Half of the problem with a lot of intranets is that they try to be everything to everyone in an organisation. I’ve been thinking that some of the best advice I could give is what NOT to do with your intranet.
Don’t let it be a mouthpiece for the boss
Where this is allowed to happen it can be the kiss of death for any intranet. If users feel that every time they access the intranet that the information flow is one way only they will quickly ‘vote with their fingers’ and stop using it.
Ensure that a quid pro quo exists where users accept communication ‘downwards’ because robust ‘upward’ communication channels also exist.
Don’t let contributors interfere with the navigation
Just because some staff are experts in their areas and contribute lots of content to the intranet don’t let them decide where their content should go or what other content it should be linked to. They may be experts but I have met very few who could, or were willing to, look outside their silos and see what others were doing.
Whoever decides on changes in navigation and linkages to other content must have a good knowledge of all areas of the intranet. This is to ensure that duplication and inconsistencies between content is avoided and that value is added by the creative linking of different content strands.
Don’t include news
The trouble with news items is that their shelf life can be very limited so it can take a lot of resource to keep news pages current and interesting. Out of date content in the news section can lead a user to doubt the currency of other content.
In many organisations newsletters and news updates already exist. If this is the case let them get on with it and avoid duplication (though maintaining back issues of the newsletter in the intranet is a good idea). Remember intranet managers are not journalists.
Don’t use jargon (except for search of course)
If your intranet can be accessed by non-technical staff, customers and other stakeholders do not allow jargon to go unexplained. Use brackets if necessary so that the jargon and an explanation can go side by side. Remember that users can land on any page through search so explanations on the first page of a content set may be of little use.
Jargon (especially acronyms) can make great search key words though.
Don’t be disappointed if 100% of the staff don’t use your intranet 100% of the time
The intranet is just one of the places that staff will look for information. There is a lot of stuff on the internet and there is always one person in very department who knows everything (and sometimes they do!). Think of your intranet as a trusted reference library. A user won’t need to access all the information on a day to day basis but, when they need it, they will need it quickly and will want to trust that the content is complete and up to date.
As there is not (and probably never will be) a measure of how often employees need to access an intranet don’t use search log analysis (except for analysing key words of course), it won’t prove anything. It was pointed out to me that more pages visited might just be the result of bad navigation as users flail around trying to find what they need.
If you want to know if your intranet is good, bad or indifferent it’s easy – go out and ask your users. You know where they are and in most cases they won’t mind chatting about the intranet. After all they are being paid for it!
(Thanks to Joe Saunders http://flickr.com/photos/diamondjoe/ for the picture of his desk)