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Social Intranets: Silos, Culture and Moderation

Yesterday, I attended an event at Microsoft called “The Human Intranet“, hosted by Content and Code and Engage Group. Given our location, there was an understandable focus on the SharePoint 2010 solution but helpfully, the principles and ideas would be applicable to any ECM/CMS that supports social features. This post won’t focus on the benefits — many intranet commentators have covered that ground very well — but I do want to share one vital message: Going social on your intranet is not the utopian solution to all your company communication and collaboration evils. In fact, it comes with its own significant overheads.


  • Silos will continue to exist
  • A social intranet doesn’t mean your company is social
  • You will have to control this new space

Social breaks down and creates communication silos

Many commentators on social media without or without the firewall rightly note the power of these features to breakdown traditional communication and collaboration silos. Within the enterprise, these silos commonly reflect the organisational hierarchy, with informational moats around teams, business units or countries. At The Human Intranet yesterday, we were again presented with models demonstrating that with social media, new human networks, beyond the organisation parameters, can flourish. Silos may well continue to exist: consider these and plan for them on your social intranet.

  • Adding social features will not mean that your intranet instantly becomes a social hub
  • Adding social features does not mean that existing silos will be removed
  • Adding social features will add new silos that you will need to work on

Age Silos

Take time to reflect on your company demographic and match this against social media models. You might just be lucky enough to have a company packed full of millenials for whom social media (but not all social media) is a communication norm.

Most companies will be light on millenials and packed full of GenX and baby boomers. Whilst the latter groups are adopting Internet social media tools quickly, usage levels are still far below their younger colleagues. Be alive to the idea that you may create some age silos within your company as younger employees fly with social media and older employees take their time to adopt concepts and practices.

Style silos

The demographics also tell a story in terms of the types of social media that appeal. Note the demographics for Twitter? This social space is the firm reserve of the Gen X 40 year olds and it may well be that your intranet micro-blogging feature for a Millenial company just won’t work. A range of social tools, reflecting the different styles on the Internet is likely to be more successful but do consider that you may get some employees working solely in micro-blogging tools whereas others tag and blog to build networks.

Language silos

Ok, so this isn’t new but don’t be tempted to believe that social tools will somehow break down the barriers. Multi-lingual companies may have to accept that social collaboration could occur in isolated language pockets. Time to invest in smart translation.

Social is more than just technology

So you’ve relaunched your intranet and have included some fantastic social media capabilities and all your employees are tagging, micro-blogging and studying their activity feeds avidly. Right? No? Oh.

Introducing a social intranet is more than just the technology. Culturally, your business needs to be ready for these features. It’s more than just training sadly. Many intranet managers will already know that just because you’ve enabled comments on your intranet (the simplest and most common foothold on the social intranet ladder), it doesn’t mean that employees will grasp this opportunity and sadly, the solution is not easy.

The culture of the organisation must be aligned to this form of communication and collaboration. As a minimum, you’ll need the following:

  • Openness, trust and honesty from employees and management
  • Robust policies on bullying, information sharing and equality
  • Explicit, communicated management recognition that using social features is work and not work avoidance

Such cultural and policy shifts are significantly harder to achieve than installing the technology in the first place but are critical to their usage and ultimate success. Start the work on these matters early.

Control to allow the Conversation

It almost seems counter intuitive to suggest that in this new free-form multi-way communication world, that works to bridge the experiential, functional, hierarchical and geographical differences between employees, we might somehow need control and moderation. It will though and you’ll need to gear yourself up to this new reality.

Some immediate moderating examples

  • Correcting spelling mistakes employee profile skills and experiences so that you can find each other. You may be an expert on ‘Chaange Mannagement’ and no one will find you.
  • Remove inappropriate text from profiles
  • Build a ‘black-list’ of banned tag words and maintain this constantly. (Swear words are an obvious example but there will be others. This is especially difficult on multi-lingual intranets)
  • Dependent on local law, full birthdays might not be legal to share due to age discrimination. Moderating content to ensure that your intranet is legal is one of the new realities.

Context moderation is where you may need particular focus. The word ‘black’ is innocuous when used as a tag on a document describing an excellent financial performance maybe (back in the black), but wholly inappropriate if used as a racial slur.

Regrettably, you’ll need eyes on the screen and great judgement to manage moderation and ensure a fair, friendly, fun (not to mention legal) intranet.


A social intranet can be an incredible boon to your organisation, significantly improving internal collaboration and facilitate the building of important human and information networks. Stay alive to the pitfalls presented here and enjoy your successes.

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  1. IntranetLounge

    Social Intranets: Silos, Culture and Moderation – @DigitalJonathan…

    This article has been submitted to IntranetLounge, a website with a collection of links to the best articles about intranets…

  2. Andy Jankowski

    Excellent post. I especially like your comments on social being more than a set of tools. I’ve researched many failed enterprise social efforts. The formula is quite simple and almost always the same. If the focus is on the tools being used, the effort generally fails. If the focus is on people and process, the effort generally succeeds. I firmly believe that any enterprise social implementation should begin by looking across a business at which business processes can and should be improved by changing the process to leverage enterprise social capabilities. I also believe that training people on tools puts the emphasis on the wrong things (e.g., which buttons to click), but that training people on new socially-enabled ways of working is paramount. Again, great post. Thanks for sharing.

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