Where do you go when the information scent stinks?

I was lucky enough to go to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert last month to see some of the world’s greatest musicians but unlucky enough to experience some of the worst directions and organisation I’ve ever come across. On a number of occasions during the four hour queuing which saw us directed backwards and forwards between three queues, only to be sent back again by the police (by which point we’d missed the Queen’s Garden Party), it seemed easier to give up and do something else (you tend to notice how many pubs are in the area when you’ve been queuing a while!)

At least 100 people around me gave up on getting in and went to spend their time more wisely, probably in the pub and this got me thinking – is this something intranet users go through every day?

Sadly for many the answer is yes. There are a host of examples of bemusing top menus, ambiguous left hand side menus, key documentation hidden and unsearchable due to jargon, acronyms and abbreviations with an equally apparent lack of keywords.

So, how do we get users to the good stuff inside the intranet and not see them give up and go to ‘the pub’

  • Give the People What They Want

If your intranet can automatically present personalised content to users it eradicates the need for users to waste precious time trawling the intranet for information that is useful to them. It also provides users with information that they may not have even realised existed on the intranet, which will ultimately increase user engagement.

  • Show Your Related Artists and Songs

As discussed you want to take the thinking and guessing out of your content for users. Use your ‘big screens’ to show associated content whilst standardising your summary and title styles to make the most of automatically recommended content. Ensure you make the most of your keywords to make these associations as effective as possible.

  • Give us a Sign!

Rather than assuming users will wander around and find your good stuff, make sure your key content is as accessible as possible, in as few clicks as possible. Have effective signposting – titles should be unambiguous and the information architecture should be logical. Using hash tagging as we saw in Ayesha Graves of Waterstones’ blog also helps. In an ideal world every user would search but there’s still a mass of users dedicated to navigation no matter how obvious and effective you make your search.

  • Don’t Tease Users With Good Stuff Behind Secured Gates

If something is secured – make sure those who can’t access it, can’t see it. Nobody likes to hit a ‘You do not have permission to see this page’ message. If there is a possibility of this happening, offer people a way to request access – for example ‘Contact Joe Bloggs to get access to this area.’ Ideally though your secure areas should be invisible to those without permission – Interact Intranet purposely doesn’t do this.

  • Give Your Users the Chance to Make Some Noise

Can you imagine being sat in a concert where the crowd were silent? People want to join the conversation but often pages are created without giving users the opportunity to join in. Use tools such as document comments and ratings, @tagging people and documents, linking related content and tools that intelligently recommend content to your users to ensure users have a voice. This increases transparency and two way communication.

  • Have Everyone Waving the Same Flag

Ensure there is a consistent look and feel. Content which suddenly changes look and / or layout is very confusing for a user. Make sure it looks like related content and any call to actions are similarly laid out as far as possible. This manages users’ expectations and makes achieving tasks far quicker, making your intranet more effective and essential.

  • Single Security Check

Make your intranet a single point of authentication. Users complain of having to remember multiple passwords and are more likely again to go back to our virtual equivalent of the pub if they feel this is unwieldy. If you want your users to turn up then get them into your intranet as quickly but as securely as possible.

  • Make it Clear What to Expect

Take the guessing out of a click. No one likes being stood in the wrong queue. People will only bother to do something as long as it’s the quickest and easiest way to do it or they’ve been doing it for as long as they remember. Ensure there is an information scent whilst your users are information foraging.

  • Sing the Same Words

When Prince Charles referred to the Queen as Mummy everyone smiled and associated with them. Encourage your execs to interact (excuse the pun!) with your users, using the same language to avoid confusion or misinterpretation. Foster an intranet where difficult company conversations are held online rather than offline. This will also encourage employees to share their honest thoughts rather than creating unregulated groups on various social media channels which may damage your reputation.

Get the exec to lead by example following your intranet good practice, @tagging the users they meet into their statuses and #tagging key themes and campaigns across your business. Providing your authors with an intranet glossary is also a great way of removing the curse of acronyms, abbreviations and colloquialisms, making the conversation more meaningful to all users.

  • Most Importantly Throw a Great Concert

Make sure your content is engaging, both in terms of content and imagery, so people want to go to it and are inclined to go on to your related content. Nobody wants to find continuous pages of plain text when looking for information (unless working remotely on a low bandwidth connection when pictures and tables can dramatically slow access). Ensure your content is engaging, timely, accurate and memorable.