“But we communicated it,” said the bemused benefits manager. “It was all right there on the intranet for all to see and take-up was still disappointing.”

I’m reminded of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and poor old Arthur Dent’s house facing demolition to make way for a Hyperspace Bypass. On complaining, he learns the plans have been available for nine months in the planning office, albeit in the basement… in the dark… in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a room with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard”.

It’s a comical example but the fact remains too many intranets are ‘black holes’ – impossible to navigate repositories for reams of stale content that few know is there. This is of little value to employees and provides even less ROI for the business.

Designed and managed well, intranets are key internal assets, playing a vital part in managing the workforce’s relationship with the business at every stage of employment. Moreover, they have an important job to do in engaging employees with the company’s vision, which has been identified as a key employee need – research shows 82% feel employee communications should explain the company’s vision and 87% want to be shown how they fit into this.

Like any resource, particularly now when internal investment is closely monitored, intranets must prove their worth. So, how can businesses ensure their intranet is working hard?

• Never forget it’s for employees – identify their needs and put them at the heart of design and content. You may want to write 1,000 words on share plans but is it useful? What level of detail is appropriate? Are you catering for everyone across every stage of employment?
• Embed your vision – ensure the intranet reflects company branding, message and tone of voice – consider it a digital manifestation of your culture
• Keep it fresh – appoint multiple trusted editors across your teams working to a central brief to share the task, or consider using a wiki format on some content to enable employees to contribute and take ownership of their intranet
• Ensure it is cohesive – a consistent look and feel improves usability and makes content appear more trusted as part of a set of joined-up communications
• Don’t abandon users – if part of your intranet’s purpose is to make HR more ‘self-service’, ensure the employee is guided every step of the way. Empower them to use the intranet independently but make sure there is adequate support
• Measure it regularly – don’t just look at hits. Pay attention to visits by unique and repeat users, click throughs and time spent per page – don’t assume if they are spending a long time it’s useful, it may be impossible to understand! Build in mechanisms for feedback, either use a feedback form or simply ask users to ‘rate this content’
• Back it up – designed and written well, your intranet can do almost anything you want but unless you communicate its features and resources and embed it into your other communications, employees will not know it’s there.

Research source:
Internal and Experiential Marketing, Jack Morton, 2006.