Intra McIntranet: the perils of intranet naming competitions

We’ve blogged before on the case for and against giving your intranet a name. A great way to engage users and promote adoption of a new intranet or ESN is to include employees in the naming process, with a competition. By getting them involved early you enable users to get involved in the intranet development process, build support and engagement, and get a name that really chimes with your company culture and values.

Or so the theory goes.

But as the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) recently found out, asking the public for help in naming a key brand asset isn’t without its pitfalls.

They invited the public to suggest names for its new 128m long, £200m research vessel, which will study the ice sheets, marine life and ocean currents of Antarctica.  The Name Our Ship website soon crashed, with an overwhelming response in favour of… Boaty McBoatface. At the time of writing over 25,000 votes ahead of its nearest rival. The second place choice, RRS Henry Worsley, only gained 3,000 votes. Other strong contenders included “Usain Boat”, “Pingu”, and “RRS Tits McGee”.

And it’s not just the Brits who will seize an opportunity to prick the pomposity of these engagement efforts. In 2012 Slovak lawmakers overrode the public’s vote to rename a pedestrian bridge after the actor Chuck Norris, while in Austin, Texas, people tried to name the city’s waste management service after Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst.

When attempting a crowdsourced name content, your biggest risk isn’t of people suggesting mockable monikers, but rather that you’ll get a lot of sub-par entries. Branding is a difficult and complex process, and maybe it’s asking too much of a lay audience to come up with something good. The vast majority of entries will, we warn you, be absolute mince.

A central part of the problem is that your end users aren’t branding experts. Unless you work for a branding agency, in which case you’re quids in. If you ask a bunch of accountants to come up with a single word that conveys the possibilities the intranet offers while making it resonate in the context of your own organisational culture, you can hardly be surprised if they come back with a list of the usual suspects that don’t really mean anything at all (in our unscientific analysis, at least three quarters of intranets are called Insite, Hub, Pulse or iConnect/Connect)

A bevvy of rubbish entries leaves you with a couple of options; to stick with a crap sobriquet in the name of democracy, or – like NERC – disregard the popular vote, potentially damaging user engagement and sending a message that management don’t value staff input after all.

Many organisations have had success in building engagement with their intranet with an intranet naming competition. Oxfam America called their intranet Padare which means “Community Space” in Zimbabwean language Shona; this was suggested by someone in their South Africa office, and neatly encapsulates their message and international focus.

The Boaty McBoatface incident has, nonetheless, demonstrated the potential of competitions to engage people; it’s got tens of thousands of people who ordinarily wouldn’t have given a second thought to polar marine research interested.

But it’s also highlighted some of the risks competitions can bring up. If you’re going to attempt a competition, here’s some ways to minimise the risk:

  • Think about the game design of the competition. You could minimise the risk of failure but running it as two separate phases – the first to solicit ideas, the second putting these to the public vote. This gives you the opportunity to filter out poor or embarrassing suggestions.
  • Have a fallback; ensure you have an alternative name lined up in case your contest doesn’t deliver anything suitable
  • Prime a handful of people to drop in some strong suggestions
  • Make sure you promote your competition in all parts of the business
  • Check proposed names carefully. Are there cultural connotations? (send it to people in other territories and ask). Can people pronounce it? Are there trademark issues?


Have you run an intranet naming competition? How did it go? What advice would you give others who are considering it? Let us know in the comments.

There are 6 comments

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    • Sharon O'Dea

      Blimey – great minds think alike! Either that or we’re both just pointing out the obvious 🙂

  1. Dan Leonard

    Sharon, great article. We didn’t run a competition to name the intranet – though we did discuss it as being a way to engage users more. However, we did briefly refer to it using the working title ‘Bob’ (A slightly obscure Blackadder reference and one I feared might make it to the final product). In the end we stuck with the old name Meeting point. I think it’s about knowing your online culture and engagement levels with the intranet (or development). If you can’t explain to users what the intranet will do, it’s going to be hard for them to come up with a (decent) new name.

  2. Rebecca Jackson

    Great article Sharon. On my last project we vetoed the naming competition process and just went for ‘Intranet’, keeping it simple. That was in the context of a bunch of other systems which had interesting naming competitions, and subsequent naming conventions.

    Like everything I agree that it comes down to what’s right for the company, and having some thought around the process.

    I haven’t yet worked through the process for how we will name the intranet in my current project, but I will be sure to share.

  3. Martin Stubbs-Partridge

    Hi Sharing,
    Thanks for sharing. We ran a mini competition amongst close project stakeholders to test the water before opening out to the wider community. Our goal for the name was that it had to be something people would understand and work well with our ambition to transition over time to “Our digital workplace” (this text would sit below the name in English and Garlic). In the end, both stakeholders and wider community stuck with “Intranet – our digital workplace”.

    What we also decided to do was to use our organisations pictogram only at the top of the site with the full brand at the bottom. That way (a) prime content space isn’t used up by the brand and, (b) we weren’t trying to shove a brand down people’s throats for the sake of it. What matters most on an intranet – content people need to do their work or a brand name?

    We went for the former. Happy to share our brand image if you think it would be helpful. Alternatively there’s a site tour video on YouTube. Search “Scottish Natural Heritage intranet site tour”.

  4. Geoff Talbot

    Hi Sharon,

    Love this post, very creative. I completely agree, democracies when naming things or creating anything can be dangerous.

    I think it is imperative that you create your Intranet for your Users, and that you very clearly identify how it can help them solve significant work problems… But you also need to have a vision behind the development that is not dysplastic but focussed.

    Thanks again

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