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In 2004, I was introduced to the concept of an intranet… a website for employees to be accessed inside of the company’s network. Back then, the purpose was to share information, updates and the company directory (seriously – there was a phonebook and professional photos of everyone). There wasn’t much else going on at the “Pub Hub” at the time.

But as the Pub Hub grew, so did the ways in which we utilized this new internal tool turning it into another place for us to throw things at. Fast forward (ahem), 12 years – and intranets have unlimited possibilities and uses. But have you lost sight to your intranet’s strategy? I bet so… so here’s the lowdown of what your intranet should be.

Get Back to the Basics

I know it sounds like I’m telling you to go back to the 2004 model of an intranet, but I’m not recommending you go that far back. Instead, let’s take a step back from the everyday management of the intranet, and focus on the strategy. To do this effectively, consider these questions first:

  1. What are people coming to the intranet to do?
  2. What actions do you want your employees to take when they get there?
  3. Who is coming to your intranet?

These three questions are the very backbone for your intranet’s existence. And we very easily forget about this and simply maintain what’s there or add lots of bells and whistles because it’s what we “should” do.

But updating your intranet or adding on additional options without considering these three items, is akin to sending a bunch of email spam that no one opens.

For now, don’t worry about or consider things like… which platform should I use? Is SharePoint the best option? How will I migrate everything? Who’s going to maintain the site? Who’s the owner? And so on. Until you have a solid strategy around the above three items, nothing else is important. These are the tactics.

Let’s dive a little deeper…

What are people coming to the intranet to do?

To answer this question, you need to consider why it was built in the first place and how the needs of your organization have changed. As have the technology options. Remember the Pub Hub I mentioned above? Can you imagine still having the phone book function on your intranet as the main driver? Probably not…

So why do your employees want to visit your intranet, specifically? What can they find or do there, that they aren’t able to do anywhere else?

Intranets can be a great place for you to share company-wide (or even department-specific) information and news… but only if you update it regularly. They can also be a great resource for employees to learn more about policies, benefits, IT support, HR-related “stuff,” and more. They can be a great resource – but it’s up to you to create the strategy around what kind of resource you need your intranet to be.

And remember: the best intranets are not duplicative of other places people can get things done.

If you’re using something like SharePoint for team documents or Yammer for group discussions, your intranet should be the place where people come to do those things as well.

What actions do you want your employees to take when they get there?

This question is something that online marketers ask everyday… when someone arrives on the website, what single action do you want them to take? I’ve heard it smartly referred to as follows:

Every potential “customer” (your employees) are being yelled at through many different mediums all waiting to find something that grabs their attention. Think of it as standing in a store and yelling at passersby on the sidewalk. As soon as their attention is grabbed, they enter the store – in this case, your intranet. Your store then “sells” them on what you want them to purchase.

Basically, think of your intranet as your store – they are interested and they’ve walked inside. Now you want to guide their journey to take the desired actions within your store to complete the transaction.

And while many of you are thinking… “One action? There’s SO much we want them to do on the intranet” my advice is simple: if you provide people with too many options, they will not take any action at all.

Bring it back to the very most important action your employees need to take when they arrive. For example, if your intranet is focused on delivering company-wide news – you want their first action to be reading the newest news item or signing up for daily news emails. If your intranet is focused on presenting HR policies, then you want their first action to be filled with policy-related details and documents.

Bring this thinking to every part and page of your intranet. Consider the one thing you want people to do – then design around that.

And perhaps the best thing your intranet’s homepage can do, is get people quickly and easily to the section they are seeking (which I’ll review later in this series).

Who is coming to your intranet?

Who will be visiting your intranet, both regularly and infrequently, should be considered when designing or overhauling your intranet strategy. If your employees come via mobile device more than desktop, that’s important. If they are only executive-level employees, that would have a different need than another population… and so on.

You must fully consider who is coming to the site to understand how to best take advantage of the real estate.

The easiest way to do this, is to evaluate with metrics, who’s coming to your site now, where they’re going once they get there and how long they’re staying. You can find out all about the right metrics to track here.

Remember: your intranet is not necessarily being built for you (or your HR/IT team). It needs to serve the various audiences that your intranet serves – be sure to check in with those audiences when you’re planning your strategy, or you’ll end up with another wasted communication tool.