Where are all the US intranet managers?

The four Intranetizens really value on- and offline networking for intranet specialists. We read blogs written by other practitioners, share thoughts on Twitter, and regularly attend intranet conferences and meet-ups – all part of the burgeoning intranet networking and knowledge-sharing scene here in Europe.

But what’s always been surprising is how little of this networking seems to take place in or emerge from the US. Of the regular contributors to the #intranet hashtag on Twitter, just a couple are from the US. Our top intranet bloggers are almost all based in Europe or Australasia (with the exception of some key individuals and organisations in Canada), as are all the best known networks and thought leaders. There are around 1,000 firms with over 10,000 staff in the US – that’s around the size at which organisations tend to have a sizable, complex intranet. We imagine there’s plenty of people working as intranet specialists in the US. So, where are they all?

We wondered if there really are fewer intranet managers in the US, or if our viewpoint is skewed by being thousands of miles and several timezones across the pond.

We love a bit of analytics, so we took a look at Google’s Insights for Search. This is a powerful little tool which shows relative search volumes – that is, levels of interest in – any search term over time, and broken down by geography. These trends are used by economists, for example, to accurately forecast economic trends such as unemployment rates before they filter into official statistics.

Who is searching for intranet?

First we looked up ‘intranet’ on Search Insights. The results are surprising- search volumes are biggest in Peru, followed by Uganda, Cuba and Chile. But that only tells you about interest in intranets generally. The volume in Cuba, for instance, is due to access to the internet being restricted, leaving Cubans access to a national intranet instead.

What terms would be looked at by intranet managers and practitioners? Well, how about intranet manager?

India takes the top spot for that term – hardly surprising given India’s 1bn population and huge, English-speaking IT industry. The UK takes second place, but the US trails at 3, with less than a quarter of the search volume of the UK (despite having a population four times the size).

We found that surprising, but to validate this we tried other terms that might be searched for by people working with intranets. Like intranet jobs. Again, the relative volume is lower in the US than we’d have expected.

Intranet managers and specialists on LinkedIn

Pretty much anyone working in online in on LinkedIn, right? So we thought we’d take a look at that too, especially as it offers a few different data sets to choose from. First we took a look at intranet groups – there are a handful of very active groups on LinkedIn which (as we’ve noted on our networking page) can be invaluable sources of help and advice.  Using the group statistics feature, we took a look at the composition of intranet groups and found similar patterns – large numbers from the UK, Australia and Scandinavia, and comparatively few from the US (especially given its larger population).

Finally, we looked at LinkedIn’s ad builder tool. This allows you to target advertising based to those most likely to respond based on the information they’ve provided in their profile. First, we tried looking for numbers of people with Intranet Manager as their job title. It turns out there’s less than 1000 of these out of 150 million LinkedIn users worldwide.

That’s not all that surprising – we all manage intranets and none of us four have that job title either. So how about if we look under skills instead? Well this is where it gets interesting. There are 250,801 people on LinkedIn with Intranet listed under their skills. Of these:

  • 69,712 are in Europe
  • 12,413 are in Oceania
  • 12,723 are in Canada
  • …and 125,174 are in the US.

That’s half of all of those who claim to be skilled in intranets. That suggests there are plenty of people managing intranets in the States. So where are they and why don’t we hear from them?

What do US intranet specialists have to say?

Intranetizen put this question to some of the US’s leading intranet specialists.

William Amurgis replied:

“I’m sure the U.S. has its share of intranet managers. I’ve met many of them. I’ve visited or hosted intranet teams from dozens of U.S.-based organizations. So, I know they’re out there.

“But my title doesn’t indicate that I am responsible for our organization’s intranet.  Perhaps that is why you see less people from the US with the intranet manager title: we either have slightly different titles, or we have included the intranet in the broader function of internal communications (as is my case).”

Candace Cahill from Philips Healthcare concurred:

“Perhaps the job description is not as commonly used here as in other global regions. Something I see more and more is the intranet being integrated into the customer-facing, ‘digital marketing’ team. My role has been called several things, often dependent on where the position falls within the organization and who owns the budget. It has moved from what was originally called eBusiness, to Marketing & Communications and now Global Integrated Communications and called Employee Digital Workplace Manager.”

The indications seem to be that the US has plenty of people managing intranets, but they have different different job titles. A quick scan of current job vacancies would appear to back this thesis up; they suggest there is a preference for focussing on digital, IT or communications skills in general rather than specific platforms – with people seeing intranet as one of a number of skills in that area rather than their primary focus.

This different approach to job titles and skills might also explain why we don’t hear so much from intranet specialists in the US – if people don’t define themselves by the platform they manage, they might equally want to participate in the communities of web, design, or communications professionals as intranet ones.

Is it a cultural thing?

Amurgis suggests there might also be cultural forces at play:

“The US, for better or worse, prides itself on rugged individualism and personal freedom — or, as a critic might put it, individual self-interest at the possible expense of the greater (societal) good.  Other nations, such as the Scandinavian countries, are much more participatory and in pursuit of the greater good (for all).  The latter form of culture clearly lends itself better to a thriving intranet community”.

Again, there could be something in this. So we took a look at Forrester’s social technographic profiling tool, which classifies consumers into seven overlapping levels of social technology participation.These categories include creators (people who blog or create content) or critics (people who comment on blogs, tweet, etc) – that is, the type of people who make up the online intranet community.

This revealed significant differences in the propensity to participate rather than passively consume (what Forrester terms ‘spectators’) – but not in the way we thought.  If you take a look at the interactive tool Forrester’s research suggests people in the US are more likely to be creators or critics than those on this side of the pond.

[learn_more caption=”Forresters interactive social profiling tool”]
If the tool doesn’t load for you here, visit the Forrester site[/learn_more]

An important corollary to this is geography; those countries where the intranet community is thriving, like the UK and Denmark, are also physically much smaller, so meeting up is simply easier to do. It’s worth noting that where geography is less of an issue in the US – where there’s a concentration of intranet specialists relatively near one another – face-to-face intranet communities have sprung up, such as the thriving Twin Cities intranet group.

We spoke to Kelli Carlson-Jagersma, who founded the Twin Cities group, to get her perspective:

 “The intranet is not owned by one person (aka manager) nor one department.  In most cases you will find someone in HR or Communications managing the business side of the intranet and Technology managing the infrastructure.  Then of course you have the people that manage the content, all the contributors to the intranet.

“Since 1999, I’ve started the Twin Cities Intranet Forum in the Mineapolis-St Paul, MN area.  Today when we meet quarterly, we have representation from companies large and small.  None of them have the ‘intranet manager’ title.  Now with the introduction and expansion of social in the enterprise, we likely will not see ‘social enterprise manager’ either.”

Drawing conclusions

In summary, our research suggests intranet practitioners in the US view themselves differently from those in Europe, for reasons of corporate structure and job title, so are less likely to define themselves as ‘intranet people’, and as such are less inclined to network on that basis online. Their European cousins, on the other hand, are more likely to be platform-focussed, and perhaps more likely to take part in face-to-face networking for reasons of culture and geography.

But it’s unfortunate this means we don’t hear as much from our peers across the pond – with 50% of Neilsen Norman’s top intranets coming from the US, it’s clear there’s a huge pool of intranet expertise and best practice to learn from. So how can we encourage experts in the States to join the intranet community? Or how best can practitioners in Europe and elsewhere reach out to peers across the pond?

If you have any ideas, or have any questions or comments, give us your perspective in the comments below.

What we didn’t ask

We’re also all too aware that our research throws up far more questions than it provides answers. We could equally have called this post ‘why are there so many Intranet folk in Australia?’, ‘Where are all the Asian intranet specialists?’ or ‘Is Peru really the intranet capital?’, but this post is already too long.

We’re fascinated by the variety in the worldwide intranet community, and would be interested in exploring the topic further. If you’ve got any thoughts on any of this, let us know.

There are 22 comments

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  1. Christy Punch

    I agree with William’s perspective on culture. Since I’ve been working with intranets (8 yrs now), I’ve always felt that other countries put a higher importance on intranets and thus staffed them as such. I also think that there is a mentality to do more with less here – so oftentimes (as in my case), intranet managers are not just managing the intranet, but working on other digital/social projects for the organization. When you have a skill set that can span several functions, you’re often utilized to get more bang for the buck.

    I would love nothing more than to focus 100% on our intranet – I had the privilege of doing so when we were in the midst of our redesign. However, as soon as the intranet was in a good place post-redesign, my plate filled once more with other initiatives in addition to managing our intranet. For smaller organizations with less employees, an intranet-focused team is a dream, not a reality. What I have to remember {and do} is to make sure the intranet stays relevant despite shifts in focus and continue to prove its value and benefits to the organization.

    I have also noticed that intranet-focused conferences are far and few between here in the states – which is especially frustrating when such top notch conferences are held yearly in Europe. I think it’s encouraging that JBoye and IBF have started to branch out and hold meetings/conferences in the U.S. I would love for a more intranet focused group to exist in the Southeast…With major cities like Charlotte and Atlanta, I think there is definitely an audience for it.

    I love networking with Intranet peers across the globe and wish I had more time to spend doing just that. I’ve wanted to start an intarnet-focused blog for the past three years now, but finding the time to dedicate to something that requires a lot of thought and research to be valid has been (and will always be) a struggle for me.

    Thank goodness for online networking tools like LinkedIn and Twitter, or I would never get to see all of the cool things other companies are doing with intranets. 🙂

    Great post btw.

  2. Andrew Gilleran

    Nice work folks. Intranet is an old, unsexy word these days and very few people want to be called ‘Intranet Manager’. That just doesn’t cut it when you’re up against digital marketing and social media jockeys!

    But the role itself is also much broader for many now. I do internal communications as well as the intranet so that’s where the role usually ends up as a member of a communications team.

  3. Martin White

    A very good post, and I appreciate the analytics. I can’t offer a definitive answer but perhaps can contribute some personal perspectives based on working on intranet projects and attending intranet conferences on both sides of the Atlantic for more than a decade.

    1) When I started in intranets in 1997 the action was all in the USA, and mainly in California. The inital Intranet Conference was in San Francisco in 1999 and looking at the programme on my desk the issues have not changed much! The conference was taken over by Information Today and a few years ago moved to the East Coast and was merged with KM World.

    2) The USA is a big country, and nowadays airline travel is costly and tedious as airlines cut back on feeder services. You might argue that cities the size of New York would support multiple intranet groups, but you only have to be in Grand Central or Penn at 5.30 to know that people do not stay around the city to network but want to get home to supper at 6.30pm.

    3) My guess is that to a greater extent than in Europe (Jane McConnell may have a better sense of this) intranets in the USA are the province of corporate coms, so intranets feature in the output of Ragan and Commintelligence. Put another way, intranets are positioned as one of many internal coms channels and not as a portal/digital workplace application as is the case in Europe.

    4) Given thesize of Europe there really are not that many conferences. IntraTeam is well established but many of the others are not in English and the new and very welcome Interaction 2012 event in London is sponsored by Interact Intranet, a software vendor. Most of the speakers are either consultants or Intranetziens. What does that say about the state of the UK market?

    5) Without the vision and commitment of Janus Boye and Kurt Sorenson there would probably be no intranet networking groups in Europe outside of IBF.

    6) Companies in the USA are perhaps more sensitive to sharing information that might be seen to helping competitors than is the case in Europe. Compared to European intranet conferences the events I have attended in the States tend to be much more sparing in the use of screen shots and giving any indication of the level of investment in their intranets.

    7) On the positive side there is an Intranet Professionals newsletter in the USA, coming from Information Today. There is nothing similar in Europe.

    So no real answers and I’m sure that my friends in the USA will have different views on the situation

    I’ll be attending KMWorld in October to listen to some very good papers on intranets, and the networking is always very good. Will you be making the trip?

  4. Joel Shapiro

    Very good post! I completely agree that job title and description is a main culprit – I would even further that by adding that many of the ‘Intranet Managers’ that I speak and work with took on the Intranet on their own initiative and still do not have the Intranet in their official job description! The good news is that they do take on a tough job, with notoriously small budgets and little initial fanfare, because they are passionate about Intranets.

    * Warning, plug coming 🙂 * Working with J. Boye, I’ve been tasked with growing a community of Intranet managers in the US and Canada. We meet regularly to present to each other on our projects and learn from each others failures and successes. The meetings are very open and honest and I’ve been motivated by the amount of sharing that takes place between organizations (yes, even in America!) I am happy to report that there are many ‘Intranet Managers’ in the US who are both passionate about their work AND are very open to sharing for the greater good. You can find many of them in the J. Boye LinkedIn group.

    I am confident that there are many who are passionate and many who share, but am also curious why we have not yet planted the Flag as the Intranet capital? Maybe we need to yell louder 🙂

    • @sharonodea

      I tried to steer clear of words like ‘culprit’ – I don’t think it’s at all fair to suggest the US approach is somehow not as good, given some of the truly brilliant intranets we do see as case studies from the US. It’s just a different way of looking at things, that impacts on the way we network with one another.

      From my perspective,as a Brit, it does feel like Americans don’t shout about their intranets as much – perhaps it’s because intranets aren’t seen as sexy, or because of a more guarded approach to corporate confidentiality. So, for example, we don’t see many US winners in the Innovation Awards.

      What is clear is that this is a complex topic that raises far more questions than this blog post answers. We’ve been intrigued by the number and variety of responses, but they all seem to be in broad agreement that the intranet scene in the US is different – so perhaps we shouldn’t expect to apply the same learning and sharing models to it.

  5. James Dellow

    Great comments and observations from everyone. A similar issue has been nagging me for some time and I wrote this post back in 2010, asking “What intranet tribe are you? #E20 #INTRANET #SHAREPOINT”:

    One other tribe I didn’t mention was the knowledge management community – I know in Australia that many of them cross over into intranets, but there are very active groups that don’t primarily self-identify as intranet managers in either role or job title. I also spend a lot of time talking to people who work in non-corporate comms roles but have some kind of responsibility for an intranet.

    Maybe we can turn this question around – are the “intranet managers” talking or listening to everyone else? 🙂

  6. Steve Bynghall

    Interesting analysis. I wonder if the protocols around what insights can be shared securely outside the organisation is a factor. Within IBF where the networking is secure I always perceive the US-based community of intranet managers to be very active at member meetings and online, as well as prepared to connect with others off-line.

    • @sharonodea

      I’d agree that could well impact on the degree to which people are willing to share details of their own projects, but would that account for the relative low numbers of Americans participating in groups online and sharing on the #intranet hashtag?

      I’m inclined to think self-identification (eg job title) is the crux of it – if people see themselves as primarily comms people, or IT people, they might be more inclined to join those networks instead. Neither approach is better than the other – just different. So the question is as much about how intranet practitioners in Europe tap into those as encouraging American practitioners to share and connect with their peers in Europe.

      The emergence of J Boye and IBF in the US is a positive move, encouraging greater sharing within networks based in the US – but how to we expand that and learn from each other?

  7. Andrew Frost

    A very timely post for us Sharon, thank you. We are currently thinking about future editions of our conference Advanced Intranets & Portals, and looking to see whether there is a market to produce a US version of the event. As Martin says, there don’t seem to be as many events in the US, and we were wondering whether this means there is a gap in the market, or simply that the market isn’t there.

    • @sharonodea

      That’snot an easy question to answer, I suppose. Does the different way US practitioners see and label themselves mean they’re less likely to want to attend an intranet event?

      Our events page is generally dominated by Europe and Australia, which suggests to me there’s a gap in the market. Christy’s comment, above, suggests so too. Would it help if we put you in touch with some of friends in the US, so you could sound them out on the likely level of interest?

      • Andrew Frost

        If you wouldn’t mind, that would be great. Do you still have my contact details? If you could maybe send an email to a few contacts asking if they would have time to discuss this with me, I would really appreciate it. Thanks for your continued help!

  8. Angela Pohl

    Thanks, Susan Scrupski, who tweeted @IBF to suggest we weigh in on this. We appreciate your analytics and are adding some of our own to help throw some light on this:

    ++ In our member community (excluding IBF Live) of nearly 1000, one third are based in the US or Canada.
    ++ Of the North American members only 2.5% have “intranet” in their title; compared to 19% of our European members.
    ++ In fact, only 14% of them have “communication” in their title versus 24% of our European members.
    ++ Those with technology titles (i.e., “IT”, “digital” or “technology”) are roughly on par: 9% for US/Canada and 8% for UK.
    ++ It did strike me that quite a lot of US members have generic titles such as “Director” or “Senior Vice President”, which don’t get used in Europe. This may explain some of Intranetizen’s findings.
    ++ So it does look like “intranet manager” is perhaps either a more common title in Europe or it is a more recognized role.

    Anecdotally, in helping to produce IBF Live and IBF 24, I have personally noticed more complicated approval processes for US companies to be allowed to share and for us to publicize live intranet tours or even screenshots, compared with European counterparts. But within IBF member meetings this is not an issue because of confidentiality protection within membership. So this might speak to Martin White’s point #6 about US companies’ sensitivity to sharing info both online and at conferences compared with Europe.

    • @sharonodea

      Thanks for the interesting stats, Angela. It does seem there’s quite a gulf between job titles and working practices on either side of the pond. Good to see IBF doing their bit to bridge that 🙂

  9. EphraimJF

    As the US’ most notorious and well known intranet nerd (as evidenced by my massive twitter following) I feel I should weigh in here. (Just kidding.)

    First, well done Intranetizen team – thanks for this impressive analysis and for noting an issue that many of us have had bouncing around in the recesses of our brains.

    I want to throw out a possible cultural factor that may be at play, which I don’t think others have yet referenced: Supporting employees.

    Besides a few large companies like Google that take very good care of employees, we in the US don’t evidence a strong commitment to caring for employees. Worker unions? On a massive decline. Healthcare? Expensive and employers are constantly reducing their share. Maternity leave? You’re lucky if you get 3 months. Vacation time? The average US worker has far less than the average European worker. We have lower rates of female executives and legislators and much higher ratios of CEO-to-average-worker pay compared to Europe.

    These and other cues suggest a rather cold corporate culture that looks upon employees in a rather diminutive and mechanical light.

    Since a good intranet is really an investment in employees, it fits that US companies often under-resource them. It fits with our corporate culture.

    And people working on intranets in the US often likely feel they have to keep their noses to the grindstone rather than be out networking, having open conversations, learning and publishing.

    All these other factors mentioned, such as job titles, a culture of rugged individualism, geographic dispersion, etc. likely play roles as well. But it’s amazing how many large companies in the US have teensy intranet teams and investments.

    I may be grossly over-generalizing. This observation could be a personal opinion much more than a set of facts. But from someone who works for two companies based outside of the US and works with many large US-based companies, it may be perfectly well grounded.

    • @sharonodea

      Interesting point. It does appear there’s a greater emphasis on employee engagement in Europe than there is in the US; in the UK this has been a priority for both the current government and the previous one, while in Denmark, Germany, Sweden, etc, trade union membership is larger and their power stronger, with a real emphasis on communications, consultation and community.

      Which raises an interesting question: as the focus moves from intranets which serve as an employee communications tool to the broader digital workplace, aimed at helping employees to do their jobs better/more efficiently, will that change? If the focus is not on helping people to *feel* better, but rather on making companies more innovative and productive, will they start to gain greater visibility across the pond? Because then we’re talking about giving your workforce the best tools sot hey can get a march on the competition. This is something the US has historically prided itself on – it’s the country that gave us the production line, the PC and the iPhone.

  10. Jane Dysart

    A wonderful analysis, post and discussion. Thanks so much! As conference chair for KMWorld 2012 ( which includes, as Martin White mentioned, great discussions on intranets and enterprise 2.0, I would like to add another thought. As organizations focus on knowledge sharing, increased communications, faster learning models to enable their employees and the organization itself to excel, the intranet is critical. At KMWorld we look at intranets as a major piece of the big organizational picture in making these things happen. I hope if you are in DC next month for KMWorld 2012 that you will talk to Martin as he is instrumental in helping us plan future events and we would be happy to accommodate networking meetings for intranet professionals (or whatever titles you use), and additional programming that would increase the knowledge base about happenings in the US intranet world. It is also interesting that our Intranet Awards are hosted by Step Two Design from Oz!

    • @DigitalJonathan

      I hope to get the chance to meet with Martin at Interaction Intranet Confernence, along with James R (StepTwo) and Janus Boye to talk about this further. At Intranetizen, we’re absolutely committed to sharing ideas and hosting debate on intranets/digital workplace and we’re keen to work with anyone who cares to contribute to see how we can build community.

      Sadly, I’m not sure any of the Intranetizen team are in DC next month. Maybe one for us for 2013.

  11. Kelli Carlson-Jagersma

    Great dialog and much to think about here! All the way from job titles to vacation time – which, I have to say, I’m part of @Ephriamjf’s large twitter following and would retweet any propaganda suggesting corporate america to give more time to its employees 🙂

    Going back to the starting thread, @Christy hit the nail on the head: Managing the intranet is not just one person’s role. As indicated, when there is a large rework or restructure, more time is usually allocated and prioritized across functional roles at a higher level then most times. When that high priority level of work is complete, we typically then put the intranet on ‘coast’ and don’t touch it if it isn’t broken. Strategic? Probably not.

    This got me to thinking about my counterparts (and family!) in Europe. In America, we don’t work by contract. Typically we have a job role that is in a job family. For example, some random title for communications in a communications family. The job specifications are fairly vague and always followed up by ‘and all other duties as assigned’. Whereas in Europe, as an example, seems to me you have pretty clear contract on what is expected and what you will be/won’t be doing. My only point here is – I find many of my colleagues in America doing everything from the intranet to managing email projects to budgeting to planning holiday parties. American’s chronic multi-tasking syndrome (aka America’s Entrepreneurial Spirit 😉 Whereas, European counterparts have a focus on intranet. In European ‘downtime’, I feel they then have the time to strategize and plan. Granted, this is non-scientific research. It’s just me talking to folks. None-the-less, it has me thinking (while I’m multi-tasking…).

    As for the conferences – AGREE! There are so many very large conferences that get all the billing. However, this year, I was able to find a few meaningful gatherings around intranet that I would recommend other’s check out:
    ALI –
    BDI –
    JBoye (yes Joel – I’m plugging you too 🙂 –
    Roberts Golden –

    And for anyone interested in meeting, talking about intranet – you are always welcome to join our small group in Minnesota – No fees. No vendor pitches. No firewalls. 🙂

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