Demystifying Social Intranets – Part 1

How did you communicate and share ideas in your first job?

Depending on the year that list will vary massively; beyond the obvious method of speaking to other employees your response could include mail, desk phone, mobile phone, fax, email or an intranet.

Unless you’re relatively early into your career, that response will not include the word social. Where has this term come from and more importantly what does it mean, both generally and for your intranet?

Pre Social – When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth

Ten years ago there was no Facebook (2003), YouTube (2005) or Twitter (2006). Go back twenty years and internet wasn’t in our vocabulary.

But now we have social; social intranet, social software, social media…is there an assumption before this that nothing was social, nobody ever spoke to each other and we spent our days in the 1990s painting on cave walls whilst running from dinosaurs? OK, I admit we had a bit of a T-Rex issue!

Were Things Simpler Back Then?

Just in case you start to understand the context of social, our industry also calls it Enterprise 2.0 (another term for social business software) or Web 2.0 (sites with social features available on the internet such as Amazon). The man on the street just doesn’t stand a chance.

I worry that a lot of the uses of the term social are out of context, made by people in sales, get – rich-quick consultancy and marketing with a warped perspective of what it is – “we have a buzzword and we’re going to use it.” It reminds me of the IT Crowd’s take on the internet. If you say something convincingly enough times to people who can’t contextualise it, it becomes the truth to paraphrase Lenin and Goebbels.

What Do We Mean By Social?

Demystifying social intranets remains a necessary task. Search for social intranet on Wikipedia and this is the result (at 30th November 2012):

The page “Social Intranet” does not exist.

Oh dear. Back to the drawing board. Using the dictionary definition:

Social = living together in communities.

Community = the people living in a locality.

If we take the meaning of a community as “the people living on an intranet” the picture becomes clearer.

Traditionally the motto for intranets was content is king. This is still true to a point, content is still at the heart of an intranet.

With the social element we no longer have generic users but people with individual skills, tags and the opportunity to comment. Information can be shifted to help it become more accessible and understandable by different groups, even a well-read item can be given a fresh or expanded understanding.

Work But Not as We Know It

New relationships and networks are formed, both with each other and content. Pieces of content are organisms, evolving as the people share their knowledge and opinions.

We also start to see a shift in homophily (love of the same) relationships, with value homophily (similar interests) emerging naturally in social intranets over status homophily (similar hierarchical status e.g. managers network with managers), seen in traditional intranets. This behaviour mirrors social media usage, discussed by Dhiraj Murthy recently in “Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age.”

This also explains why we’re seeing an increase in the job title Community Manager for Intranet Managers, doing a similar role to web focussed Community Managers but with a different target audience.

A conversation can be started by anyone, added to by anyone and anyone can provide an answer. It marks the end of the can/can’t publish apartheid common with traditional intranets.

It becomes clearer that social is not a new intranet, social is a new attitude on the traditional intranet model which encourages communities to form around challenges and knowledge; it is the embodiment of your culture. We are talking about traditional intranets which encourage collaboration.

So Is Social the Same as Collaboration?

During discussions of social we hear constant but inconsistent uses of the terms collaboration and networking. Social is not the same as collaboration.

Whilst a social intranet is not identical to social media (Facebook, Twitter et al.), your users increasingly expect to see the tools they use easily on a daily basis outside of work such as commenting, content sharing etc available at work too as the Nielsen Norman Groups states in their 2012 Design Annual; “When employees switch between using the web and their company intranets, they shouldn’t feel like they’ve gone from driving a 2012 ZL1 Camaro to a 1989 Chevy Nova with faulty brakes – that is, the intranet experience shouldn’t feel slow, dangerous (when using inaccurate information), and tedious.”These actions are often completed using a mix of traditional and collaborative tools.

Interact aims to simplify these terms and set a precedent for their consistent use:

  • Collaboration is the tools implemented and the actions done with those tools. We refer to them as collaborative tools, they get work done. They tend to get implemented by the business.
  • Social is the culture and behaviours in your company which allow you as a regular user to’pick up and play’ with collaborative tools as you see fit for purpose, not just for prescribed business purposes but all purposes. It encourages innovation. It is a shift from a closed, hierarchical attitude to the control of tasks to an open attitude of getting work done by the best placed person which encourages a greater adoption of collaborative tools.
  • Networks are the connections between objects, whether those objects are content or people.

Collaboration tools blended with traditional intranet features encourage a social culture to happen where networks are built based on need rather than hierarchy.

When businesses focus on collaboration from a management perspective, it is to identify knowledge capital and efficiencies (hence the rise of job titles such as Knowledge Managers):

Answering x problems saved us y amount of time which leads to >100% output per employee

As people can do more work in a set period than they would be able to without these tools.

In many senses collaborative tools are an easier sell to management than the term social, it sounds more controlled and therefore easier to identify benefits. However a social company attitude is more likely to generate a critical mass of users as it is cultural; it removes some of the more stringent business rules and hierarchy, every person should be empowered and therefore more likely to adopt and engage.

Don’t miss our free online webinar on February 6th:Going Social: Don’t Trap the Word of Mouse’, where Interact’s community manager and experienced intranet consultant, Nigel Williams will look at traditional engagement blocks in companies and how he modifies them to increase employee engagement, productivity and ultimately business results across a range of industries.

Find out more and reserve your space today >

Are you based in the US? We are running a free New York Seminar on Feb 20th: ‘Value of Social: Improve, collaboration and engagement on your intranet.’Hear practical, real-world advice and learn best practices on how to transform your intranet into a social hub of activity, to better engage your employees and drive real business results.

Find out more and reserve your space today >

Putting This All Into Context – Knowledge Jamming

Last year I presented on an IBF Live session with Kate Pugh who was discussing her book titled Knowledge Jamming. Knowledge Jamming is about helping “people discover, capture and ultimately reuse knowledge,” It’s one of the best examples I’ve seen of describing social in practice.

Imagine traditional intranets as anti-social: your next door neighbour playing drums with the noise blasting through your wall.

This is a top down or cascaded communication model where the business puts out content which users are expected to read and absorb. Often those users put their fingers in their ears and ignore that noise completely, it’s an irritant rather than a help.

In a social intranet your neighbour would invite you round (networking), throw you a guitar (traditional and collaborative tools) and let you start jamming, your other neighbours could come round and join in too (the social culture).

Putting that in intranet terms a document would be released, various users would comment against it, like it, share it and @document tag it into other conversations when they feel it would be useful to them. The author or a continuator replacing that author would take these comments on board and make adjustments as necessary. In this sense the content is constantly evolving.

But We’ve Been Speaking to Colleagues For Years!

Of course you’ve been speaking to your colleagues for years. However with a traditional intranet and other communication methods this relies on the user thinking or knowing what to do or where to go.

You should be able to get to information quickly due to search terms and metadata but if I have a question I’m most likely to ask the people sitting near to me. If they don’t have the answer I’m likely to search for a job title in the People Directory which looks closest.

In 1977 TJ Allen developed his 50 Feet Rule or Allen Curve. If someone sits more than 50 feet away from you, you are unlikely to interact with them.

If you’re sat at a desk, look up and it’s scary how true this is.

If you have a problem you’re most likely to ask the person next to you, even though they’re unlikely to be the best informed person to answer. You’re less likely to get up and walk round to the person ten rows of desks down or on another floor.

A lot of this knowledge is also undocumented too and therefore lost once a conversation has ended – how much knowledge is lost in your company’s instant messenger or email tools? How many times a month do you get asked ‘that question’ yet again?

With a social intranet you can search for someone with the relevant skill you need, post your question to a forum, ask it using a question module such as Interact Answers, post it to your wall @tagging people you think might be able to help or you may view a wiki to see if anyone else has documented this challenge.

That person may be sat next to you, on the next desk, on the next floor or maybe in a completely different location, potentially speaking a different language. A good social intranet will overcome these barriers. Every employee is the same distance from you, one mouse click away. It’ll be the ones most relevant to your search or request who will be more prominent.

What’s more a suitable person should get an alert to prompt them to help from the intranet which has identified them as an expert on a subject.

Social intranets shift your employees’ thinking from Allen to Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat”.

What Will My Socially Enabled Intranet Look Like?

Traditional Intranet Model : Transforms With Social Behaviour :
Groups of users defined by department. Often team driven, quite typically project teams or special interest teams set up by anyone.
Questions and challenges sent to the appropriate job title, often going via that person’s manager to ensure hierarchy is adhered to. They are often formed to complete a specific need and are typically cross-departmental and cross-locational.
These groups are typically defined by management. They ensure a question or challenge identifies the right person with the right skills to act as an expert.
They are likely to say “that’s just the way it is, we’ve always done this” They are likely to say “can we do this better?”

Enterprise 1 was all about software specific to business rather than the internet. The structure was typically defined by departments.

Enterprise 2.0 / Social Intranets are all about getting everyone involved and sharing knowledge through various tools and teams. However they still use Enterprise 1 tools, therefore it’s easier to think of this as Enterprise 1+1.

To adapt the age old adage, there’s no 1 in team!

So Why Do We Talk About Social Intranets Rather Than Collaborative Ones?

As we discussed in the introduction, social is everywhere, it’s as recognisable as it is initially confusing.

To get something implemented you typically need backing from a sponsor and also for people to adopt it once it is implemented. To get the sponsor interested you need to understand what your business needs are and what the benefits are of solving them look like.

You can then look at the available tools, both traditional and collaborative, and pick ones which blend into your current intranet to meet those needs. You should introduce them as needed, do not just flick a switch of all possible collaborative tools and expect your people to love these.

As this blend of tools take effect and meet the needs of your business you will begin to see non-hierarchical conversations start to occur and the beginning of a more social culture. This is your end goal, an inclusive social environment.

For this reason we talk about social intranets as the business benefit; an intranet which allows knowledge to be collated and shared, collaborative tools are blended with traditional tools to form the building blocks to get you to a more social business. It drives your company culture through the sharing of conversation and the culture of what people feel empowered to do, it is more than just a collection of collaborative tools.

Interact Intranet Makes Starting Your Social Journey An Easy Transition

At Interact we recognise the traditional tools are always going to be needed. Our product includes those traditional tools such as Workflow and Forms, processes, activities and the ability to push out news. What it also helps you to do is take those traditional tools and put a social layer on top of them, inviting ‘the wisdom of crowds’ (James Surowiecki) by using collaborative tools which leverage additional knowledge or context more apt to your needs.

To help you achieve that perfect blend of tools, Interact’s intelligence tools surface relevant content and people to build networks and ensure your user doesn’t miss content which is likely to be essential to them. The more your user uses the intranet, the tighter the content surfaced for them is.

If you consider a typical piece of intranet content, the social layer bulks this content up, capturing the various knowledge sharing processes from your social culture with people adding context by making comments and @tagging the content to reach specific employees. These social additions don’t always add value to the content for a certain user, they may not be relevant, but the intelligence tools pick up these social comments and filter them as metadata against that content so it is surfaced as more or less relevant to a user in search returns and suggested items for the user to read.

By having an all in one solution you can ramp up your social journey at your own pace, switching relevant tools on as you need them to contemplate or replace existing ones, guaranteeing that every tool integrates seamlessly in a perfect blend of traditional, collaborative and intelligent tools.

In part two of this blog, which will be published next week I will take a look at practical examples of how social intranets work and what the benefits look like in real situations.

Don’t miss our free online webinar on February 6th:Going Social: Don’t Trap the Word of Mouse‘, where Interact’s community manager and experienced intranet consultant, Nigel Williams will look at traditional engagement blocks in companies and how he modifies them to increase employee engagement, productivity and ultimately business results across a range of industries.

Find out more and reserve your space today >

Are you based in the US? We are running a free New York Seminar on Feb 20th: ‘Value of Social: Improve, collaboration and engagement on your intranet.‘ Hear practical, real-world advice and learn best practices on how to transform your intranet into a social hub of activity, to better engage your employees and drive real business results.

Find out more and reserve your space today >

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