The Communicator’s Guide to Building a Corporate Intranet: Part 3
Building a new corporate intranet is a major undertaking, but you can break the project down and make it easier. In Part 1 of this guide, we looked at when and why you should start the project and whose job it should be. In Part 2, we talked about audience segmentation: who are your employees, where are they sitting, and what do they need to know?
With all that in mind, it’s time to start tackling our next concept: what are you saying, and how are you conveying it?
Defining Content Strategy
The most important aspect of an intranet — or any other employee communications application — is the content. If the content is irrelevant, boring or outdated, employees won’t engage with it. Assuming the backend technology functions properly and the design and user experience are good — more about that later — employees will flock to their new intranet, happy to have a tool that allows them to obtain, consume and engage with the information they want and need.
But first, there’s a lot that goes into determining what content belongs in your intranet. Based on companies that I have worked with, I find we can break content strategy s into six concrete steps:
- Create a catalog of all the content that exists that should migrate into the new intranet.
- Meet with relevant stakeholders who want or need to have their content be on the intranet. Decide what stays, and what goes.
- Identify each piece of content as one of five categories: “pages & information,” “news & communications,” “services & tools,” “processes” or “social walls & engagement.”
- Based on the content you need, create large categories or clusters under which all content should intuitively belong.
- Move each piece of content to the appropriate category based on where employees would expect to find it.
- Evaluate all the content to be sure it includes a nice balance of “Need to Know” content and “Nice to Know” content. Also include “anchor” content that keeps employees coming to the intranet on a daily basis.
Related Articles: How to Build a Good Intranet, Part 1 / Part 2
Create a Catalog of Existing Content
Don’t be intimidated by this first step in the content strategy process. It will take time, but that time will be well spent. Identifying all of the content that will eventually go on or be migrated into your new intranet and memorializing it in writing will save HUGE amounts of time later on — I can assure you of this.
There are easy ways to get started with this cataloging project. First, go to your existing intranet, Sharepoint or other content management system (Google Drive, One Drive, etc.) and export the titles of each piece of content into a spreadsheet. You’ll likely end up with hundreds, maybe even thousands of rows in that spreadsheet. Screenshots of top-level pages can also be helpful. If you capture usage or frequency of access analytics on your content, include that in your spreadsheet too — that information will be useful for determining not only whether to include certain content, but where to locate it. The spreadsheet below shows the simplicity of what is needed in cataloging content. Your sample spreadsheet may look like this:
Putting your content needs in writing in a single place is critical to ensuring the comprehensiveness of your intranet and also making sure the content you keep or add is necessary, relevant and current.
Meet With Relevant Stakeholders
Designing and preparing a new intranet creates a great opportunity for the project team, especially Communications, to network internally and to build relationships with others in their company’s business. All of that work not only sets the stage for making employees more efficient and productive in their work, but also for demonstrating the value and role that communications plays in an organization.
Once you have made a comprehensive catalog of all content that should be included in the intranet (Step 1), you then need to divide the content in a way that mirrors your organization’s structure and how it conducts business. For example, a manufacturing company may divide its content into Plant Information, Production, Distribution Centers, Human Resources, etc. For an airline, the content might split into Flight Operations, Customer Service, Maintenance, Human Resources, and so on. The organizational structure will vary widely based on both industry and business needs. .
Once you’ve created your overall structure, schedule a meeting with your contacts in each department or division. At this meeting you should share the content with them and ask them to help review the content, making sure everything that needs to exist in the new intranet has been documented correctly. Take the opportunity to discuss their thoughts on how they would like to see their content presented on the new intranet. And make sure to ask about challenges they have previously faced in distributing information and what they believe their direct reports would be looking for in a new solution.
Identify Each Piece of Content
Now that you’ve defined, confirmed and documented the content, the next step is to think about how all that information will eventually be organized. All content can be categorized into the following five types:
- Pages & Information: Content that is more or less evergreen and most likely will not change frequently (or at all). This content might be static text currently found on a web page, a PDF file, links to another web page, manuals, handbooks, etc.
- News & Communications: Content that is what it sounds like: Individual news items, announcements or stories on timely topics.
- Services & Tools: Systems, tools and services currently being used by a company that should exist and be accessed directly from the intranet — essentially a one-stop-shop for everything an employee needs
- Processes: Processes or ways a company does business that should be accessible from the intranet. For example, tools for reporting an incident, contacting or requesting assistance from IT or HR, submitting expense reports, requesting PTO, and so on.
- Social Walls & Interaction: Content that is created by employees or allows them to communicate two-way or in an open forum.
Simple color coding can be helpful for breaking this down, especially when it comes to eventually organizing and designing content into the various pages that will comprise an intranet. Your organizational buckets may look something like this:
Related Article: What Purpose Does Your Intranet Serve?
Create Large “Clusters” Where Content Intuitively Belongs
Now that we’ve given all that content a high-level sort, it's time to think about how to organize it. What are the broad categories we can use to group like together? In other words, what topics would let an employee intuitively find the content they are looking for? Most companies break it down something like this:
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Move the Content Where Employees Would Expect to Find It
Now the fun begins. Move each piece of content into the appropriate category/cluster. In most instances, the broad categories you just developed will most likely become the “navigational” aspects of your new intranet — the menu of options from your intranet home page. Each piece of content, no matter what it is, needs to have a home under a specific category. If it doesn’t, then you either need to recategorize or develop more top-level categories.
Once a user selects a category, they will be directed to another page of the intranet that nicely organizes all of the content housed in that category.
Evaluate and Balance Your Content
As a final step in the content strategy process, put yourself in the shoes of the typical end-user employee. It might be difficult, but keep that employee audience in mind and try your hardest to see the forest through the trees. This will help ensure an intranet experience that is relevant, engaging and becomes a practical and useful tool for employees.
Related Article: Your Intranet is the Core of Your Employees’ Experience. Build it Right
Take a step back and look at all of your content, again from 30,000 feet above. You will likely have a significant amount of “Need to Know” content, the information employees need to access in order to do their jobs and live their lives. This will most likely include content from your Pages & Information and Services & Tools buckets.
But you also want to make sure you have a good amount of “Nice to Know” content to engage with your workforce. Do you showcase content that furthers the mission, vision and values of your organization? Does the content that will eventually become part of your intranet highlight the great things taking place in your company, as well as the great work your employees are doing? Is there a place in your intranet where employees can go to feel good, or just for a smile?
How does your content look with this in mind? If less than 30% of your content is Nice to Know, you might want to reevaluate why, and maybe go back to Step 1 (do not pass Go).
One last thought: What is really going to ensure that employees come to and use the intranet on a daily basis? We might think they'll come to read about the latest and greatest news item, but we would probably be kidding ourselves. The reality is, employees will use a communications solution like an intranet because it provides them with something of value, that is important to them, and makes their lives easier or better — whether for work or personal reasons. We therefore need to provide them with something that does that..
This “something” is what I refer to as “Anchor” content. Much as the anchor store in a shopping center drives traffic to the other stores just from proximity, so too does anchor content drive traffic on intranets. Give employees a practical reason — a pay portal, shift scheduling tool, or other vital service — to use the platform, and they will be surrounded by and exposed to all the other content your organization wants them to see, read and know about.
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About the Author
Jeff Corbin has worked as a communications consultant for more than 20 years. Passionate about transforming internal communications through the use of technology, he was the founder and CEO of APPrise Mobile where he pioneered the use of mobile technology in the United States with respect to a new category of technology — employee apps. Connect with Jeff Corbin: