08 August 2009

Social Networking on Intranets (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)

A friend and taxonomy expert, Stephanie Lemieux (Earley and Associates) passed along a link to Social Networking on Intranets, on Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox.  The article reinforced recommendations we typically make to our clients.  And although the title suggests the article is strictly about social media, it was also an excellent list of how to be successful in intranet development generally. 

If you don’t have the time for the full article, here’s a summary:

  1. Employees use social media in their private lives and have come to expect the those same tools to be available inside the organization.  As Nielsen states “[s]ocial software is not a trend that can be ignored. It's affecting fundamental change in how people expect to communicate, both with each other and the companies they do business with.”  Some organizations we’re working with fear that the words “social software” will prevent executive buy in.  If that’s true, change the words, but don’t ignore the advice. 
  2. In fact, Nielsen goes on to say that most executives don’t generally support social media because they themselves don’t use these tools personally.  However, organizations “don't have to teach or convince younger workers to use these tools; they expect them and integrate them as easily into their work lives as they do in their personal lives.”
  3. Tools don’t matter – it’s the problems the tools solve.  Consejo is often called to help organizations implement SharePoint.  In many cases, these enterprises don’t have a good sense of how SharePoint will help solve business challenges; they simply own SharePoint licenses and now want to use them. Nielsen suggests that “organizations are successful with social media and collaboration technologies only when the tools are designed to solve an identified business need.”  In other words, the “build it and they will come” approach to SharePoint deployment won’t work unless there’s a clear business benefit and employees can easily identify how SharePoint helps them to realize that benefit.
  4. One surprise finding was that Nielsen recommends integrating new tools into the intranet without fanfare and let employees discovery the functionality naturally.  Advertising new tools as “new” won’t help spur adoption and that some terms (used to describe tools or features) may be scary – Nielsen uses RSS and social bookmarking as examples of “scary” terms.
  5. Support both content contributor and content consumer communities within your intranet.  Nielsen states that “[a]s with the open Internet, there's substantial participation inequality in enterprise communities: some employees participate a lot, while others mainly lurk… value a community based on a combination of posting and use...”  As I mentioned in my previous post on SharePoint governance, successful intranets must create vibrant content contributor and consumer communities (filed under Poole’s Rules regarding giving encouragement and show appreciation).  Further, as a part of measuring success, you should count both types of participation equally.
  6. Search is only as good as the content it indexes.  Truer words have not been spoken.  Many organizations lament about poor search quality.  Unfortunately, those same enterprises fail to take the necessary steps to improve results.   As Nielsen states “[t]raditional methods for relevancy scoring on the Web don't work as well on the smaller scale of most intranets: for example, counting links works only if you're doing so across a huge base of links. But, even if only a few employees tag a page with a given keyword, it's likely that the page will produce a good search result for that query in your organization's context.”  In a recent “Making Basic SharePoint Search Work” (a free Jumpstart call with Earley and Associates), I discussed how to improve SharePoint search results using out-of-the-box techniques for tagging.
  7. Nielsen found that “it’s essential to provide a single, unified search across all intranet resources.”  Many search products, including SharePoint, can search across many different kinds of source repositories.  Critical to search success is finding the most relevant content, regardless of its location.  Playing on the theme in Nielsen’s article, enterprises should include social media and collaborative spaces in search results, even if the content is not completely “final” or authoritative.
  8. “Content-is-King 2.0”  The tool is nothing without content to consume.  This finding supports actively encouraging content contributors during an initial roll-out and ensuring there’s ongoing content authoring.  As Nielsen states, “[a]n empty wiki can be a lonely place and also hard to sell to users.”
  9. Employees should be able to use the intranet will little or no training.  If users have to “figure out” how to use a tool, they’ll tend to avoid it.  Further, you need to ensure the language you use is familiar.  Nielsen points out that describing something as “Twitter-in-the-enterprise” or “micro-blogging ” will be equally inaccessible to users not familiar with the concept.  One approach, used in our Fast Track to SharePoint, is licensing training materials like SoftwareFx Virtual Training Center for SharePoint 2007.  It can be embedded in your intranet, accessible at any time.  The training is provided as 100 modules that are 30 seconds to 4 minute videos delivered through a flash video player.   Users are shown the features in action instead of just being told.
  10. Open communication is a requirement.  Nielsen suggests that communication groups need to adapt to the speed at which employee communications need to be developed: “Corporate communications must adapt to social media’s real-time culture and become more proactive than in the past… procedures that required days or weeks for approval need dramatic streamlining…”  It may be unnerving to executives to have an open discussion of company policies on the intranet, but it may mitigate the risk that the same employees will use more public internet services.  However, Nielsen cautions, there is still a place for “official” communications and that the two must co-exist.

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