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When Was the Last Time Your Intranet Empowered Anyone?

This post originally appeared on AIIM’s Enterprise 2.0 Community Blog.

Think about your Intranet for a moment (stop groaning) and answer the following questions.  When was the last time:

Image courtesy of Flickr user Search Engine People Blog

  1. Someone spent their own money to purchase promotional items to help build awareness and get more people to participate?
  2. Someone voluntarily put the name of the Intranet on their softball team jerseys?
  3. Someone voluntarily created an entire instruction manual for new users?
  4. Dozens of people volunteered to be the welcoming committee for new users, greeting them and offering to help?
  5. Dozens of people took shifts to be online and act as an ad hoc help desk for other users?
  6. Someone voluntarily created PowerPoint presentations to help others better understand the Intranet?
  7. People routinely logged on at midnight just to see what they missed during the day?
  8. Regular users are routinely “pitched” by official internal communications staff to post content because they have a greater readership?
  9. People beg, beg! for access outside the firewall, and ask for easy mobile/remote access so they can read/contribute?
  10. People voluntarily create mashups and plug-ins to enhance the interface and then share those with other users?

All of these situations are ones that I’ve witnessed, either internally with Booz Allen’s, our own implementation of Enterprise 2.0 tools, or with my clients. True, in many cases, Enterprise 2.0 communities have failed to build a critical mass of users, they can quickly become echo chambers, they don’t have full leadership support, and they often fail to make it “into the flow.” but despite (or maybe because of) these challenges, Enterprise 2.0 communities can ignite a passion among its users that hasn’t been seen internally since the introduction of the Internet.

If you stopped using the terms “social media,” and “Enterprise 2.0” and just started telling people that you “have some ideas for improving our Intranet that will make our employees want to log on at night to see what they missed and spend their own time writing code to improve it,” getting buy-in for these tools would be a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want their employees to be this engaged with their Intranet?

So what is it about Enterprise 2.0 that gets users so excited?  It’s because Enterprise 2.0 is about more than just disseminating information – it’s about giving each employee a voice; it’s about flattening the organization; it’s about ending approval chains; it’s about being a part of something new.  But most of all, it’s about empowering people.

When was the last time your Intranet empowered anyone to do anything?

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I Started a Blog But No One Cared


Image Courtesy of Flickr user cogdogblog

As many of you know, here at Booz Allen, we’ve got an internal suite of social media tools available on our Intranet – While it’s garnered a lot of publicity, won awards, and really changed the way we think about virtual collaboration here, I get asked this question and others like it (e.g., why isn’t anyone asking questions? How do I get people to read the blog? Why isn’t anyone editing the wiki pages?) at least once a week.

These aren’t trivial questions – people take the time to create a blog post or add content to a wiki because of the promise of emergent collaboration. They hear stories about people getting entire white papers written by people they don’t even know because it was posted to an open wiki; they see blog posts with dozens of comments that lead to new initiatives; they read forum threads dozens of pages long with input from people across the organization and they want to realize those benefits too. Against everything they’ve learned over the years, they post some content to this open and transparent platform with the hopes that people will flock to it, adding comments, having discussions, linking to additional resources, and interacting with their information. When that collaboration and interaction doesn’t happen, they quickly get turned off and will either A) assume they did something wrong and not go back or B) believe that they’ve been sold a lot of snake oil and this social media stuff isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

As you might imagine, neither of these conclusions bode well for the long-term health of a virtual community behind the firewall. So, what do I tell these folks when they ask me why no one is reading their forum posts, commenting on their blogs, or editing their wiki pages?  I start by sending them these eight bullets –

  • Write interesting content. You’d be surprised at some of the mind-numbingly boring stuff government consultants blog about. Realistically, out of the 20,000+ people at the firm, how many of them are really going to be interested in your jargon and acronym-filled blog post about the latest developments in IT Service Management? Write something that more than the 20 people on your team will be interested in if you’re looking to get greater engagement.
  • Email is still king. Despite all its successes to date, isn’t a daily, in the workflow destination for most of our staff. They see the potential of it, and use it occasionally, but visiting the hello homepage to check out the latest blog posts and wiki changes isn’t exactly at the top of mind for most people yet. Post your blog entry, wiki content, forum thread, etc. and then send out an email with a link to it.
  • Cross-promote. Include the link to your content in your team newsletters, meeting agendas/minutes, email signatures, briefings, Yammer messages, and any other communications vehicles you use. Just because you’re the boss/team lead/project manager doesn’t mean people have automatically subscribed to everything you do and are waiting with bated breath for your next post. When our senior VP started blogging internally, we sent out a mass email with each post that included a link to the post, a short blurb on what it was about, and directions for how to subscribe for future posts. We did this for the first five posts or so until people were aware that the blog was out there.
  • The world doesn’t revolve around you. Don’t just post and then whine about people not commenting on your content. Ask yourself if you’ve gone out and commented on anyone else’s blogs. No? Then why are you surprised that no one is commenting on yours. Go find other posts and wiki pages related to your topic and engage there. Include links back to your content as “additional information you might find useful.”
  • Give people an action. Why are you posting in the first place? Do you want to get people’s opinions on some new initiative? Do you want cross-team collaboration on a white paper? Are you asking your team if they have questions about the new reorganization? Be clear about what you want from your readers.
  • Tell them what’s in it for them. Tell me what benefit I get from taking time out of my day to click over to your blog/wiki page/forum and read it. Will I get an opportunity to influence future policy? Will this be the new location where all of our meeting agendas and minutes will be kept? Is creating my profile required for my performance assessment? Will I get to get answers directly from a VP instead of some anonymous email address? Don’t just tell me that it’s there and to click the link because that’s not enough. Entice me. Whet my appetite for what I’m going to get for my time.
  • Do some internal “pitching.” I’ve had colleagues reach out to me and ask me if I’d blog about their programs on my blog. People have asked me to go out to Yammer and link back to their wiki pages. I’ve received internal emails from people pitching me on their project and asking me to “get my team to engage with their content.” This isn’t because I’m some subject matter expert, it’s because I happen to have a popular internal blog and my readers and friends tend to read what I write and click over to things I link to. Find people like me and make them aware of your content and ask them to get involved. No one wants to be the first person to respond – they want to see that other people have read it and commented on it too.  Aren’t you more likely to read a blog post that has 20 comments than one that has none?
  • Lastly, be a community manager.  When the comments on our VP’s blog all started to skew toward the “thanks for posting – great job” variety, the value of those comments went way down (our VPs don’t need any more self-esteem:).  That’s when I started to post some more contradictory/controversial comments and posts.  I wanted to model the behavior that people could/should take when participating in that online community. Other people needed to see how to interact in this new environment.
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Social Media and IT Security: Adversaries or Partners?

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the world of social media and IT security.  We’ve seen the return of the Koobface virus, the Marines have banned social networking sites (*UPDATED:  No, they haven’t), and both Twitter and Facebook were overcome by denial-of-service attacks.  This coverage has provided prime fodder for the IT security professionals of the world, whom I get the feeling would be much happier if nobody had access to the eminently dangerous and risky world of the Internet.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe information security is a very real and valid concern when it comes to social media.  I’ve always thought that for social media to succeed, IT security and social media champions have to be partners, rather than adversaries.   However, the recent events, combined with the traditionally conservative nature of a majority of IT security professionals, have resulted in many calling for total blocks on social media to “maintain the integrity of the network.”  However, in banning social media because it’s “safer,” are we effectively burning the town to stop the plague?  Joshua Salmons stated it best in a recent blog post –

“If the president left his travel agenda scheduling up to the Secret Service, he’d never leave the White House bunker (”Safer” is easier.). If an aircraft’s flight status was left up to the mechanic, it would never leave the hanger (Why risk the wear and tear? More work). Likewise, IT shouldn’t just say why we can’t do something, but should do more working with leadership to figure out how to balance risk and operation.”

The IT security professional is assessed on his or her ability to protect the organization’s infrastructure, ensure its reliability, and anticipate potential threats.  The IT security professional isn’t assessed on the happiness or unhappiness of the employees’ access to Twitter or Facebook.  They don’t receive a bonus if customer service improves or public awareness increases because of increased social media activity.  They are paid to protect the network – given the choice between allowing access to social media and blocking access, what would you choose?   The IT security professional has no incentive to provide this access or even to work with the public affairs staff to come to a compromise.  If it was up to them, we wouldn’t have access to anything outside the organizational firewall, lest we chance exposing our network to a virus.  But at what cost?  Wouldn’t the organization be better served if IT security became a partner and a resource for others throughout the organization?

Take a look at the comments in this post by Aaron Brazzell – they can be summed up in one theme: public affairs professionals and social media champions aren’t nearly as frustrated by the bans on social media, but by the communications abyss that often exists between them and IT.  When was the last time an IT security professional followed up a “No!” with something like, “but here’s what we can do?”  This communications gap can and must be filled if social media is to succeed.  And, this isn’t solely an IT security communications problem, it’s an organizational problem.  Public affairs and IT cannot continue to be adversaries; we must learn how to communicate and compromise better.  The future of Government 2.0 and social media depends on the both of you putting aside your differences and working together.

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Enterprise 2.0 Reflects the Culture

If you think that the enterprise-wide wiki you’ve been pushing to install is going to change the culture of your organization, think again.  That wiki is going to reflect the culture of your organization, not change it.

Enterprise 2.0 holds a lot of promise: Increase collaboration!  Break down stovepipes!  Enable open and transparent communication!  Crowdsource white papers and presentations!  Use wikis to eliminate email!  Cure cancer!

And in some cases, these technologies DO allow organizations to realize these benefits – well, except for maybe the last one, but you get the idea.  But in many of these social media implementations, I’ve come across a lot more people saying, “I have an internal blog but no one reads it,” or “We have a wiki, but no one uses it!”

Why are Enterprise 2.0 implementations of blogs, wikis, or forums not living up to the expectations of the technology?

The primary reason is because social media tools reflect the culture of the organization – they can’t change the culture of the organization by themselves.  If the “social” part of social media doesn’t exist within your organization or is corrupted, all you’re going to end up with is “media” – a blog with no readers or a wiki with no edits.

I recently discussed the challenges of creating a social media culture behind the firewall with several of my colleagues on our internal Yammer network – here are some of the more interesting quotes from that conversation:

On needing a restricted access wiki, even behind the firewall:
“I need a wiki with both ‘internal’ and ‘external’ pages so that I can keep our team-specific items out of sight. The rest of the wiki would be open to engaging others in our work and designed to ‘market’ our capabilities to others.”

On the (often ignored) issue of intellectual property within and organization:
“People spend lots of hard work and man-hours developing a work product. They don’t want someone who ‘has an idea’ to swoop in, use the work, and have them get all the credit and acclaim for it.”

On how social media impacts the corporate rat race:
“For commonly held skill sets, [social media presents a problem because] someone may know enough to be dangerous, but the work someone else does and posts in an open environment would give that person the tools to advance their own careers without crediting those they got the information from.  That’s what I feel is the main reason people fear transparency internally.”

On how people can “steal” your work and use it without asking for it:
“I encourage people to borrow/steal/run off with my work. More often than not, it is difficult to get colleagues to take the first step to deliver/create new intellectual capital.  If borrowing my work is their first step, that’s ok. I’ll borrow from their step 2 or 3.”

Ultimately though, no matter how many pages your wiki has or how fantastic your internal blog is, the technology is going to reflect your organizational culture.  Not the culture you talk about on your website, but the real, honest culture of your organization.

Do you have people who routinely appropriate other people’s work as their own?  It will continue on the wiki.  Do you have people who punish their staff for speaking their mind and taking risks?  Those managers will forbid their staff from blogging.   Employees who regularly go above and beyond to help others?  Those people will be your wiki gardeners, making the wiki run smoothly for everyone else.

If you want to change the culture of your organization, social media tools can be a part of the solution.  But culture is determined by people, not by tools.  Make sure you supplement those tools with a change management strategy that will address the people too.  Consider incentivizing employees to share information and collaborate with each other.  Make information sharing part of their annual review (my team reviews the employee’s contributions to our internal network during their annual assessment debrief).  Reward staff for taking risks.

Enterprise 2.0 tools will always reflect the culture of your organization – for better or worse.  Make sure you give it every chance to succeed and address the people, policies, and processes too.

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