Is your intranet encouraging collaboration? 10 easy steps to get collaboration started

You have heard a lot of people talk about ‘the social intranet’, ‘internal collaboration’ and ‘enterprise 2.0’ and many internal comms executives, intranet managers and HR teams have tried to set up business oriented forums, blogs and status updates. The success rate is sporadic but those who get it right will reap massive benefits and unlock the power of crowd sourcing. There are many examples of crowd sourcing success stories on the web such as this recent list compiled by Information Week.

Here are my 10 points to kick-start your collaboration strategy:

1. Ensure you have management buy-in

When talking to management, don’t brand collaboration tools with current buzzwords such as Enterprise 2.0, Social Business or Intranet 2.0, etc, etc! It’s important to present the tools as solutions to particular pain points in the business (see point 3.) You need to show how business can be significantly improved with collaboration features. Show them how discussions, news and points of view are transparent on the intranet – execs are then able to tap into the company community on demand. Toby Ward discusses the importance of management buy-in in his blog ‘6 killer reasons for selling social media to executives.’

2. Encourage collaboration champions

Find out who in your company is already utilising social collaboration tools such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and get them to become champions on your collaborative intranet platform. Encourage them to start using the intranet to ask questions and voice their opinions. Once you start the ball rolling with these employees, more will follow!

3. Focus on a need/pain point in your business

This is probably one of the most important steps you need to take when building a collaborative intranet. The biggest mistake I see is a lack of understanding in the objectives of why organisations are trying to encourage collaboration.

Look deep into a business and find the areas that may be helped by Enterprise 2.0 tools. For example a pain point may be that a company is continually losing business to one particular competitor. By using status updates (or micro-blogging) on your intranet to share information about the competitor amongst colleagues and using an accompanying hash tag, makes all the information searchable so critical material is not lost and can be utilised to win business.

Another example is when a company introduces a new IT system into the business. Instead of swamping the IT helpdesk with email queries about the new system, which leads to multiple repetitions of questions being asked, a collaborative intranet can be used to post questions about the new system and receive answers via crowd-sourcing. This eliminates the use of email and it also means the information is searchable so people looking for the same answer can find it easily. The feature Interact Answers takes crowd-sourcing to the next level by intelligently pushing content to people it thinks can provide solutions.

4. Set up a governance strategy for your collaborative intranet

It is important to involve HR when setting up a government strategy. They own the informal learning procedures in a business, which the social intranet is part of.

Come up with basic rules around using collaborative tools. Social networking governance policies should encourage active online participation while mirroring existing business conduct and compliance policies.

Check what guidelines already exist in your organisation. Most organisations have a general code of conduct for the use of email and when using external social networking tools e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. These are usually easily adapted to cover internal networking. Follow @netjmc for great information on intranet governance.

5. Use the correct tools for the job

Imagine using Excel when you want to write a report or draft a letter? It would be possible but it would be difficult and the result wouldn’t be great. I have seen so many people use forums instead of blog posts for personal updates and although this can work it is confusing to the end user. Therefore it is really important that you use blogs, forums, status updates correctly and consistently. Ensure that everyone in the organisation knows which tools are available and how they should be using them.

This comes down to the governance of your enterprise 2.0 strategy. Why not create a document that details how each tool should be used and make sure that this is covered in any induction process? For example – if you want people to ask questions through your status updates/micro-blog then tell them to ask any questions through that tool and not on a forum. It does help when you can configure these tools for different applications. One of the reasons Interact Answers was developed, was to uncover the massive benefits of activity steams and micro-blogging, directing the user to ask a question through their status updates.

6. Integrate social intranet tools with your traditional intranet

This is probably one of the biggest reasons I see for the failure of mass participation. It is important somebody doesn’t have to visit two places to work with the intranet – they should be integrated into one space. It is far easier to introduce and teach somebody about a new feature of an existing platform than explain they have to go to X for collaboration and Y for documents. When somebody goes to the intranet to complete a form or read a policy, collaboration tools should be clearly visible and accessible on the Homepage. By pushing this information to people, they can easily see relevant material such as a question they may know the answer to and then they can begin to collaborate.

Linking to documents and people using @ tagging makes collaboration a more successful and integrated experience (imagine if you couldn’t link to people in Facebook!) Ensuring the intranet is one integrated space, means collaboration has a higher success rate. Toby Ward’s blog post on The Social Intranet Tipping Point give some great examples of a social intranet home page.

7. Promote interaction

Having a forum or blog that is hidden away is the easiest way to fail. It is really important that any updates are pushed to users through homepages and alerts. If somebody has commented on a document or a status update they will want to know when there is other activity around their comments. If somebody asks a question they want to know that question is being pushed to the experts in their organisation. By promoting interaction to users it improves the chance of collaboration success.

8. Ensure that your collaboration doesn’t get wasted

The real key to collaboration is that a lot of it becomes company knowledge and can be searched for and found easily within the intranet unlike emails. Important information is not lost and is locked in the company, even when employees leave. Effective search functionality is key to collaboration success – it needs to search all the content on the intranet including documents, the staff directory, calendars, blogs and all applications.

9. Encourage peer-to-peer recognition as a social intranet initiator

Nothing is better for morale than public peer recognition and the collaborative intranet is the perfect place to start.

A motivational tool such as the Interact Rewards Widget works really well for this. It allows your employees to publically recognise fellow employees’ efforts. Designed to be a peer-to-peer tool not just a ‘top down’ to applaud the efforts of others, it not only boosts morale but it also provides a pull mechanism to encourage intranet usage and employee engagement.

10. Try and try again

Mass user contribution doesn’t happen overnight! However it is easy and takes just a small investment in time to set up different collaboration projects with different objectives. If your first effort fails to get momentum don’t give up just try again with a different tool and goals.

It will succeed and you will have that collaboration ‘wow moment‘ – whether that is realising the costs it will save your company or uncovering unknown knowledge in your industry, it will suddenly hit you!

Nigel Danson is the Founder and CEO of Interact Intranet