, they will most likely explore other areas of the intranet on their own and find more relevant information. No amount of marketing will match the effectiveness of a user's curiosity.

3. Word-of-Mouth
All non-secured information contained within an intranet should have an "E-mail this article to a colleague" feature that allows users to forward an article, or a link to an article, to someone else in the company. This works well in a company that's adopted the quiet method of system rollout since it allows the user community to create awareness of the system through word-of-mouth. In a sense, this acts as a user-based version of targeted marketing because employees who are not aware of the system will receive information most applicable to them from their own colleagues and will, therefore, be more likely to read it.

4. Create Brochures and Posters
A colorful, one-page brochure will go a long way towards creating awareness of your intranet. But in order to be effective, an introductory brochure must remain simple; the longer it is, the less likely people will be to read it. It must contain several important pieces of information: the intranet's URL, screen shots of the main page and any other key pages, and a short description of the system's purpose (i.e., its mission statement) and main features.

In addition to a brochure, you can place eye-catching, easy-to-read posters advertising your intranet in high-traffic areas such as near main entrances, foyers, and the cafeteria. And since many companies have their own internal communications and graphics departments, their skills can be put to good use in order to accomplish these tasks.

5. Intranet Merchandise
Intranet exposure can be increased by creating free or low-cost intranet branded merchandise such as mouse pads, pens, letterheads, and stickers, just to name a few. But, depending on the other ongoing promotional activities that you may have going at the same time, you may discover that the cost of producing these items in large quantities may not be worth the payoff.

6. Send Regular Newsletters
To keep existing intranet users up-to-date and to introduce the system to new users, include a feature allowing users to subscribe to regular e-mail based "What's New" newsletters that list the latest additions to the intranet with active links to the content.

The advantage here is that it allows you to steer users directly to the intranet (as opposed to including the full text of the information on the e-mail) where they will find not only the information associated with the link they clicked on in their e-mail, but hopefully, other useful content that they may discover along the way.

7. Name Contest
One of the most popular and successful methods of creating exposure for your intranet is by holding a contest giving your employees the opportunity to come up with a name and/or logo for the system. The prize for the winning entry could be anything from gift certificates to extra vacation days.

8. Use a Recognizable URL
Your intranet's URL is just as important as its brand (intranet branding is discussed in my article Intranet Standardization: All For One, and One For All). And as such, it must be short and memorable—something that can be quickly typed into a Web browser regardless of whether you have the site bookmarked. For example: is good; is not.

9. Use an E-Mail Signature
Key intranet players—content owners, developers, designers—can place a link and short description or catch phrase into their internal e-mail signature.

10. Intranet as a Base of Support
Implementing online discussion forums can be a good way to direct users—users who may not normally visit the intranet—to the system.

Discussion groups allow employees to post questions—technical or otherwise—to other employees in the company, tapping into that huge pool of combined knowledge represented by all staff members. This will eventually produce a large network of internal support and, if done properly, will be the first place employees go to to find answers to their questions.

Bonus Tip: Watercooler Content
Some companies have had success with creating fun, non-work-related pages—jokes, comic strips, fun-facts, entertainment listings—to lighten the overall mood of the intranet.

But be warned: this is not for everyone. You need have a firm understanding of your company's corporate culture (see my past article The River Wild: The Influence of Corporate Culture on Intranets) and whether or not it will support this type of watercooler content. A serious, all-work-and-no-play culture may look upon this type of content as frivolous and may, in some users' eyes, devalue the purpose of the intranet.

Final Thoughts

Whether you decide to have an official launch full of fireworks or a low-key, under-the-radar rollout that relies on user word-of-mouth will depend on your understanding of the user community and corporate culture. A hip and novel approach may work well for a young design firm but may be seen as gimmicky and unprofessional by a financial institution.

Regardless of which approach you decide to take, all activities associated with an intranet promotional campaign must be part of a whole—a singular, cohesive marketing plan—and not several independent efforts. After all, is there anything more annoying than walking down a boulevard flanked on either side by town criers hawking their wares—each screaming their pitch at the top of their lungs?

Copyright © 2004 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of this article in whole or part in any form without prior written permission of Paul Chin is prohibited.