Intranet Content Programming: Connect With Your Audience

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (07-Jan-2009)

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Intranet owners and content managers are a lot like television executives and program directors. They need to develop content to cater to a demographically diverse audience, and keep them interested enough to return on a regular basis.

Developing content and deciding when and where to post it is a gentle balancing act for intranet owners and content managers. If they put too much time and effort into any one user group, they risk alienating other users who will then complain that their intranet doesn't offer them anything useful. On the other hand, if they try to cover too much ground, they risk spreading themselves thin and will end up doing many things adequately but no one thing very well.

To successfully develop intranet content and connect with an audience, intranet owners and content managers must have a good understanding of their audience's professional background and target their content to each user demographic.

Speak your audience's language

An intranet's audience is as wide and varied as the employees that make up the organization. Users have different professional backgrounds, skill sets, and areas of expertise. And depending on their job, they might also have a language that's unique to their profession.

Every user group has its own content needs—not only in term of subject matter, but also in terms of content style and tone. For example, it's unrealistic to expect a lay person to absorb a highly technical white paper with the same understanding as an engineer.

When developing intranet content, always keep these tips in mind:

Make content a two-way street

When it comes to developing content, users should never be treated with condescension—with an attitude of "Don't worry about anything; we know what's best for you." A content manager's job isn't to force-feed an audience the content they think their users will need. Users must have a say over what their intranet has to offer. But this process shouldn't be a guessing game for content managers. There's a reason television show producers use focus groups when developing new shows.

User surveys and intranet usage statistics are often used to gauge both content trends and user satisfaction. They can be used in concert to make an intranet more of an interactive system, as opposed to staring at some boob tube like a mindless drone. Users are more likely to use an intranet if they feel that they have a stake in the future direction of the system.

Keep up with serial content

If you're going to develop serial content—blogs, podcasts, vlogs—make sure that it's something you really want to do, and try to maintain somewhat of a regular schedule. Serial content should never be started on a whim.

It would be a definite plus to come up with a formal schedule—for example, every Monday afternoon—so that users know when to expect the next installment. But it's perfectly alright to maintain an informal schedule as well (for example, once a week, but on different days of the week). What you shouldn't do, however, is post serial content at irregular intervals—especially with large gaps in between posts. At the very least, serial content should have some form of consistency. Don't turn a daily blog into a monthly blog, and then into a biweekly blog. Users will never know when to expect a new post. What's even worse is to visit a blog and discover that the "most recent post" is six months old.

Another crucial question to consider before launching serial content: Are you going to see it through? A corporate blog or podcast might seem like a novel and fun thing to do at first, but serial content requires ongoing dedication. If you build up a steady following and then, a year down the road, get bored and want to stop, you still have an audience out there to think about—an audience that depends on your content. Users' disappointment at the termination of a popular blog, podcast, or vlog can easily carry over to the intranet itself.

Closing thoughts...

It takes more than timely and relevant content for users to connect with an intranet. Rather than adopting a blanket approach, intranet owners and content managers must understand the subtleties in user demographics and target content to specific audiences. Failing to understand the needs and backgrounds of your users can drastically shorten the lifespan of the system. And the last thing you want is for your intranet to be cancelled after only one season.

Copyright © 2009 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.