Manage Your Intranet: Don’t Leave It to the Beav

Every day of his gray-hued life, Ward Clever kissed June goodbye, patted Wally and the Beav on their heads, and drove the Edsel to work. He sat at his desk until 4, pushed a few papers across the desk, and called it a day. The tune didn’t vary much, except when — every once in a while — those crazy boys from accounting trotted across the hall to swap stories about those truly wild guys in finance. But that was a rarity. Most of the time, old Ward relied on a monthly corporate memo or two to learn about anything new in the company.

Today, Ward probably lives in Boca Raton and his sons Wally and the Beav are themselves nearing retirement at Ward’s old stomping grounds, but, man, how times have changed. The company intranet has the power to keep them posted on everything that’s happening to the company, not only in the Mayfield office but also at the outpost in Mexico City. “It’s really neato,” Beaver emailed recently to Wally. “But, geez, did you see what the guys and gals from accounting posted the other day? I don’t think the company brass intended for us to use the intranet for publicizing the number of drinks they all enjoyed at their holiday bash.”

Huh? Cut! I’ll bet you thought this was going to be an article about the wonders of the intranet for employee communications. I’ll bet you thought it was going to be about creating a free-for-all on the company electronic bulletin board. Well, yes and no.

The truth is, the content of internal communications is just as important as the external stuff. It may not be as glamorous, or as widely viewed, as a multimillion-dollar television campaign or even a well-visited Web site, but employee communications is truly a strategic function that affects the corporate bottom line.

Those marketing communications people who have responsibility for the corporate intranet have a very powerful tool to manage. Don’t ignore your duties because it’s “just internal communication.” Employee relations efforts have a significant impact on your bottom line. Here are some suggestions for handling content.

The intranet is not a bulletin board. Don’t clutter your site with employees’ notices about cars for sale and condominium rentals. Worse yet is letting your site become a free-for-all. Employee communications — similar to external communications — must “stay on message.” You don’t have to be Attila the Censor, but you have to be a good editor. Set parameters early about what can and can’t be posted. And make sure you — or another communications professional — are in the editor’s chair. Set up a quick and efficient approval cycle and stick to it to prevent bottlenecks.

Architecture counts. Set up your intranet site with the same care you would your Web site. That includes considering which items go “top of fold.” Test ease of usage with employee volunteers and listen to their responses.

Reward submissions. Give employees “beats” and reward them with bylines. But never, ever let an article go by without your initial perusal. (Have I emphasized enough the importance of an intranet editor?)

Don’t mistake the intranet for email. Email is communicated to a select group of people under some semblance of confidentiality. Forget confidentiality on the intranet, where the message is shared with the entire organization. Therefore, if a department head has a message for a select group of employees, suggest the use of email instead.

Don’t substitute the intranet for face-to-face communications. Employee satisfaction is highly influenced by the staff person’s relationship with her supervisor. Remind supervisors that the intranet is not a substitute for communicating face-to-face with their direct reports.

Empower employees. Give people the tools they need to do their jobs better. This includes online educational materials, software tutorials, and postings of important presentations.

Expand benefits. Let employees better manage their benefits with tools that allow direct access to their pension accounts, health insurance, and so on.

Communicate the message. Use the intranet to let employees preview ad campaigns. Provide an explanation of the strategy behind the campaign and “talking points” that will help employees further the branding message through word of mouth.

Survey employees. Be as responsive to employees as you are to Web site visitors. Survey users on the effectiveness of your efforts, and don’t forget to report on how you’ve used the information to make changes.

Yes, Wally and Beaver, company communications have changed. But the new medium is useless — or could even have negative effects — if you don’t take seriously your responsibilities as communications professionals. So, pay attention to those corporate intranets. Otherwise, I’ll tell Eddie Haskell on you.

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