Driving intranet adoption: 18 top tips to get your users onboard

When you’ve invested valuable budget, resource, blood, sweat, and tears into your intranet project, there can be nothing more disheartening than seeing it all go to waste. User adoption and engagement with your intranet is the top-ranking indication of success: so, here are our top tips to get staff logging on and using it.


With any new tool, platform, process or business change, one of the biggest challenges will always be getting your staff or users onboard. As human beings, we’re often adverse to change; reluctant laggards or adopters, preferring the comfort zone of sticking to what we know.

When it comes to your company intranet, though, user adoption is one of the most critical indicators of success. When you’re under pressure to justify the investment to the C-suite, to demonstrate ROI and to meet those all-important objectives, getting staff to log on is absolutely fundamental.

The trouble is, you’ve likely been invested in your project from the get-go. You understand the advantages and benefits; you know how to use it, what for, and why.

Your users, however, may not be quite so switched-on. If they don’t understand what your intranet is for, how to use it or how it will add value to their employee experience, the inevitable lack of interest will see your intranet project stall before it’s even started. So, how do you get them excited, invested, and involved?

Whether you’re at the start of your new intranet project, or you have an existing platform that’s failing to draw your users in, these top tips will help get your intranet adoption off the ground.

Guide

Must-Read Intranet Playbook

Have you been tasked with improving your company’s communication procedures? Learn how an intranet is at the center of internal comms.

#1: Get staff involved in your intranet project upfront

If you’re in the planning or early implementation phase of your intranet project, one of the most powerful tools at your disposal is tapping into staff from the get-go.

If they’ve had input into design decisions along the way, fed upwards their needs, requirements, and challenges, or simply seen the evolution of your project from concept to tangible tool, they’re far more likely to understand the value of your intranet and be invested in its use and success.

#2: Have an intranet launch

Although this depends on your organizational culture and intranet objectives, we’ve found that making a song and dance about your intranet going ‘live’ can help generate interest, engagement, and adoption.

Launch ideas can range from ‘teaser’ emails or poster campaigns, to throwing a launch party, setting competitions or having an intranet treasure hunt. Anything that raises intrigue, introduces a touch of fun or simply puts your intranet on people’s radar helps.  

This doesn’t just have to be when you go live for the first time. Housing Association Curo undertook a refresh of the brand, content, and structure of their intranet ‘The Orb’ and did a small-scale relaunch to drive adoption:

“We stayed late one evening and laid out a load of mini refresher sweets on all the desks, as well as posting some out in advance to all our dispersed offices. With them, we gave staff a card that outlined what had changed. It went down really well: people were getting straight on to look at it when they came in.

“Since the relaunch, we’ve seen a real push on the more interactive features and in particular the blogs and our rewards.”

– Becky Davies, Communications Officer, Curo

Curo intranet homepage.
The ‘refreshed’ Orb was worth a second launch celebration for the Curo team.

#3. Have an intranet app (or at least make it mobile-friendly)

How many of your employees are non-desk-based? Working on the frontline in stores, on the road in the distribution chain, or serving customers, patients, clients while out-and-about?

Accessibility is one of the primary determining factors for intranet adoption: particularly for those organizations with a large number of frontline staff. With our growing ‘always on’ culture and continual use of our cellphones, delivering your intranet in your staffs’ pockets is a win-win.

#4. Be clear about the business challenge or problem you’re solving

How can you expect your staff to understand the value and purpose of your intranet if you don’t fully understand it yourself?

Defining your intranet purpose and why your organization needs this tool is the starting point; but it’s also something you need to keep in mind every step of the design and delivery process.   

Too often we see intranets launched with all bells and whistles attached, only to fall flat due to disuse as they fail to deliver any value for staff or business.

Guide

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#5. Provide training, drop-ins, and simple ‘how-to’ guidance

Lack of confidence is a major adoption killer. If your staff don’t understand how to use your intranet, they’ll quickly fall away.

Most organizations will provide training as part of the intranet launch process; however, it shouldn’t stop there.

Make an introduction to the intranet a part of the new starter onboarding process and hold regular refreshers or drop-in sessions for those who need it.

Ensure you have guidance or how-to guides on the intranet itself covering everything from updating profiles to how to add a blog or news story. Once staff understand the how, they’ll naturally pick up and play.

#6. Make it the number one ‘go-to’ for business news and content

Many organizations will have a multi-channel internal communications strategy: and this can be critical to engage the different demographics, needs, and preferences of your staff.

We’re not saying strike off the internal newsletter just yet; however, to pull those reluctant adopters in, you need to make your intranet the ‘go-to’, which has something no other channel offers.

Manchester Metropolitan University drives user adoption and engagement with their intranet by centralizing news and updates. Staff know their intranet is the main ‘go-to’ spot for everything they need.

Consider making emails, memos, your Yammer or Slack updates – whatever the means – just a teaser or the headline, and point staff to the intranet for the full story. Once you’ve pointed staff to your intranet, you have a better chance of them returning on their own.

#7. Make it the center for business-critical workflows or processes

If there are everyday processes that can be facilitated through your intranet, such as booking a leave of absence, submitting expenses, or simply checking the cafeteria lunch menu, you give users a concrete and essential reason to log on (and keep coming back).

As part of your planning phase, go to the different departments and communities in your organization and ask; what are the common tasks you undertake on a daily, weekly, monthly basis? Are there processes in your organization that are still paper-based? Can these be done – or, at least, made easier – via the intranet?

Selling the value of streamlined, simplified and faster digital processes can help get both users and managers onboard.

Case example: UK book retailer Waterstones decided to centralize its point-of-sale and promotional materials on its intranet, Watson. Prior to this, materials were printed centrally and shipped by courier.

Waterstones Watson Fiction downloadables

“We now use pages on Watson to host PDFs of marketing materials for important titles. Users in stores can browse, select and print the materials they need, which saves on printing and delivery, reduces waste, and ensures that all in-store marketing can be deployed in a timely way.

“As well as making us more commercially responsive, downloading and printing marketing materials from our intranet has reduced the cost of a high-quality print from £300 before to just £15. That represents total cost savings of tens of thousands of pounds a year.”

– Suzie Robinson, Intranet Manager, Waterstones.

#8.  Get the C-Suite to set an example

Your senior leaders are critical for driving user adoption, as they set the tone, expectation and maintain momentum over time.

Getting stakeholder buy-in upfront is crucial, as it clearly demonstrates the value of an intranet and ensures those key players are on board when you launch. However, it’s the visibility and involvement of those at the top on a day-to-day basis that makes a real difference.

Let’s not forget, many grassroots-level staff will have limited – if any! – visibility of their leaders. Your intranet is an ideal platform to give management a face, voice, and means for communicating their vision and instilling your culture and brand. This could be through regular blogs or vlogs, for example.

But don’t underestimate the value and power of a simple like, share, or comment. When users see their leaders getting involved or engaging with them personally, it incentivizes them to follow suit.

Case example: CEO of the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB), Julie Lillie, was instrumental in driving adoption among users of their intranet, myfsb. Her regular comments on posts, likes and shares, and endorsement or promotion of the features meant myfsb was recognized as a critical tool across the organization.

In FSB’s internal communications survey, it was Julie Lillie’s activity on myfsb that was highlighted in feedback by staff as one of the greatest appeals and successes of the new intranet.

Julie Lillian CEO of FSB comments on intranet myfsb.

#9. Launch little and often

Today’s intranet platforms can be highly sophisticated digital workplace solutions: offering a range of features and functionality to serve a multitude of purposes.

It may be too much for users to take in all at once. Just because your intranet has the potential to do “everything”, doesn’t mean it should. At least, not upfront.

Ease the transition and build adoption over time with the staggered launch of features. Starting with a small but solid foundation of core basics ensures your users are confident with them before building up. This helps manage those who aren’t confident with new technology and maintains interest up by regularly introducing something ‘new’ for your users to check out.

Guide

Must-Read Intranet Playbook

Have you been tasked with improving your company’s communication procedures? Learn how an intranet is at the center of internal comms.

#10. Set out the ‘where, what, why’ for your intranet vs. other tools

We talk regularly about the intranet serving as the gateway or centerpoint of your digital workplace. In any given organization, you’re likely to have a stack of different tools and technologies that are utilized for different purposes; whether that’s your HR system or payroll software, to Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zendesk and more.

Low adoption rates for an intranet can often be pointed to a lack of understanding of why or when it should be used when there is already an array of tools in place. Break it down for your users.

For example, one-to-one or small team conversations? Slack. Collaborating on a project? Microsoft Teams. Accessing company news, giving peer recognition, submitting a request for leave? Intranet. When your staff understand where to go and what to use each tool for, they’re more likely to adopt.

#11. Make it the default homepage on staff browsers

An oldie but a goldie: it’s a simple quick fix but proven to be highly effective.

Setting your intranet as the default homepage so it’s the first thing staff see when firing up their laptops in the morning ensures it remains front-of-mind, instilling that subtle but regular reminder to log on.

#12. Give it a personality

Let’s be honest; who would be incentivized to log onto a dry corporate platform populated with policies and procedures?

Your intranet should be a digital version of your workplace: communicating your internal brand and culture.

Inject some life into it by giving it a brand, theme, a name, logo, and its own tone. When you give your staff a platform that’s visually appealing and they enjoy using, they’re more likely to keep coming back.

Non-profit children’s welfare organization, The NSPCC, has a strong brand identity around its intranet ‘The Green’ and has carefully considered design to keep users coming back.

#13. Don’t make it ‘all business’

In a similar vein to personality, ensuring your intranet is more than a dumping ground for corporate information is crucial if you want to secure those all-important interactions on your intranet analytics.

Mix up the content types and introduce informal elements in line with your culture. Among the many ideas we’ve seen are buy and sell boards, wedding or baby announcements, communities set up for hobbies spanning running and photography through to dog lovers, or quite simply having managers and staff share personal blogs, news, and images.

Tricia Scott, Global Intranet Manager at Travelex, explains how their intranet ‘The Lounge’ has become the heart of their global online community:

“Everyone, from senior executives through to bureau workers, has a chance to get support and share their stories with a wider audience,” says Tricia. “Even our CEO contributes regular vlogs and comments on staff posts, engaging with all our users.

“We have staff writing about things that go way beyond their day jobs. People are supporting each other through illnesses, divorces, and other challenges – and these are people from all over the world who may never have met each other face to face. They’re also sharing positive stories and experiences, which is helping us to embed a common culture.”

Travelex intranet The Lounge mobile view of blog

#14. Social and employee-generated: give them the tools to contribute

Passive engagement with an intranet – that is, just asking staff to come on and read content that is pushed down to them from management – is a fast route to adoption failure. How do you expect staff to engage if they don’t have the means?

Social tools are a craze for a reason: they work. We’re talking about simple functionality such as @mentioning, #hashtagging, newsfeeds, forums, commenting, sharing. The majority of our digital-native workforce will have experience and understanding of how to use these familiar tools, enabling them to pick up and play with your intranet.

However, just having these available on your intranet isn’t enough; you need to let staff know they’re OK – in fact, encouraged! – to use. Consider mini-campaigns to get staff liking or sharing their peers’ posts, for example. This gives a boost to the original contributor, and they’re more likely to come back and post again in the future.

Guide

Must-Read Intranet Playbook

Have you been tasked with improving your company’s communication procedures? Learn how an intranet is at the center of internal comms.

#15. Introduce peer recognition

This one comes from our personal experience with our intranet, Worklife, where one of the most consistently popular and well-used features – across the whole organization – is our peer recognition tool.

Peer-to-peer recognition is 35.7% more likely to have a positive impact on financial results than manager-only recognition. (SHRM Survey)

Staff can give away ‘donuts’ from their monthly allowance to peers, to give thanks or recognition for anything ranging from support on a project or resolving a customer issue, through to bringing in cake or swapping car park spots. Staff can trade in their accumulated donuts for tangible gifts and by #hashtagging a company value, they enter their peers into the quarterly draw by managers for an additional prize.

It’s quick, simple, plays a huge role in driving morale and embedding our corporate values, and introduces an element of fun into the intranet. Best of all, it gets people logging on.

#16. Market it regularly – based on staff painpoints

Your users are your internal customers. Treat them like you would any other customer by continually marketing and communicating the value of your intranet to them.

This doesn’t need to be extensive or time-consuming; it could be as simple as picking out a feature of the month and doing a ‘Did you know…?’ email or poster to highlight what it is – and more importantly, what challenge or pain point it can help with.

We respond best to those things that affect us personally: so, there’s a huge difference between, ‘did you know the intranet has forums?’ and, ‘did you know that when you have a customer issue you can’t figure out the answer to, you can ask a question on the intranet forum and experts from across the business can help you find a solution?’.

It’s about consistently communicating the ‘WIIFM’ (what’s in it for me?) factor to users.

#17 Give them a reason to keep coming back

Let’s be honest; if Twitter only showed us new tweets once a week, would we feel compelled to check-in and refresh every 10 minutes? Of course not.

There has to be a reason for staff to keep coming back: and that reason is fresh new content.

An easy win for adoption is having dynamic content widgets featured on your homepage, which will pull through new content from across your intranet and push it to your users.

Dynamic content widgets including news, events, a newsfeed, and a scrolling hero banner keep the content on Mattress Firm’s intranet, BEDPost, fresh and engaging for users.

Likewise, a newsfeed with ‘microcontent’ ensures there’s something different for users to look at every time they come to your intranet. Don’t let your intranet become static.

#18 Make it relevant and tailored

Do your team in Atlanta need to know that the kitchen is closed in the Dallas office? Will your HR and Finance teams be interested in the number of customer support tickets resolved this quarter?

While there are some company-wide updates everyone should be privy to, surplus digital noise can be a major deterrent to intranet adoption. Use of persona grouping to personalize what our users see ensures content is relevant, tailored, and of interest. This, in turn, builds value for the user: and keeps them returning to your intranet.

Intranet adoption isn’t a one-off event

Intranet adoption isn’t a task on your launch list that you can tick off and then forget about. To truly drive those usage numbers and get your staff adopting your intranet, you need to be revisiting, evolving, updating and adapting your intranet, based on user feedback.

Delve into the analytics – where are the hot spots, and where’s the proverbial graveyard? Are there specific demographics that are big adopters, while others that are flagging on the uptake? Conduct focus groups or push out surveys to identify adoption barriers or challenges, and act on the feedback.

Both technology and our user needs change. It’s important that your intranet does too.

Guide

Must-Read Intranet Playbook

Have you been tasked with improving your company’s communication procedures? Learn how an intranet is at the center of internal comms.