Corporate Eye

Talking to yourself: is your intranet really communicating to your employees?

Remember the old printed company newsletter? If you were responsible for writing the monthly articles back then, you were probably stuck listing employee anniversaries and pushing what one former journalist has called “corporate propaganda.”

intranet-sCorporate intranet sites have assumed many of the editorial features of the old monthly newsletters. But almost a decade into the transition, many corporate intranet sites have lost their power to communicate in a relevant, personalized, and effective way with their employee readers. For those corporate communicators who are responsible for maintaining the editorial freshness of their intranets, it’s critical that they keep in mind the needs, interests and reading habits of their audience.

While many complaints about intranets can be technical or navigational in nature, some are just plain communication blunders. Editors and writers seem to have forgotten that the same rules that apply to making an external internet site effective –being easy to read, full of current and interesting information -– apply equally to employees who aren’t always going to their intranet just to find the HR Department’s phone number.

One major pharmaceutical company allowed their intranet for their field sales staff site to become the equivalent of a corporate “kitchen junk drawer,” containing every link to every department across the company, cluttering the chance for any clear communications. It’s what the former CMO of a major consulting firm called a “Link-a-rama.”

According to the web site Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, many of the winners of the 10 Best Intranets of 2009 show that “intranet personalization is becoming increasingly sophisticated.” Says Nielson, the lead application of personalization is “to provide each employee with news updates focused on their job role and personal interests. If intranets show everyone everything, information overload ensues and people either ignore the news area or squander their time reading irrelevant stories.”

Today’s intranets can go beyond being the link to the company directory or security bulletins. One company that made the top 10 best sites is the COWI Group A/S, a Danish engineering, environmental science, and economics consulting firm. They enhanced their company employee profiles to highlight common users and created an interesting combination of personalization, social networking, along with the traditional staff directory.

The epitome of personalization for an intranet site is one that was developed by a major west coast networking company. They created an internal social network —taking the intranet model to its full potential. This employee experience network does everything from informing employees on the latest brand corporate positioning information to inviting employees to share stories, videos, experiences, thoughts and ideas about working with the company.

Intranet sites must now contend with the myriad of social network tools—Yammer, iChat, Facebook, Twitter, and an influx of software tools like SocialGo and Sixtent that allow corporations to build their own social network communities, replacing some of the older functions of intranet news.

In the end, intranets must be as topical and current in the way they communicate to employees as any external form of communication. If not, they risk just talking to themselves with no one listening.

I recently invited Larry Oakner to write this guest post for us about the corporate intranet. Larry is Senior Partner, Engagement, at Tenet Partners, a branding consultancy headquartered in New York, and has spent more than 30 years building brands, positioning companies, and managing strategic marketing projects. He has helped nearly four dozen Fortune 1500 companies implement their branding programmes internally throughout their organisations. Who better to talk to about internal corporate communications?

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