Thursday, August 13, 2009

5 Tips To Create a Successful Intranet
Part Three - Front Page News

Should every Intranet have a news section on the front page? This question is bound to be a contentious one. The front page news section has historically been seen as an essential item for every Intranet but this may not be true for every organisation. You need to cast an objective eye over the news section and evaluate if it adds sufficient value to justify its prime position.

I have recently done just that, evaluated the content of all news items posted over the past month, checked the monthly access stats to see what the actual readership numbers for news items are and reviewed the amount of space taken up by our news panel.

My conclusion for our Intranet was YES, the news section does provide value for users and we seem to have the balance pretty right. I have to say though that it was a pretty close call.

Many internal communications professionals see the intranet news as a vital communications channel to enhance employee engagement and indeed there is some truth to that. My evaluation of our news readership however demonstrated that items about company performance, executive appointments, project milestones, marketing media releases and the like are interesting to a very limited number of staff. The bulk of my users who check the news are interested in information that provides them personally with opportunities and items on issues that affect them directly.

The usage results table below shows the top 10 ranked news items for the month of July 09. There were 38 news items published in the 31 day period. We have approximately 6000 daily intranet users and the top ranking item was viewed by just under 8% of those users. Number 10 was read by just under 5%. You can interpolate that number 38 for the month would be a very small number of views indeed.
The content of the top 10 items can also be broken into 3 clear categories.

Offers and opportunities for employees
1 - Discount show ticket offer taking number the one spot
2 - Bulletin Board is a place where employees can buy and sell items amongst each other
3 - Shine Winners is a list of those who have won $250A employee of the month award
9 - Pre Sale Ticket offer to purchase major sporting tickets before the general public

Monthly News Letters
(Magazine type publications that contain a lot of articles about individuals)
5 - Corporate
6 - Sydney Casino
10 - One of our core business arms

Information that directly affect employees
4 - Government tax changes to employee share plan
7 - Government changes to company superannuation contributions
8 - Major company acquisition being considered

As a comparison I have provided another chart that shows the top 10 Functions and Features accessed over the same period. You can see the numbers are much higher with the number 10 ranked item being accessed more than the number 1 news item.

There are a few tips that you might like to consider about the provision of Intranet news.

  • Good volume of news items
    Make sure you have plenty of news contributions from across your organisation. If a news item stays on the front page for an entire month it is really just taking up space. Not many people re read yesterdays newspaper.
  • Limit the space each item takes
    Headings should be short but descriptive, and a very brief synopsis can be provided. Users should be able to get an idea if they are interested in an item by reading its title. They can then ignore it or click in to read more. Presenting a large chunk of the item is really once again just taking up space.
  • Good variety of information
    As illustrated above, users are interested in items that directly affect them, offers they can take advantage of and information about other employees. Posting company media releases, marketing information and self congratulatory corporate information alone is not of great interest to employees on the coal face.
  • Learn about your users
    This is a very important thing that every Intranet Manager needs to do for everything on the Intranet. Each user is different, every location is different and every organisation is different. It is up to you to identify their interests and needs. There are many ways to do this and I am sure I will elaborate on some in future posts.
  • Consider alternative methods of news delivery
    If you have a small volume of news or your contributors are limited you might consider a different delivery method instead of the traditional front page panel. Perhaps a prominent link of the front page "Current News - Last Update MM-DD-YYYY". Maybe provide an RSS feed that those interested can subscribe to. There are many options and I am sure some unique ones I have not considered that would work in your organisation.

In conclusion, the analysis and information I have outlined above is about my organisation and the Intranet I currently manage. There is no strict set of rules or guidelines that apply for every Intranet. The correct way to do things for your Intranet is what works for your users and organisation. I would however advise all Intranet Managers to take a critical look at how the news is managed on your Intranet. As my mother has always said "Just because everyone else does it doesn't mean you have to as well" and mothers always know best.


Spread Thin said...

great post with some great ideas. thanks heaps! definitely a few things I can take from it!

Amanda said...

Hey Peter, excellent post. It is good to see actual stats on this topic. While I agree that every organisation is different, I think it would be valuable for more organisations to really understand what their staff are interested in reading about.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, good post. Some interesting tips here.

Nigel at Claromentis said...

Hi - interesting post and stats.

I have seen a lot more value in news in the Claromentis platform since we launched the following :

1. Channels - default for company news - all users must read - every other channel users can subscribe to : result - more relevant news for each user but company can still force content.

2. Engagement via comments on news : options : yes/no/moderated

These two features made a big difference to our clients value from News - as you say it can dominate a main intranet landing page and organizations need to get value from that acreage.

As an aside it is really interesting to see our USA clients so far ahead in terms of their adoption of news interaction - many UK clients are still scared of inappropriate comments!

intranetworks said...

It is interesting to observe that the pendulum in digital communication is swinging away from top down messaging. This is what puzzles many professionals in communication. The problem with unread news arises from exactly this conventional focus.

The relevance of their content (most news comes from corporate comm depts) is often lacking for employees. So why read the stuff?
A lot of content is about promises too, while the relevance for users often lies in the delivery (of services) and not in the pretty story. Intranets these days are proces driven, and no longer news driven. News 'only' offers context.

I think this trend offers new opportunities for professionals in communication. Instead of pushing journalism to people who don't want to read nicely chunked pages, communication pro's should focus on how they can make digital communication easier for users. These days we all communicate with eachother online.
If you leave the quality of communication tools to IT-people, we know what we'll get: rigid one size fits all solutions.
IT has never solved a communication problem. So where are the communication pro's to do this?

Here lies a clear window of opportunity for communication professionals who have an affinity with service. User centered communication starts with organising conntent so you can distribute content according to user's needs.

A continuance of the search for new channels and strategies to push corporate news doesn't sound sustainable to me. In the current global crisis the proof is no longer in the promise, but in the delivery.
Promise what you like, and know that seeing is believing.

Your stats Peter confirm my observations as does a lot of quantitative research on this subject.

Luc de Ruijter