13 Jul 2018


Deciding on Content for Your Intranet

What makes you want to open your morning news source? A shrieking headline?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

A New York Times Morning Briefing text every five minutes on your IPhone?

The latest from your local journal?

Answer: you open, turn on, watch, or buy the news because you’re looking for something that peaks your interest. Maybe even something you can’t afford to miss.

That’s what you’re going to offer on your intranet.

And although you can’t use screaming headlines to lure people to your homepage, you can offer plenty of legitimate content-bling, more than enough to make everyone from the CEO to the stock boy want to check in at least once a day.

Image by Pixabay

On an intranet, content is the star of the show. No question that the co-star is superb engineering. Without it, content is nothing.

And great graphics improve the experience exponentially. But content is what keeps the crowd coming.

That’s why decisions about what content, how often it will appear, how much space it will be given are made long before the site goes live. And knowing what your audience wants and needs will help your intranet team make some of those decisions.

As far as the ‘what’ of content goes, Christie Atkins of the Thought Farmer says four favorite intranet features with employees are:

  • company success stories, written up in detail with all the team names and accomplishments so everyone can share in the win
  • an event section, whether it’s internal or something nearby in the community
  • a humor section where people can share memes, gifs, videos and jokes
  • job postings

Chris Charlwood of Simple Intranet listed another five:

  • an Employee Directory—profiles with photographs and some personal information—for ease of contacting one another
  • a file repository that provides a powerful search function for content, allowing people to access information more readily
  • HR forms that can be filled out online
  • real-time activity feeds that permit commenting and empower employees to share what they are doing. This also provides a venue for thanking colleagues who went above and beyond in helping out.
  • interactive tools that keep employees engaged such as surveys, feedback forums, or wikis.

Other interactive features can include threaded discussions, Q & A forums, competitions, and micro blogs.

Entire intranet sections are sometimes set aside for

  • training and educational opportunities
  • executive communications
  • document libraries
  • teams
  • corporate news

Intranet content is as diverse as the companies and organizations that host them. The more networking you do, the more you’ll find out what unique features and devices other intranet teams have created.

Writing for Your Intranet

Okay, putting some of the above features onto your intranet will only involve transferring digital data. But some will involve actual writing.

And you and your Intranet team probably don’t have staff writers.

You have busy HR professionals, trainers, accountants, and coders. Perhaps you even have mechanics, pastry chefs and airline pilots.

And you are asking them to produce a regular amount of intranet copy in a lively consistent style.

Hmmmm. Big ask. Other than offering fresh cookie rewards, these ideas may help:

  • Encourage your writers to stick to a few basic rules of style (punctuation and usage) to give the site some consistency. A good resource is the AP Style Guide.
  • Subscribe to the shorter-is-better concept: shorter words, shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs. (Note:  Not necessarily shorter content.)
  • Don’t write for your college professor. Write for a fifth-grader. Microsoft Word helps you do that; see The Writers for Hire blog titled ‘Word Tip of the Week: Using the Readability Feature.’
  • Cut back on the adjectives and other descriptives in general, unless you’re sharing your trip to Botswana.
  • Don’t ramble on. Before you start writing, ask yourself, “What am I trying to say here?” And then, just say it. Keep it simple.
  • Let your personality shine through! Presumably, you are not required to be anonymous.
  • Use plenty of graphics.
  • Update! Update! Update! Keep your particular task area fresh. Don’t let readers see the same thing week after week. I know you can think of something new to say!
  • Make it relevant! Irrelevant content was the No.1 gripe among Intranet Haters polled in 2017. Keep it real!

A word to administrators. Producing good content, whether it’s writing, editing, proofing, or updating, is time consuming.

So, a strategy for accommodating employees tasked with this new responsibility—post launch—must be developed.

Success for the shiny, new intranet means giving writers adequate time to attend to their new intranet duties, be it researching, writing, editing or updating.

Image by Pixabay

If your stable of newly christened writers are a little wobbly, help is at hand.

  1. First of all, be sure they have the technical skills needed to upload copy.
  2. Next, schedule a half-day writer’s workshop, presented by a professional writer.
  3. Offer one-one-one training from a professional who can help inexperienced writers organize materials and produce copy more easily.
  4. Create easy-to-use templates with goals for each piece and instructions on types of information required for each content area.
  5. Set doable deadlines that are agreed to by the subject matter experts (SMEs), and give SMEs a reason to meet those deadlines. Tying content to a real time event – even if it’s just a weekly announcement giving kudos or mini-awards to contributing authors, can help encourage your SMEs to push through to the finish line.


The Graphics: How Your Site Looks

Think of your intranet visuals as the cover on the book, the headlines above the fold, the landscaping in your front yard, the façade of a retail store.

The exterior is not where the real stuff is, but it does invite you in.

And even more important, like Ikea’s endless aisles, if the exterior is enticing, it might just lure you deeper into the interior!

“Don’t spend all the time and effort planning out your intranet and coming up with content strategy just to stumble because it doesn’t look pretty,” advises Carlos Ruiz, Phase2 Account Director. He warns that sometimes out-of-the-box solutions lack the ‘wow’ factor companies are looking for.

But beyond simple esthetics, the visual appeal of your intranet can be extremely important when it comes to building a lasting relationship your users.

Think of the many Websites you’ve been exposed to.

Each site is meant to influence a visitor’s psychological state of mind as well as impart information.

Designers will tell you that’s because the colors, the lines, the slant of the curves, the movement of the eye either to the left or the right, or up or down, are all calculated to please a particular audience.

It’s no different with a company intranet.

It sends a visual message about who you are as a corporate entity and it adds to the value of your corporate brand.

Equally important, good graphic design increases the usability of a site, helping to keep navigation simple,

No doubt when you’re in the planning stages, you’d like to take a look at other intranets to get a feeling for visuals that appeals to you.

But unlike print materials, and Websites, you can’t view intranets and say, “Hey, I like the visual feeling of that one.”

Intranets are, by nature, private.

However, you can catch a glimpse of other intranets by ordering The Neilson Norman Group’s Intranet Design Annual: 2018.

This 463-page report has detailed information about its ten prize-winners for the year including 155 full-color screenshots of before-and-after designs, which are usually protected behind the organization’s firewall.

In Conclusion

Think about it.

When it’s done, your intranet site will be an amazing communications channel with usability and features that would have been impossible even a few years ago.

Serving multiple objectives and reaching a broad audience, its many features will function in a variety of ways that that owe their existence to constantly improving technology.

At the very least, your intranet will be easy to use, pleasant to look at, make work faster for your employees, give them a greater sense of engagement, and a greater voice in the company as a whole.

Pretty cool, huh?

Sally Barlow-Perez  
Sally Barlow-Perez has spent 35 years satisfying her curiosity about people, places and things by writing about them. She’s done that as a small-town newspaper reporter and editor, a European ski columnist, a glossy magazine editor, an account executive for a Denver PR firm, a PR director for two hospitals, director of medical writing for an international pharmaceutical firm, an editor an internet consulting firm, and a memoir ghostwriter about the Japanese-American internment. That’s not counting publishing a middle grade novel and a short history book. Sally now lives and works in Palo Alto, California where still satisfies her curiosity with writing assignments and obsessive reading. She’s trying to balance her literary inclinations with hiking, biking and the search for the perfect artisan coffee. So far, so good.

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