Are you sure your intranet is doing its job?

Other people get excited about going to a Take That concert or meeting a celebrity chef. Me, I prefer web superstars, so when I heard Gerry McGovern was running a How to Simplify your Intranet workshop in London, the fangirl in me went into overdrive.

I have read his books, joined his webinars and applied his top task theory to our organisation’s website but the intranet was a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Following a service review, our team has just inherited the intranet from another department. So the timing of Gerry’s workshop was perfect for us – new team, new version of the content management system (CMS), new version of the intranet.

To kick off the workshop we went round the room and three main themes emerged:

  • how to make a self-service intranet
  • the competing needs of users, content creators and HR
  • how to stop the intranet being the place where PDFs go to die

One delegate summed up his desire eloquently: 

“I want the intranet to delight employees. They shouldn’t just tolerate it and it definitely shouldn’t disappoint.”

Gerry then asked us what one thing each of us would change tomorrow if we could and this again produced themes:

  • introduce a top task approach
  • make the intranet a place to collaborate
  • make things easier to find
  • make it accessible outside the network to allow remote working
  • tighten up the governance

Then Gerry got down to business and believe me, his passion takes no prisoners.

“Your intranet should be the antidote to a bad week,” was one of his first comments. “It should be there to make your job easier. It’s not just there for adjusting flexi or booking holidays – it should help you with your day-to-day tasks and free up your time.”

And we were off.

Most of this is soundbites from my notes but I’ll try my best to make it flow.

Why base your intranet on top tasks?

The first step to a great intranet is identifying the organisation’s top tasks, the important, most used ones. It also helps to know what the tiny tasks are too because this is where the ego of the organisation lies – the stuff managers want on but which don’t add value or simply aren’t used.

Tiny tasks go to bed at night and dream of being top tasks but they generally never do grow to be top tasks.

The metrics you use on your intranet will tell you some of this stuff but cold hard stats don’t give you context. Don’t rely on Google Analytics alone – you need to look at actual human behaviour.

Before you start on the quest to find your top tasks, identify the influencers in senior management and get their buy-in. You need their protection because you are the enemy of the tiny tasks and therefore the enemy of the egos of those who don’t get what you’re trying to do.

In the short-term, ditching tiny tasks will not win you friends.

Gerry described how the CEO of Aer Lingus booked flights on competitors’ websites during senior management meetings to show how it should be done – this is the kind of buy-in you need.

Stop creating content

Humans like to create things but hate to finish and maintain. They also hate to delete. This is why we have bloated websites and intranets.

Stop building and start managing – iterate, iterate, iterate.

People are rewarded for creating but tell someone you deleted 50 documents and they raise their hands in horror – this needs to change. Deleting the stuff getting in the way of doing the top tasks is one of the most productive things you will ever do.

If deleting is too scary, archive instead but you need a document retention plan.

Archive nothing you will kill your intranet. Archive everything and you will kill your archive.

Your archive is a fox and your intranet is a chicken – keep them together and all you have is a fox.

Measuring success

Tasks need to be measurable and you need to be able to set targets but whatever you do, don’t measure page hits – hits stands for How Idiots Track Success!

Don’t measure volume – measure use. Test your intranet and base decisions on evidence.

Test, test and test again

Test, test and test again

If there’s one thing that will get managers on your side it’s saving money or making efficiencies, and the savings we’re all aiming for on our organisations’ websites can be made on our intranets.

Focus on what people do

eureka momentManage the task, not the channel. Don’t manage the intranet or the content – manage the thing people are trying to do and if it means getting involved in changing the process in the back office, roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.

Always focus on the task. Bring the tools, policy, FAQ, news etc to the task – if they are standalone they are just noise.

Self-service is the buzzword of the moment for intranets but most content isn’t fit-for-purpose or even understandable without an expert to interpret it.


Sources of your task longlist


Creating a task longlist

Once you have your longlist get people to quickly choose their top five tasks

Once you have your longlist get people to quickly choose their top five tasks

If it doesn’t help complete a task get rid of it. Policies are all well and good but people don’t look for a policy document – they just want to complete the task they came on to do.

If you need it to complete the task but people drop out, it needs rewriting.

Top task life cycle – identify task, measure the baseline (it will be horrible), make the changes, measure again, repeat indefinitely.


Navigation is the most important part of a top task website. Make labels clear and avoid creating ‘dirty magnets’ – terms that attract users for vague reasons e.g. FAQs or Knowledge Base. eureka 2

Put things where people expect them to be. Documents may be produced by your legal department but don’t put them there if people naturally gravitate towards marketing for them.

Don’t use labels like ‘Useful links’ – what’s the alternative, ‘Useless links’? Start at your top level then work your way down, aiming for a 90% first click success rate.

Employees will trust an intranet that helps them do their job, not one that is used as a propaganda tool.

Research around the world shows that two thirds of employees feel overwhelmed – this is your business case for an intranet overhaul.

We wouldn’t accept broken chairs or desks in the office, but we accept a broken digital workplace. Imagine if content that went past its sell-by date started to smell. We wouldn’t tolerate it and we wouldn’t have the bloated intranets most of us have to put up with.

The difference between the web and the intranet is that on the web people spend a lot of time and money making sure their content can be found. On an intranet being found means having to do some work!

Gerry’s international research boils intranets down to five main navigation categories:

      • About me
      • Find people & collaboration
      • News/current affairs
      • About the company
      • Core – the essence of what your organisation delivers

Focus on the core.

Working out the navigation

Working out the navigation

The future

Socitm are considering getting involved in intranets in a similar way to the Better Connected review they do of council websites each year. They attended Gerry’s workshop and we discussed creating a space to compare top tasks and best practice because, let’s face it, internal tasks are going to be pretty similar across the board. Watch this space for more details.

You can have a look at #intranetnow on Twitter where you will find notes and Periscope films from the organiser @Wedge .

This post was first published on All Things IC blog 14 May 2015. Thanks go to Rachel for the opportunity to share.

You can’t be 21 – again!

I’ve made a couple of observations over the last few months. I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

If you ever do age-specific Facebook marketing or advertising err a good few years either way, if you can. There’s a whole generation on there and there will be for ever more who lied about being 13 just to have an account.

Have you noticed a spike in the visitors to your website last month and this? I’m putting it down to people researching their summer holidays and clearing their history and cookies to try to get round the underhand price-fixing the airline companies use. If you don’t know what I’m on about basically the sites remember who you are so if you go back to look at the same flight the price will miraculously have gone up and there will only be a few seats left at that price. Clear your history and cookies and you’re regarded as a new customer on all the sites you visit.

I’ve just started a PgCert in Making Use of Digital Research at Edinburgh University and so far, apart from technical teething troubles the course has been fascinating. I’ll share some of it here over the next few months.

A tune from me to you

The Jaynetts – Who Stole the Cookie From the Cookie Jar

Happenstance is a wonderful thing

So this year I’ll be 47 – three years off 50. I thought my life would be slowing down, but then sitting on the couch watching Coronation Street or Eastenders has never held much appeal.
Last week my latest course started so I’ve been busy reading research papers all week. The course is brand new, a Pg Cert in Making Use of Digital Research, distance learning at Edinburgh University. The first module looks at the social shaping of digital research – I had my usual wobble, thinking I wasn’t going to be intelligent enough but I suspect I just picked the wrong paper first.
One paper struck many chords though. My last post about teenage relationships on Facebook drew a comparison to some of Danah Boyd‘s research and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t even know who she was at the time. I did a bit of digging though and was pleased to discover that my random thoughts are actually being proved right by actual research by someone so influential. Her paper Six Provocations for Big Data echos more random thoughts of mine about how the white male geeks have had their way too long and that coding and data analysis should be core to every pupil’s learning, across every subject, a conversation I’ve had with our Education Improvement Manager and Caroline Stuart Business Development Director at Oracle. About 18 months ago I had a T-shirt made with the legend ‘The geek shall inherit the earth’ on the front and if we don’t act soon it’ll come true. For our children to understand the world round about them they will need killer coding and data analysis skills.

Geek T-shirt
This course is aimed at policy makers and our employee development manager is keeping an eye on the course for colleagues. I’ll give you regular updates on here but if I’m anything to go by an old dog can definitely learn new tricks, especially if there are biscuits involved!
The other things that will be keeping me busy is a research project at Glasgow University. I was asked by the project lead for some feedback on his initial proposal and after a couple of reads it blew my mind.
The Serendipity project’s aim is to develop a dashboard for use by organsations to help with decision-making when working on new policies. It can also be used to give a real-time picture of a place or scenario and maybe even used during emergency situations to help work out the best decisions on the fly.
The idea is to overlay real hard data with all available social data to create community biographies. It’s hoped that public behaviour could also be predicted over time.
For instance if you overlay all the anti-social behaviour data a council has about an area with all the sentiment created about the area on social media you’d get a rounder picture than just all the bad news.

Serendipity equation
If there’s a major accident on the roads, social info about how people divert around it can be used to model future behaviour and help roads departments and the police plan ahead.
During incidents, past research can be overlaid with social data and emergency planning decisions about evacuations etc and can be tested for potential public reaction before they are actually announced.
It’s looking highly likely that the council will be signing up to the research to be partner, although the details still have to snagged. Needless to say I’m excited.
I might not be ready for the easy chair yet but a nice comfy pair of slippers wouldn’t go amiss and maybe a SAGA holiday brochure.

A song from me to you

Miles Kane – Happenstance

That status narrowly missed me

When you’re 14 Facebook comments can make or break friendships but in my experience it’s like real life – everyone falls out then their best of pals two days later.

Teenage relationships tend to be fluid but until social media they were played out in youth clubs, classrooms, bedrooms and the playground. Often the only parental inkling of teenage turbulence would be a passing comment along the lines of:

“How was school today?”


“You going round to Sophie’s tomorrow?”



“Just don’t feel like it.”

Then tomorrow she goes round to Sophie’s as usual, like nothing was ever wrong.

And then Facebook happened. Now the drama is there for all to see and we, if we’re Facebook parents have to learn when to pretend we didn’t read that or when to have a quiet word in the shell-like.

As a networked parent I’ve held my daughter’s social media hand along the way, from CBeebies aged 4 to Facebook, aged 12 and three quarters. I’ve hopefully given her the tools to keep herself safe, in general and to think about channel security settings. Now she’s a bit older she’s now helping me get my head round Vine, Instagram and Snapchat.

However, on Facebook, among teenagers there’s this phenomenon known as an aimed status. Yes, aimed statuses are a thing.

My daughter and some of her friends are friends with me on Facebook and I kind of noticed these aimed statuses a while back. A random statement, seemingly plucked out of nowhere, no one tagged, no one named, but something, usually snide, aimed at someone who’s hacked you off. The first time I noticed them for real was when I thought one of them was aimed at me. Turns out it wasn’t but it showed me the power of an aimed status to raise paranoia levels.

I’ve noticed lots of these going through my news feed – they all seem to be at it – and the flurry of responses is sometimes funny as friends try to work out who it’s aimed at. Everyone has a laugh and it all blows over.

Then this happened.

“You’re pathetic tbh. Sort yourself out.”

A couple of people chipped in with suggestions as to who was being pathetic. The one girl who’d been ruled out but hadn’t obviously read all the posts suggested she be tagged the next time my daughter was aiming a status at her.

Her retort? “I wasn’t talking about you but if the shoe fits.”

At this point there were about 5 people in the conversation and 10 comments. Then the girl’s mum waded in, all guns blazing and it all took a turn for the serious.

Suddenly the people in the conversation were being accused of treating her daughter badly. She then went on to name a mutual friend on Facebook for all to see and described her as ‘troubled’ and said she’d already warned my daughter away from her but didn’t listen.

To Alyx’s credit she came right back with the fact that she can choose her own friends thank you very much.

At this point I felt I had to intervene to I posted the following:

“Facebook is not the place to be having discussions like this. If you have any issues with my daughter I’d appreciate a grown-up phonecall, not a slagging session on here with a bunch of teenagers.”

This comment got 18 likes – almost a record for me.

A few comments later one of the teenagers came out with this gem of a truth:

“Teenage lassies argue all the time then fall back in within a week anyway.”

And another:

“If my mum was fighting my battles for me in an aimed status I’d take a head dive out my window.”

265 comments happened while us mums had a heated Messenger debate – I never got the grown-up phonecall. Turns out her daughter was giving as good as she got with the aimed statuses but had been blocking her mum! But she doesn’t think that I should leave Alyx to fight her own battles because she’s just a child.

Well, actually I consider Alyx at 14 to be a young adult and if she can put her own wrongs right then I’ve taught her well.

However, the lesson learned from this is that a parent diving head-first into a Facebook conversation is like butting into a playground conversation – wrong, cringey and just a tad creepy.

What starts as teenage banter suddenly becomes slander when an adult joins in.

As for aimed statuses, I might not like them but they seem to be as much part of teenage life as spots and Freederm.

I’m pretty much over you and your random thoughts tbh . . .

A song from me to you

I think your ears are bleeding

So my last blog caused a bit of a stir. Most people felt my pain. Others thought it was the braggers who had the problem.

One person took things into their own hands and nominated me for a Comms2point0 UnAward.

David Grindlay from Falkirk Council has been a partner in social media crime for a few years now. We met on Twitter, then at social media events, then at regular meetings. Now he’s a firm friend of the whole family. I’m sure our paths would have crossed eventually but social media sped things up. He phones me every now and again to ask a question, usually about social media, sometimes about emergency comms, occasionally about behaviour change. I always come off the phone feeling sorry for him because once I start talking I rarely come up for air. I always imagine him putting the phone down, ears bleeding and gently banging his head off his desk.

But I guess his ears must be OK and he must value my input or he wouldn’t have taken the time to write such a glowing nomination. I was overwhelmed, happy that someone I respect thought so highly of me. But at the same time the Calvinist in me was on the verge of breaking out in hives.

There were 202 nominations for the UnAwards and a panel of judges did the shortlisting, although Dan and Darren couldn’t shortlist the Best Comms Officer category. I don’t know who was responsible for picking me but I’d like to thank them because being shortlisted for a Comms2point0 award, un or otherwise, means more to me than anything from the CIPR or any other official body.

I love Dan and Darren and have learned so much from them over the years that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without their help and influence.

I met them on Twitter, then in person. I have worked for the day with them when they were at Walsall Council. I have been in the audience at events where they have presented or run workshops. I have eaten curries with them and drunk pints. On Monday I co-presented with Dan at a social media training day and that was just the icing on the cake – sharing knowledge with comms colleagues and sharing a stage with one of my social media rock stars. In fact, I was also sharing a stage with another social media rock star, Leah Lockhart, another person I met on Twitter but now count as an actual, real life friend.

And that’s the great thing about comms people on social media – we really bring the social part to the table. Twitter breaks the ice at events – suddenly people you’ve been talking to for months in bursts of 140 characters are right there in front of you and the niceties have already been done.

I have regular get-togethers at the house and have invited Twitter acquaintances whom I now count as friends.

I have never been more social in my life.

I used to be the painfully shy kid, who’d go red if the teacher asked me a question in class.

I’d go to parties and stick with the friends I went with.

I could never pluck up the courage to speak to a stranger – I mean, what on earth would I say.