7 Social intranet adoption strategies

Social intranets, as part of a broader social enterprise strategy, are increasingly more commonplace and there are no shortage of technology suppliers ready to add the functionality to your portal. But as we’ve noted at intranetizen before, installing the technology is by far the easiest part of creating a social intranet — the hardest part is embedding that technology in the weave of workplace workflow and changing the culture of an organisation. We’ve proposed tactics to develop trust before, but here are some further steps you can take to make social work on your intranet and in your company.

1. Define the rules, don’t define the purpose

Any social intranet needs to have some rules to help it function correctly but importantly, these should be a style framework more than a definition of purpose. It’s important to provide employees with guidance:

  1. Topics — Is it only work topics or does anything go?
  2. Language — What can be said, what can’t be said?
  3. Tone
  4. -isms — Your guidance should include statements about racism, sexism, agism and more.
  5. Harassment — sad to say, you probably need to make it clear that this is not acceptable

Avoid making statements about the specific purpose of a social intranet as it can often close down the creativity and spontaneity. Think of it like this: your office has meeting rooms, they’re likely for business meetings, but the precise purpose is left to the users of the room.

2. Legitimise Social: Ask your leaders to lead

Social intranets are work, not work avoidance. Take steps to educate line managers of this at every opportunity and have them, and senior leadership demonstrate this by being active in your social intranet from the first day. Nothing says that social intranets are a legitimate and exciting way to work than your CEO being present and active in this space.

This is vital to the long term health of your social intranet. If people don’t see it as a legitimate channel, they’ll quickly stop using it and revert to less appropriate tools such as email.

3. Find and Nuture Evangelists

People make social. Find people in your organisation who instinctively get social and use them to help integrate it in to the workflow weave. It is particularly useful if you can find people in key parts of your business such as finance as they will quickly bring other people, in other functions, into the social way of working. Use evangelists to seed ideas and develop social communities.

4. Integrate social into existing workflows

Line manager technology leadership is central to adoption and success: if they don’t use an enterprise social network themselves, then there really is little point in you doing so to collaborate with them.

Social needs to be become part of business workflows. Work with leadership and line managers directly and provide business consultancy. Understand from them what their business problems are and demonstrate how social technologies can help.

5. Smart small and build

Take baby steps: Crawl, then walk then run. It will take a long time to create the right environment for a social enterprise to flourish so it’s important to set modest milestones for your intranet.

  1. Registered users — if they’re not registered, they can’t participate so you’ve got to start here
  2. Numbers of posts — how much ‘noise’ is there in the social space?
  3. Number of posts per user — is it a small number of users posting, or is everyone participating?
  4. Groups — if your social space allows for private/public groups, are teams adopting these?
  5. Time in social — minutes per user per month
  6. Anecdotal — ask for success stories within the social space

6. Publicise Successes

Once you’ve been made aware of the successes borne of your social intranet, make sure you publish these using your traditional IC routes. There’s not much point in re-publishing these within your social intranet as you’re preaching to the converted, somewhat! Make sure your whole business is aware of the value of social intranets through these stories.

7. Create, then Curate

This is critically important. Creating the social intranet is the easiest step, curating it is the hardest and most important. You’ll need people on the ground dedicated not only to delivering the steps presented above, but also in seeding ideas and creativity within your enterprise social network. Community manager roles will become increasingly commonplace and important for the vitality of your social intranet.


Installing the functionality is easy. Be it a native tool, or one of a few excellent enterprise social network tools such as Yammer or Newsgator, getting the technology up and running is the start but to make it a success, you’ll have to work hard to curate. We hope these strategies will help you.

What have we missed? What successes have you had?


There are 9 comments

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  1. Samuel Driessen

    Good post, Jonathan! Of course there are more ways to encourage adoption, but your list relates to mine.
    I was wondering why you say: don’t share the purpose of the social intranet. Do you mean: don’t be to specific about it? Cause my experience says sharing the purpose of the social intranet is essential. Not in the sense that you say: There is one purpose and you’re not allowed to use it any other way. But the purpose of the intranet also relates to the problems/reasons for setting it up in the first place. Sharing the purpose helps onboard employees. They can (or can’t) relate to the purpose(s) and will join because of it.

    • @DigitalJonathan

      Hi Samuel

      The ‘purpose’ comment was one that generated much discussion on Twitter. I’ll explain my thinking and if necessary, update the post.

      When companies added telephones, email facilities — even meeting rooms — they explained how they worked, what the broad purpose was, but not the precise, detailed specifics. I think this is important for the vitality of enterprise social networks too.

      ESNs are flexible, engaging, community and collaboration orientated spaces. They can be entrepreneurial, creative and deliver a great deal for a company if you let them. I feel that if you restrict this creativism through defined business purpose statements, you may not realise their fullest potential.

      These are early days for ESNs. I think I may feel differently about purpose statements in 12-24 months but for now, within a rule framework, I’m delighted to sit and watch how employees use these tools and find their own purposes.

      • Samuel Driessen

        I get your point. I agree. You mean: Don’t make the purpose too narrow and fixed. The purpose employees give the platform may surprise you and change over time. That’s what I see in practice.
        But… sharing a purpose when you set up the social intranet can also trigger employees and get them on board. For instance, if you see horizontal communication in the organization is horrible, you could sell the platform by saing you want to improve that (purpose). Your point is: Don’t limit the platform that purpose and don’t limit employees from finding their own purpose for the platform. Right?

        • @lukemepham

          Someone had a word for it – please raise your hand if it was you – which was (i think) Nutzungoffenheit

          for further information please consult your friendly local search engine.

          • Gordon Ross (@gordonr)

            It was Kai Reimer: http://byresearch.wordpress.com/tag/nutzungsoffenheit/ who came up with it @lukemepham. Great expression. From Kai’s post

            “an essential characteristic of eCollaboration technologies is a form of openness that can best be expressed in German language as Nutzungsoffenheit, whereby the artifact does not lend itself to or even determines a particular form of usage. (…) Nutzungsoffenheit means that the true nature and potential of such technologies does only manifest when people make sense of and incorporate them in their day-to-day work routines. In essence, the technology and its set of features do not precipitate its forms of usage.” (Riemer/Steinfield/Vogel 2009, p. 186)”

            It’s a characteristic, a quality, an attribute but not a feature.

            Strikes me as being directly related to the notion of affordances and the open-ended nature of the social intranet.


            Good post gents.

  2. Alex Manchester

    Superb post Jon, I’ve been having very similar thoughts based on recent projects.

    Specifically on purpose vs serendipity and unknown benefits, there was a similar discussion on Delimiter.com.au recently (focusing on an Aus government agency ditching Yammer), and I think there are two aspects within that are worth separating from one another for better definition. This is what I wrote on that piece:

    There are two streams of use that are involved with these tools that need to be separated.

    One is the organisation-wide social tool/platform, ideally ‘adopted’ by many, that results in the sort of widespread, often serendipitous events – expertise location, questions answered, innovative ideas etc. – benefits that the majority of the vendors sell these products with. This is the thrilling side of it; the concept that with these tools we can change our business and be much more dynamic. You do need participation for this, but it can work whether it’s 10 people or 10,000. It just takes time to get enough people thinking ‘ask first’ etc.

    The other aspect is more focused collaboration with a purpose. Social tools are used for specific teams, groups, projects etc. You don’t need organisation-wide participation for this aspect to be successful, but you do need tools/environments that have been designed to work within, and enhance, an employee or team’s day-to-day work. You can have a social tool in place, and it only be used by 2% of the organisation. If it’s been designed for them, and it’s making life easier for them, then it’s a success in that realm, it doesn’t require 100% adoption to be successful.

    Those are two quite different aspects.

  3. @DigitalJonathan

    Gordon, Luke – Brilliant. A one word summary to distil the essence of my point.

  4. JoshD

    I think another important thing is if you want to use intranet as service (Bitrix24.com for instance) or have it installed ‘intertally’. The first way is WAY cheaper and faster, but for safety reasons, you always want to have critical infromation on your servers.

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