“Improve working together” and “sharing knowledge more easily” – there are many reasons to choose a social intranet. Nevertheless, these are vague terms that are difficult to grasp for many organizations. Experience shows that this is mainly because they start their project with the wrong approach and ignore the basic needs of the users. The advice: first analyze these needs and then explore how a social intranet can be successful in your organization so that you build a comfortable social intranet for all users.
Step 1: Why do we want a social intranet?
The Social Intranet has proven itself many times as a powerful digital platform. This way of working makes it easier for employees to work together, share knowledge more easily, and organize processes more effectively. These are just a few of the countless possible reasons why setting up a social intranet may be of interest to you. But do all these reasons apply to any organization? This question actually answers itself.
A common mistake is that organizations tend to focus primarily on (cost) technical aspects, security issues, or individual functionalities. This is of course important, but if your social intranet is to be a success, you should focus on the users first. It is much more difficult to convince them of your intranet at a later stage.
Step 2: Motivate and involve
Which factors determine whether your employees will actually use your intranet? The platform must of course be “user-friendly”, which means that users must feel at home there right away, be able to complete tasks easily, and find the right way in the group structure without much fuss. This is, above all, a question of (functional) design. But it is most important to first think about what the users will do, how they will do it, and of course why. If you analyze this need correctly, you are guaranteed to have motivated users.
Motivation comes from commitment and not from conviction. Involve the users actively in the project so that it becomes their project, too. After all, they will be the “main inhabitants” of the new digital working environment. They will experience the advantages of the social intranet themselves!
Step 3: Need for assessment
It sounds so simple: first, analyze the need. What do you actually want? What do the employees want? And when you ask them this question, do they have a clear answer? When you start analyzing the needs, you should consider the following three aspects:
1. Information requirements
Social intranets, digital platforms, and information systems are purchased to ensure that the information needs of an organization are well managed. Nevertheless, companies are often not sufficiently able to meet the information requirements with their information systems. Even after the introduction of new platforms and after time-consuming implementation projects, the results sometimes prove to be very disappointing. The cause: The organization does not succeed in properly analyzing the information needs.
What information do you as an organization want to provide? How will the information be found? What can be improved in the existing information provision? These are questions that can be answered by the end user. The information needs depend on the individual’s task (and often vary greatly). It can be about leave procedures, internal announcements, project information, availability of colleagues, etc. If you ask the right questions, you can analyze these needs well. Don’t forget that there is undoubtedly an existing information strategy in your organization (consciously or unconsciously).
2. Digital cooperation needs
Collaborating while your employees work in different locations often leads to inefficient communication (such as an excess of emails). Research shows that physical proximity between employees promotes collaboration. For example, employees in adjacent offices have twice as much contact with each other as with other colleagues.
In a digital collaboration room, offices are virtually side by side. Distances become shorter, making it much easier to share information within groups or departments and to provide immediate feedback to participants, regardless of where the employees are actually located. When planning the digital collaboration room, therefore, you start by interviewing the users. Who has a need for digital collaboration, to what extent is collaboration already taking place digitally, what tools do we use for this, and what do we want to improve with digital collaboration?
3. Cultural need for cooperation
There is not one corporate culture, in every organization, there are all kinds of subcultures. There can also be serious cultural differences between companies. One example, where social and geographical aspects play an important role, is Air France-KLM, a publicly listed company with one central task: the transportation of people and goods by air. To exaggerate, this is the only thing the merged French and Dutch airlines have in common. Basically, they are two companies from different countries, each with its own operating culture – and with a great deal of mutual mistrust (the French allegedly make up for their own losses with a flip of the switch at Schiphol).
This challenge for the large aviation group is also a problem for much smaller organizations. How do you get all parties involved on the same line? The transparent way of working on the social intranet can help. It ensures that everyone receives the same information and can talk to each other about this information. This cooperation will ensure that the island thinking is dissolved.
Further insights for the determination of the company culture can be found in the model of competing values by Quinn and Rohrbaugh (1983). Starting from two axes, primarily focus (internal or external), and structure (flexibility or stability), four organizational cultures emerge: human-centric, administrative, innovative and results-based.
The art of asking the right questions
Actually, a successful social intranet starts with the user and their needs. Once again, a summary of the starting points:
- You want motivated and committed users.
- You can achieve this by analyzing their needs.
- In the needs analysis, you need to ask the right questions, …
- … so that you and the service provider can determine the required functionalities.
It sounds so simple: ask a few questions and you’ll know what you need. Practice is more complicated because everyone has a different opinion. Users have different – and sometimes even contrary – interests or wishes. Therefore, ask the right questions and listen carefully to the underlying and mutual needs.
Always make sure that your questions can be answered! The psychologist Joren van Dijk, who specializes in creating (physical) environments where the user is at the center of attention, claims: “If you conduct an investigation based on a survey, the participants must also be able to answer these questions”. This sounds logical but is often not done, because we assume that other people think and act in the same way as we do. This makes it difficult to put oneself in the place of someone who does not deal with the issue in question on a daily basis (the so-called “false consensus effect”).
Who do I ask my questions to?
A lot can be achieved if you ask the right questions. Users feel they are taken seriously, are happy that their opinion is asked, and that they “have a say” in the content. This gives them the feeling that the social intranet is really their social intranet. So, motivation actually starts with inviting the users (participation). Think about who is being invited and why, and what you want to do with the results:
- Invite the right people (the broadest possible group of people from the whole organization).
- Invite enough people (so that the group is representative).
- Formulate the right questions (which the participants can answer).
- Think about what you will do with the results (objectives).
Conclusion: A demand-oriented intranet ensures success
A user-oriented approach is essential for the success of the social intranet. The art is asking the right questions so that needs are identified. The subsequent implementation of the needs is of course carried out individually in close coordination with the company goals, budget, technical possibilities, and resources. Once the needs have been identified, a framework is created that makes it much easier to choose the right tools and resources. Above all, however, you ensure the success of the investment and ensure satisfaction and commitment.