They're Just Not That into Your Intranet

By Paul Chin

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

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You've jazzed up your intranet. You've worked out all the bugs. You've even put several focus groups together to make sure you're giving users what they need. But, despite your best efforts to woo users, they just give your intranet the cold shoulder.

Unless there are serious system deficiencies, sometimes users are just not that into your intranet. This could be caused by a lack of system knowledge and training. Or it could even be a matter of perception. Perhaps users don't think their intranet is as "sexy" as other information systems. The key to winning users over is to understand the root causes for this apathy. But there are some general things you can do to pique users' interest:

Allow user-created content

Some intranets are unidirectional: They broadcast information to users, and that's all. But users tend to be more interested in things they have a personal stake in. User-created content is a great way to give users a stake in the system. It allows them to be active participants as opposed to spectators. And if you're worried about content credibility, you can implement a content approval process.

Allow content comments

If you don't want to allow user-created content, you could go halfway by allowing content comments (a feature common to most blogs). User comments can be moderated at your discretion (or left completely open) if you're concerned about the appropriateness of the comments.

Consider viral/water cooler content

You can include fun, semi-work related content: A Dilbert-esque comic strip (perhaps a little less cynical though), short video clips, and offbeat industry news. This type of content can help drive users to the system and get them to explore the rest of the site.

Use a microblog

Users—especially novice users—might be intimidated by content heavy intranets and avoid using the system for fear of being overwhelmed by content. A microblog can be used to inform users of new content or features. This way they won't be bombarded with page upon page of information.

Stop selling and start teaching

There comes a time when you just have to stop promoting a product and start giving users useable information. Don't tell them how great it is, show them. Give them practical advice, training sessions, how-to's, and system documentation. It's useable information that will ultimately win users over, not marketing.

Shift focus to users and process

When people talk about their intranets, they concentrate too much time on the tool and not enough on their users and their business processes. Being the owner of a technically advanced system means nothing if users' needs aren't met. It's the processes that help users, not the technology.

Make use of social networking tools

Many companies like to promote a strong corporate culture. Social networking tools can be used to build a sense of community and give intranet contributors and/or employees a "face".

Tailor your approach

When trying to win over your users, tailor your approach to the user type, department, workgroup, or project. You shouldn't use same blanket approach for everyone. Users will get a lot more out of information that's directly applicable to them and their day-to-day job.

Intranet owners must realize that users appreciate substance over flash. While the system might be great to look at, this can wear thin very quickly. Flash will result in an initial spike in system use, but the majority of these are going to be "one-night stands". If you want long term success, your intranet must have more than a pretty face.

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.