Traditional intranets – while offering a variety of tools for improving internal communication, workforce productivity, collaboration, and more – are often seen as stuffy, boring systems that employees NEED to use, but not necessarily would WANT to use.
However, that’s all changing now. In an age where Customer Experience Management (CEM/CXM) and producing engaging digital experiences across various channels is at the top of every organization’s digital strategy list, some of that is crossing over to modern intranet solutions. Organizations are now beginning to see the importance of providing that same level of engagement to their employees that they do for their customers.
A new generation of social intranets have emerged that focus on building internal employee communities while incorporating social tools to facilitate knowledge sharing, employee interaction and feedback, and team-building and collective problem solving.
Over the last few months, we’ve presented on this hot topic at several events, including two webinars, two Liferay Roadshows, the Liferay North America Symposium, and KMWorld Conference. Let’s take a deeper look at how a social intranet solution can be used to facilitate smarter enterprise collaboration.
Social Communication is Critical – From Internet to Intranet
Looking at the history of social media in general is important in helping us understand why social features have become an essential part of today’s intranets. Most of us were around before social media and remember when it all first started. As with any new technology, there was some initial resistance. However, it was interesting to see how quickly people naturally gravitated towards using social media and embraced the openness that came with it.
Fast-forward to today and you see users worldwide that are socially active. This proves that the need for social interaction is not cultural, but rather it fulfills a natural human need – the need to share, to discover new things, and to be connected to one another. This is why social media has become an essential part of our internet experience today.
Naturally, companies have caught on to this, and Web applications and services that provide social features started sprouting up globally. In fact, it’s hard to find a successful Web application nowadays that doesn’t incorporate social features to some extent.
However, for a while, social interactions were kept out of the workplace, and employees would change their behaviors to fit within the constraints imposed by their employers. And those who were initially rejected for rallying for social interaction within the workplace were the same visionaries that saw the benefits – as a tool for providing constructive feedback, and to help employees be more efficient, hence improving productivity.
This initial resistance to social interaction within the workplace was no different from the resistance from internet users when social media was first conceived. Intranets are changing, and organizations leading that change are already reaping the benefits.
The Social Intranet
So what makes an intranet social? Unlike the public internet, intranets are trickier, since there are usually a lot of organizational rules to follow, many of which go against the essence of being social. Here we will cover some common features of a social intranet.
First and foremost, it has to be easy to use. Just like social applications on the internet, social intranets shouldn’t require user training. Nowadays, people learn how to use Web tools by talking to each other about it. While the availability of online help resources is always useful, discussion forums teach users a lot more.
Light Community Management
One of the biggest obstacles that get in the way of social intranet adoption are an organization’s existing anti-social rules, such as policing all content. Imagine if every time you posted a forum question someone had to review and approve it before it gets posted. Chances are, you’d never ask anything. Instead of being policed, social intranets should be moderated, where users can post freely, and processes can be put in place to correctly handle improper posts. This also means that some organizations would need to change their company culture and rules prior to adopting a social intranet.
Content is Produced and Consumed
Another key difference between social internet and social intranet apps is that consumers of content are as important as producers of content. We tend to always praise producers and call consumers leeches. This isn’t the case in social intranets, however, since it’s the consumers who are the ones using this content to be more efficient and productive at work. Producers without consumers are useless.
And last but not least, social intranets tend to be heavy on enterprise search. Discovery is an essential social feature, and search is one of the best tools for enabling discovery, so great social intranets typically put a lot of emphasis on integration with enterprise-wide search solutions.
The change is here, and early adopters are reaping the benefits. In fact, a recent research report published by Nielson Norman Group on social intranets has found that many companies see intranet information sharing and other social features offering true competitive advantages. And more interestingly, many executives recognize that social tools are an expected part of a knowledge worker’s standard toolkit.
Building a Social Intranet – Now What?
Building a successful social intranet means selecting the right tools for the job, and Liferay Portal is one of the best tools to take on this task. Liferay provides all the social intranet features discussed in two ways – through Liferay Social Office or as a tailored social intranet built on the Liferay platform.
Liferay Social Office
Liferay Social Office is a packaged social collaboration solution that successfully addresses many social intranet features.
- Dashboard – A dashboard is an essential part of any social intranet and offers a great way to keep users informed of what’s going on.
- Sites – Liferay has site-based architecture, allowing organizations to create sites that serve very different purposes – departmental sites, project and team sites, and even regular websites with editorial content.
- Contact Center – A big part of social communication is to stay connected, so social intranets put a lot of emphasis on having an easy-to-use people directory. Liferay successfully addresses this through Contact Center, which even includes user profiles in search results.
- Team Calendar – Liferay’s calendar feature can be used in any site to manage site-specific events.
- Search – Liferay enables enterprise search through integrations with Apache Solr, Google Search Appliance, Endeca, and more, allowing you to make enterprise-wide information discoverable from within the social intranet.
- Liferay Sync – Liferay addresses the growing need for ubiquitous file sharing through Liferay Sync, a feature similar to Dropbox/Google Drive. In addition, your enterprise security constraints are honored even when you’re outside of your company’s firewall.
- Related Content – This feature allows content authors to associate content of different types, resulting in a very rich and dynamic information architecture. For example, reader of a blog post who then posts a relevant question in a forum can relate the blog and forum posts, exposing future blog post readers to the forum posts.
Even more, Liferay Social Office has additional social features such as micro-blogging, private messaging, announcements and alerts, full-featured document management, comments and ratings, and much more.
Custom Social Intranet Solution
Another approach to building a Liferay-based social intranet is to create a custom solution utilizing Liferay as a platform. One of the most popular Liferay use cases is actually a Human Resources (HR) Portal, which is often the first step towards building a social intranet. An HR Portal provides an efficient means of disseminating company information and news, and offers an ideal medium for employee outreach and engagement.
Over the past few years, Rivet Logic has built a variety of intranet solutions for customers with varying business models. Through working with these customers and understanding their requirements for these intranets, we’ve found certain features to be commonly sought across all intranet solutions. Based on these features, we’ve built an open source HR Portal that we’ve contributed back to the Liferay community, now available through the Liferay Marketplace. This easy-to-deploy portal solution comes with many useful features, including:
- Corporate news authoring and publishing
- Customizable news publishing channels
- User-friendly people directory
- Customizable portal-wide main navigation bar
- Smart news carousel
- Customizable quick links
Choosing the Right Approach
So how do organizations determine which approach to use for their social intranet? Liferay Social Office is Liferay’s equivalent to Sharepoint, so it may be better suited for organizations that like what they’re getting out of the box and aren’t looking for a tailored solution.
Those looking for a more tailored solution can either use the HR Portal as a starting point and build an intranet on top of it, or use Liferay as a platform and build an intranet from scratch. The bottom line is, there is no right or wrong approach, but rather determining what each organization needs and finding the approach that best fits with those requirements.
If you’d like to learn more about social intranets, we have several resources to help you gain a better understanding: