Unsure where to begin on the quest to deliver a standout intranet? Start with these fundamentals to launch on the right foot.
Done well, intranets are a valuable tool for disseminating essential information, boosting employee engagement, guiding the employee experience, and reinforcing company culture.
Done wrong, they can become a mess of outdated content and confusing or conflicting information—and a source of aggravation for users.
The key to achieving the good outcome and not the bad one? A thoughtful, sustainable content strategy.
To develop your intranet content strategy, you’ll want to take time to consider key questions like:
What are the main goals for the intranet?
Who are the key stakeholders and how do I gain their buy-in?
How should the content be organized?
How will the navigation be structured and what is the information hierarchy?
What technology should I use?
Answers will be different for every organization, but it helps to have a framework with which to approach them. For that, we tapped Arto Kovalainen, Senior Consultant with Helsinki-based Atlassian solutions partner Eficode.
After 15 years building intranets, Kovalainen has honed a proven “burger” approach to designing them: “Think of the most must-have content or features as the beef; next, the buns are what keeps everything together like navigation and search; and then the spices are the nice-to-have components and the ideas that bring the extra flavor.”
Here’s his advice to build your own burger… er, intranet.
1. Form an intranet roundtable and pack it with a diverse team of cross-functional representatives
An “it-takes-a-village” approach is best when putting together your intranet strategy.
“At the beginning, gather a diverse group of users—both end users and heavy content creators—from different departments and teams so that everyone can be heard and you can get a clear picture of all their different needs,” Kovalainen recommends.
Intranet owners—whether they’re from HR or internal comms or another department—should drive the bulk of the strategy, but casting a wide net during the initial brainstorming phase has a few key benefits:
You can uncover pain points across the organization and offer hope for a fix.
You can secure buy-in across the user base and get a clear sense of everyone’s needs.
At rollout time, you can call on these folks to serve as ambassadors for uptake in their own teams.
Kovalainen advises posing the following questions to your roundtable:
Why will you be coming to the intranet?
What kinds of problems are you trying to solve when you come?
What kind of content will you be searching for?
What are their short-term and long-term goals?
Use takeaways from these sessions, combined with your own expertise and know-how, to arrive at a set of core goals and “must-haves” for the end product. Keep roundtable members updated as the process unfolds, and tap them for feedback if you need to along the way.
2. Create your intranet content strategy by answering these key questions
Once you have a sense of the high-level objectives for your intranet, it’s time to nail down your content strategy and the information architecture that will house it. No idea is a bad idea at this stage, according to Kovalainen.
“During the initial design phase, all the crazy/wild ideas and out-of-the-box thinking should be encouraged,” he says. Weeding out the out-of-scope ideas can be done later.
He recommends asking and answering these four questions to formulate the content strategy:
Question #1: What type of content do you need on your intranet?
Every company is unique, but most companies have a mix of static and dynamic content that looks something like this.
Evergreen intranet content:
- Company values, history, mission statements, annual reports
- Employee handbooks
- Security policies
- Privacy policies
- HR policies and benefits information
- IT/connectivity and technology information
- Employee onboarding tools and information
- Some combination of employee profiles, team directories, and organizational charts
- Service points for things like HR requests and IT help
Dynamic intranet content
- Company news, announcements, and updates including messages from leadership
- Job postings
- Company culture and events
- Random/fun stuff
This content is the meat, but Kovalainen also suggests making room for “spice”—whether it’s a daily cartoon or stories about employee hobbies, or a place to upload feel-good videos. These can help lure employees to the intranet.
It’s important to separate out static from evergreen content for two reasons: Anything under the “dynamic” category needs a plan for maintenance/updates on a regular basis. Namely: who’s in charge of the upkeep? And second, when you’re designing the interface, you’ll want to strike a balance between helping users find the critical static content easily, and engaging them with the dynamic content that updates frequently.
Question #2: Where will the content live?
Just as important as determining what content to put on your intranet is figuring out how to structure and organize the content to ensure that users can find it easily.
“An important part of the process is to map out where it makes the most sense to put various types of content. That will give ideas about the navigation and how to categorize and label things effectively,” Kovalainen says.
The optimal structure and navigation will vary from organization to organization depending on company size, how your company is organized, and the nature of the business itself. It also depends upon the goals for the intranet.
If the primary aim is for users to find helpful information such as details on employee benefits and medical coverage, it would make sense to structure the navigation so the top-level menu items reflect those cardinal needs. Conversely, for an intranet geared toward employee collaboration or cross-team transparency, it may be best to have teams or groups of teams at the top of the navigation hierarchy, or linked with icons on the site home page.
“Generalist” intranets that aim to serve many purposes will have to bucket user needs into categories and work from there.
Kovalainen’s organization/navigation recommendations include:
Make sure the information architecture is coherent, intuitive, and user-friendly
The intranet’s structure and design should be attractive and make users want to interact
Keep the homepage and other landing pages simple, including only the most relevant information.
Use well-placed search and navigation tools to help users find information that is not on the homepage or landing pages
Place popular or frequently used content in prominent places
For intranet managers using Refined and Confluence:
Easily test navigation menu options by rearranging Confluence spaces inside the Site Builder. Simply drag and drop spaces in and out of buckets, and the changes will reflect in the menu navigation top-of-site.
Further organize the navigation with menu folders, which organize the links inside the drop-down.
Build custom layouts on site homes and landing pages using the Layout Editor. Use a suite of modules and icons to help users find the most important content quickly and easily.
Question #3: Who is the content for?
Keeping in mind the different audiences for your content is crucial, since not everyone will find the same content relevant and you may wish to make different content accessible to different users.
“Your company may have multiple sites in different regions, or subsidiaries, or employees who speak different languages, so you need to have different content based on those factors,” Kovalainen says.
For intranet managers using Refined and Confluence:
Tailor permissions so that users see only what’s relevant to them. For example, pre-determine start sites so that Data Center users log on to the page or site that makes the most sense based upon criteria like role or location. Or Cloud users can create different intranet sites for different languages or locations that all branch from a common home site, and give each a custom domain that maps to the language or location.
Question #4: Who will create the intranet content?
You will likely have heavy content creators who make up the bulk of the contribution, but Kovalainen advises getting as many employees as possible engaged in creating and sharing the dynamic content.
“It’s great, for example, to have someone from management write a blog post or participate in a video news blurb,” he says.
On the flip side, intranets can also help shape the culture of your communications, so content is not always from the top down, and everyone can participate. “You want to keep the intranet active and alive and make people want to participate there,” notes Kovalainen.
He also advises developing a content roadmap or calendar, as well assigning gatekeepers to manage the content in certain sections on an ongoing basis. It’s helpful if the tools you’re working with make it easy to delegate ownership for different parts of the intranet.
For intranet managers using Refined and Confluence:
Use Admin Delegation to delegate admin rights so that key content creators can post, manage, and update their own content.
3. Choose a tool to bring your intranet strategy to life
“Pick a platform that makes it very easy to create content and offers a lot of features out of the box. The best scenario is when you can dive right in and start building your site, making configurations with easy flexibility, and you don’t need a team of vendors helping you out or coding anything,” says Kovalainen, who also advocates for a solution that boosts collaboration among users. “You want them to be able to do things together, share things, comment on and like things.”
Confluence as a foundation for an intranet offers a user-friendly interface, the ability to easily share information and content, a natural place for team collaboration, enterprise-grade security, and a host of other out-of-the-box benefits.
Customizations are easy to access through the Atlassian Marketplace, which gives you access to third-party apps like Refined that take the intranet experience to the next level with dedicated, branded sites and enhanced structure and organization, among other benefits.
Having overseen more than 10 intranet projects powered by Confluence and Refined, Kovalainen recommends it for its combination of design prowess, ease of use, and added flexibility.
“If you want a really good-looking intranet that supports your branding, Refined is a great tool. The navigation levels and flexibility of navigation options are excellent,” he says.
Journalist-turned-business storyteller Amy Roach is a veteran writer and editor who has contributed to many lifestyle, family, business, trade, and educational publications. Most recently, she served as Managing Editor for New York-based Today Media, a regional magazine group publishing award-winning luxury lifestyle and business magazines. Currently, she runs her own boutique writing firm, providing content, copywriting, and communications services to a wide range of businesses.