Social Enterprise Truly Social IntranetIn a truly social enterprise, social requires more than just a Facebook page and Twitter account; you need to live and breathe social, inside and out. Anyone can Tweet, but creating a truly social intranet requires incredible commitment, change management and intelligent execution.

Perhaps it’s not as mysterious an undertaking as it seems; though it’s not an easy path to traverse, it does require the same itinerary and ingredients of a successful intranet (traditional). The good news: the technology is the easy part. The reality: a successful social intranet requires a serious commitment from senior management, and the resources to make it a reality.

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“Nexus of Intranet Success,” the key ingredients of a successful intranet.

Executive Champion

The most important ingredient is of course, executive support. It’s simply not possible to have a successful social enterprise nor social intranet without a willing and active executive champion who understands the power of "social" and actively supports it. An executive champion fulfills three principal needs:

  1. Funding (money)
  2. Trouble-shooting (overcoming politics)
  3. Promotion (change management)

For the social intranet to become reality, it requires at minimum, two of the above elements, including money. Where an executive champion really earns his or her grade is not only their ability to dish-out cash, but to cut-through corporate politics. If an enterprise is cautious about "going social" and has internal disagreements about social media and how to proceed -- or whether to proceed at all -- a powerful executive champion (such as the CEO or CIO) can quash all concerns and order the green light.

Without the political will and clout to secure that funding, and to cut through internal politics, social media and a social intranet have little chance to be of value. For example, corporate communications and IT see the intranet very differently, and to them HR is from another planet; each have differing views and priorities for the intranet. To cut through these competing views and politics, an executive champion serves as the final say or the ultimate judge or trouble-shooter that can quash these competing politics.

The intranets' potential value flows from the C-Suite. When appropriate executive support is present, the remaining planning components flow from it -- namely the next most important ingredient, resources.


First you get the power, then you get the money, and then you get the ... People.

Resources of course include money, but it’s more than just cash: budget, people and infrastructure. After all, we are talking technology, but software and hardware infrastructure are relatively easy hurdles, budget and people are harder to come by. The executive champion is particularly key here, but so too is HR for attracting, hiring and retaining the right, skilled individuals.

Sometimes the impetus is on the intranet manager (or intranet consultant) to demonstrate and prove the value of the intranet. This includes tracking and measuring the intranets' business performance, be it in terms of user satisfaction, ROI, sales or employee engagement -- and continually improving it, as the company strives to improve -- and demonstrating regular and increasing value. But you have to add value to measure value, and that often requires an investment of money, which requires -- you guessed it -- executive support and funding. Show them the value, and they will show you the money.

Change Management

At the risk of sounding like the typical "consultant," the social enterprise represents a paradigm shift for most organizations: more than just technology, it changes the "way" we do business, and how we communicate and collaborate (externally and internally). For many organizations, a social intranet makes a fundamental change in organizational communications, and also, business process. 

Though the degree of change, and the required change management, depends on the type and culture of the organization (e.g. union or non-union, small or large, etc.) and the intended value and power of the intranet (e.g. self-service, executive communications, etc.), a change management communications program is a requisite for any social media undertaking, particularly a social intranet.

“It’s not the way we do things around here,” is a common refrain, and worse, a frequent knee-jerk reaction to social media often witnessed in the executive suite. The challenge for most organizations is that if there’s no prior track record or success with social media, or worse yet a poor track record with the legacy intranet and website, the idea of a social intranet may not inspire much use or it could promote a form of fear or distrust. Do not underestimate the natural resistance to new technology and changes in process and communications.

In short, social change management becomes an exercise in “selling” or communicating not only the reason and purpose for the change, but especially anticipating and directly addressing the spoken AND unspoken fears (or apathy) of employees. The successful change manager (often assigned to corporate communications and/or HR) must find ways to integrate that resistance into change efforts. Successful change management campaigns anticipate fears and challenges, and build in key messages and programs into all communications, orientation and training (the three hallmarks of successful social change management).

The Social Intranet

For all the discussion, hype and marketing, very few have a true social intranet, and therefore a very select few have a true social enterprise. According to the results of the State of the Social Intranet Study released in April 2013 (651 participants, global in scope and organizations size and industry) only about 10% of organizations have a true social intranet. As I first defined it in the Social Intranet white paper, a social intranet is:

An intranet that features multiple social media tools for most or all employees to use as collaboration vehicles for sharing knowledge with other employees. A social intranet may feature blogs, wikis, discussion forums, social networking, or a combination of these or any other Web 2.0 (intranet 2.0) tool with at least some or limited exposure (optional) from the main intranet or portal home page."

Obviously, a social intranet is more complex than this one simple statement, but social media technology is of course the hallmark of the social intranet.

Teekay Social Intranet, 2013

Teekay Corporation has developed from a regional shipping company into one of the world’s largest marine energy transportation, storage and production companies. It operates 170 ships and has global operations in 20 countries. This might sound like a group of traditional salty dog sailors, but it has successfully operated a social intranet for two years. Using Yammer, Teekay uses its enterprise social network (social intranet) to break down geographical barriers and connect people, regardless of location.

On our old intranet I began an anonymous blog called The Pundit covering the 2010 World Cup -- talking about the teams, games, which employees supported which team and randomly throwing in some satirical barbs about the senior leaders in the organization,” says Jonathan Anthony, Director, Corporate Communications, Teekay Corp. “Lots of people liked it -- and lots of people didn’t(!) -- but it opened up a whole new way of communicating inside the company -- personality-led, first-person, relaxed, opinionated, direct, immediate, (ir)relevant.

Fast-forward two years and we have Yammer in place -- where everyone has the opportunity to express opinions, share ideas, commune, participate in the conversation. There are maybe 200 people -- 25% of our network -- participating in this one Euro2012 football poll and conversation. We are democratizing and flattening the organization one conversation at a time.”

Title image courtesy of Sergey Nivens (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of Toby's thoughts on social intranets, see his The Hub of Enterprise 2.0: The Social Intranet