Our free 700-page report reviews more than 30 of the best intranet and employee experience platforms on the market. Each of our full reviews assesses the products against ten business scenarios, which we’ve formed from our experiences working with clients and as practitioners ourselves. I’ve collated some of the results and best examples from Scenario 3: Internal Communication.
Internal communication capabilities is the third of our ten scenarios, and we assess each intranet via a bespoke demo with the vendor, in-depth discussions, robust scoring criteria, and rigorous fact-checking. Our scenarios are recognisable real-world business priorities, and you will want to consider which are the most important to your organisation.
What ‘Scenario 3: Internal Communication’ covers
Internal communicators will often rely on intranets and similar platforms to reach their audiences. While assessing each intranet, we wanted to see what tools were available to help communicators create, manage, and reach users. This included different news types, crisis communications, and ways of reaching people beyond the given platform.
Creating news articles
Many products, such as Unily, approach news creation via simple forms with fields dedicated to different parts of the article. While others, like Interact, take a drag-and-drop approach, where widgets of body content are laid out to build an article. Whichever approach is taken, good article builders include options to start with pre-configured templates and to easily add multimedia content. The best deliver a simple experience, while offering advanced tools such as detailed accessibility checking.
While Unily and Interact are both independent, standalone, intranets, SharePoint intranet in-a-box products can also offer a good range of approaches to article creation. Many make use of SharePoint’s core features, but the best expand those to offer an excellent complement to Microsoft’s basic offering. Powell, as a good example, offers a range of news web parts (widgets) that can be added to an article to expand the format types of the content shared.
Embedded multimedia breaks up articles, giving a much more pleasant experience for readers. The best products allow publishers to easily embed videos from Stream, YouTube, Kaltura and others, without needing to know any coding. Providing easy access to the company’s image repositories is also vital, while others will integrate with free image libraries like Pexels or Unsplash.
Then others, like Omnia, go one step further by offering simple but effective image editing within the publishing screens. In this example editors can crop the image and make adjustments to lighting, or apply a filter. What’s particularly helpful is that it will help publishers manipulate the image size and ratio so that it will fit into different image locations on the intranet (in a banner, features news article image etc.).
Once published the article needs to look appealing so that people are encouraged to read it. The example from Invotra not only shows a simple but effective article, but also highlights optional extras that make the page more engaging. Related articles allow people to glean context and read more, and easily catch up on things they’ve missed. Social features, like comments or reactions, help readers share their feelings (this is covered in more detail in Scenario 4). Polls allow people to share thoughts, but also captures their understanding for publishers. Page ranking helps people indicate how helpful a page has been.
Groups of people exist already in systems such as Active Directory or HR databases. Many of the intranet products we saw will make use of these groups, or allow admins to create new groups (sometimes on-the-fly) within the product, so that content can be targeted to them. The most dynamic and flexible, such as Firstup, provide logic features to make user groups precise. They can take data from multiple sources too, and present admins with an overview of the group to easily see how many people will be targeted.
Giving users the power to opt in to news topics is just as important as pushing relevant messages to them. Akumina has a simple interface where users can select company departments and geographical regions, as well as broader topic tags. The tags are easy to get to and update, for when individuals move departments or you need to introduce new topics.
Air traffic control for news
Managing the flow of news is no easy task, particularly for those working within a decentralised publishing model where dozens or hundreds of people are creating stories. Tools like Staffbase offer Kanban boards or calendars of existing and scheduled content. This means communication managers can monitor and easily adjust the volume of news. Staffbase allows you to drag a scheduled content card into a different column, and it updates the publishing date for you.
It’s helpful for publishers to see an overview of everything that is in their name. Products like Beezy have dashboards or lists of articles, giving a simple view of everything that has been published and when, what languages they’re in, whether it has been ‘featured’ as a promoted story, the authors and status. Being able to filter and search makes the management of live or expired content much simpler than just seeing every page that falls under a certain section.
One step on from content management is publishing orchestration, which Firstup does very well. Publishers select settings, such as priority level and which device types the messages will be published to, then Firstup distributes the page to the selected audience (see below) at a time that’s most appropriate for them and for the message.
For example, a critical message about a system outage would be sent to that system’s core users immediately and would frequently prompt them to read it. Whereas an engagement story about latest charity activities would go to the relevant office when higher priority content has made it through, likely at 9am on a Wednesday when there is casual browsing.
Handling urgent and crisis comms
When an urgent or crisis communication needs to be distributed, it must happen quickly and effectively. Firstup’s orchestration (above) will help with this, but there are alternative solutions out there. Involv and Elcom offer a couple of nice examples of alerts.
Firstly, the message needs to be highlighted somehow. This could be via a banner, pop-out, coloured message, or something else. This should be persistent where relevant, so that people can find it again to remind themselves what they need to know. Alternatively, it should be simple to dismiss if there’s no need to irritate people with it. Some form of ‘acknowledgment’ button tracks who has or hasn’t read something, providing a record for compliance purposes.
Reaching people outside of the intranet
While we cover mobile access in a separate scenario (Scenario 2) in our review report, we’re interested in ways that messages could be published in one place but reach audiences wherever they may be. One approach is to reach alternative digital channels, such as Microsoft Teams (as in the LumApps example), Yammer, or even into a business system like Salesforce. These integrations could share a snippet of the article, such as a title and summary, out of the intranet but link back to the original article for more. Alternatively, these integrations may post the whole article in a different system. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, so communication decision-makers will have to consider the best choice.
Email remains a solid communication channel, although any email has to battle with dozens of other emails that everyone receives each day. Digests of news on the intranet the individual has missed is a good starting point, but the most richly-feature intranet systems offer newsletter designers. Staffbase is an excellent example, where multiple publishers can work on a newsletter at the same time and include elements such as videos, polls, comment fields, and links to intranet articles. Readers can interact with elements, like polls, directly in the newsletter, without even having to open the intranet. It’s great to see innovations like this, considering even Microsoft has only deployed interactive emails in the last 18 months or so.
Lastly, reaching people without their own company device is difficult (although Scenario 2 in our report covers frontline worker and mobile needs) but some companies tackle this with digital signage. Interact is a good example of an effective digital signage approach, which uses a dedicated intranet channel to populate physical screens with content. The content can be from across the intranet, or created specifically for the digital signage. Videos automatically play, content scrolls through at a good pace, and data is locally cached (so if internet connectivity is lost there’s no embarrassing error screen).
Overview of scores for Scenario 3
Ultimately, publishers should find news creation simple, flexible, and enjoyable. If it’s hard, inflexible, or monotonous then you could end up with unattractive, plain articles. Worse, you risk fracturing you communication channels as publishers might choose to use something that better meets their needs.
In our report, all products score higher than SharePoint Online and each offers its own combination of features to meet business needs. I’d recommend you consider your intranet and company strategy, and explore what you and your publishers need, before deciding on an intranet product. There is no, single, best product – there is only the product that best meets your needs, and it may end up being one of the lower scoring ones in this scenario if it performs well in a priority scenario. Please download our free report for more information about everything I’ve shared here.
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See more screenshots in Scenario 9, Microsoft 365 integration.