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Digital communications and the structure of your intranet

Digital communications and the structure of your intranet

Changed priorities aheadThis isn’t about redesigning your intranet home page to make announcements even more prominent. The home page is often crowded, and if it isn’t, you may feel it’s restrictive. Home pages are very expensive real estate and I salute any intranet manager that has the mettle to say ‘no’ to some of the constant requests for more buttons, bigger banners, and outrageous headlines for clearly dull stories.

Beyond the home page, there’s a whole intranet – all of which can be used for communications and supporting people’s work. If you have ‘the intranet’ on one row of your communication channels matrix you’re missing out – the intranet is not one single channel, it’s a multi-channel platform.

Your communications and reference materials need to be useful, useable, and used – so they need to be findable; why publish content if it’s not?

Task focussed content

I’m sure you have publishing standards and writing guidelines for your comms colleagues and the intranet contributors around your organisation.

Beyond ‘good writing’, I have two principles to offer you, to support the idea of useful and useable content.

  1. Task focused content (useful) – material that actually helps people achieve more, helps them do something, helps them really do their work.
  2. At the point of need (useable) – material that is where people expect it to be, in a format they can quickly use.

There’s often too much content on intranets. If you don’t regularly archive or delete out-of-date and trivial material (and have a robust process for this) then your search engine will clog up with irrelevant results and the intranet will be bloated for everyone trying to get around it.

When drafting communications, keep in mind what actions you want people to take. If there’s nothing the reader should do, then why should they read your article? Can we still justify publishing so much by saying it raises ‘awareness’?

For reference material to be truly helpful, it needs to be accessible when it’s actually needed. Nobody wants to search the policy library, open a 14 page PDF, and then scan read it just to find the limit for dining expenses. This simple information should be available when one goes to submit expenses – as a concise page. Guidance at the point of need, you see.

The well structured intranet

To be able to publish material in the right place (from the audience’s point of view) you need to have an intranet that is structured to suit your organisation.

Then, you need the governance (the agreed ways of working) that permits content authors to publish in the right place.

You’ve no doubt found ‘permissions’ and ‘access’ to be restrictive around your intranet (unless you’re the intranet manager, in which case you’ve got almost free rein).

Few intranets have zero restrictions; imagine just how much people would build and publish if there were no limits on their actions! Imagine Wikipedia without any experienced editors.

The intranet manager, along with stakeholders and site / section owners, guides the structure of the intranet in the same way that a gardener guides the growth of a tree in a small garden.

My tip is to avoid building deep, nested structures. We don’t want people getting lost in sections within sections within sections. As I often say, build your intranet to be wide and shallow; like my character.

Navigation – based on people’s expectations

Structure is there to build a wide and shallow intranet (think ‘grape vine, not conifer tree) but navigation is there to help people get around (i.e. navigation menus do not have to match the structure).

Your menu titles should be sensible and explicit – no jargon, no acronyms, no ‘cool names’. This terminology is not about your what you think will work and has nothing to do with the vocabulary preference of your CEO / HIPPO (HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion), it’s about people’s expectations / culture.

And people’s expectations (and their understanding of terminology) can be discovered using research exercises. So there’s no excuse to have ‘mystery meat navigation’.

In closing, make better use of your intranet as a communications and engagement platform by focussing your efforts beyond the home page. Go where the audience is already – be that project blogs, Yammer / Chatter, the HR section, ‘how to’ libraries, Communities of Practice or Personal Interest Groups.

Wedge Black

I support ClearBox in everything we do online, and I assist clients that are considering redeveloping or replacing their intranet platform. I worked in global and regional organisations as the intranet manager as part of the comms team, before becoming an intranet consultant. I'm the founder of the Intranet Now annual conference. I’ve tweeted about intranets and comms for fifteen years now.

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