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Communications, Intranet

The intranet dump and how to rise above the pabulum

First drafts are precious, and so not to be trusted. Step away from the screen; let someone else read it; come back and revise without squeezing the life from your words.

Deconstructed typewriterWhen drafting content, the first headline you write might be brilliant, but it’s best to reflect for a time to see if you can craft a greater headline. Take a break, come back to it, and ask a smart colleague to review your different ideas. Editors – don’t settle for the headline the content writer handed you unless it’s brilliant.

The headline’s purpose is to help a person choose what to read; crafting it might take more than the 30 seconds usually allotted. A thumbnail image can attract attention to new items. If you avoid re-using thumbnails, it’s more obvious when updates and news have been published.

If you work to write easy-to-read communications that are timely, accurate, concise, clear, relevant, useful and contextual, your comms and intranet may develop a better reputation – but only if people choose to read your work. You need great headlines and summaries.

Content publishers should expect (and appreciate) feedback, and intranet managers should make sure the intranet facilitates conversations across all levels of the organisation.

Enterprise social networks (ESNs) like Yammer, Chatter, Tibbr, can aid conversations and content reviews. An app like Beem can help you mobilise your intranet news.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) tactics are well-used on the Internet, and several good practices can help your audiences find what they expect, and discover what they need.

 

Make a web

No page has to carry all relevant information, yet it’s tempting to write either epic guidance articles that no one will read, or publish articles so brief that they don’t address the needs of the readers.

Linking to reference pages and files on the intranet and to websites on the Internet is easy, yet the presentation of links is crucial if you want to help people know where to click, and why they should. It used to be that blue-with-an-underline was the de facto standard, but now people will accept other colours and no underline, so long as links are presented consistently, the colour is high-contrast and obvious, and the underline appears when the mouse cursor is hovered over the link.

People should know what the link will do before they click it; this is not a puzzle game! The link text should be a key word or short ‘info rich’ phrase. Never ‘click here’.

 

Problems and solutions

Low hits

People aren’t reading company news

Although you do your best to keep the home page fresh, visitors don’t seem to read many of the news items. Some stories have to stay on the home page for days and days before the owners are satisfied that everyone has had a chance to read their news.

  • Write clear headlines that obviously express the topic and are targeted at the relevant audience. Spend much more time writing the headline than you’ve ever done in the past;
  • Provide summaries beneath the headline, right on the home page. Explain the ‘what and who’ of the article in 50 words;
  • Use thumbnail photographs on the home page – not stock photos;
  • If using icons to indicate news and announcements, change them frequently. Yes, go online and buy or find new icons you can use (legally);
  • Accept that readership ‘hits’ are not the most valuable metric, although they are an indicator that your stakeholders will want you to track.

 

Dull pages

Every article looks the same

Your intranet is established (or old), and while you work hard to keep the navigation as people expect, the intranet can feel like grey goop. Reference pages look just like news pages which look just like blog articles – it’s all the same!

  • Develop your ‘content strategy’; news articles should be brief and to the point, covering the WWWWWH and linking to previous articles, reference pages, websites and people’s profile pages. Reference pages can be longer, but require a great many headings and sub-heading;
  • Blog articles can be more personal than ‘news updates’ but still need to communicate news that people can act upon. Project update blog articles are good, but should also give readers more than the ‘status’;
  • Nearly every news article can have an original photo alongside it. Not simply the CEO’s profile picture, a real photo taken with your smartphone. Get out there!

 

The content cul-de-sac

Articles lack context and details because pages need to be concise

Writers sometimes forget that they can publish two or more pages on a topic – one as a serious reference, and one as a news story or introduction. Overly long pages get published as ‘all in one reference’ documents, yet are hard to search for and hard to read.

Announcements, news, and brief updates can be enhanced by providing the context, which doesn’t have to be on the same page. Linking to previous articles helps people research what they find relevant, and gets around the temptation for each page to cover every detail.

Every page on your intranet should help people go somewhere else. Every page should link to something else for context.

 

Word files dumped online

All-in-one reference materials and ‘helpful’ guides are strewn around without considering the experience

I prefer writing in Word so I can control the format and add more images’ – says everyone. Yet these behemoth files and their equivalent, very long intranet pages, are not the preference of readers – and the intranet is supposed to serve the needs of the audiences and users.

Follow your ‘content strategy’ (above) and only use Word documents for project documentation, not company communications.

 

The never-ending story

News articles dither about setting the scene; long reference pages cover every eventuality – haphazardly

Authors may be pleased to publish a comprehensive page, but their personal logic as to how to arrange sub-topics means that many readers leave the page none the wiser.

Follow the inverted triangle and put the important Who, What, Where, When, How details at the top, followed by the Why and then round out the details with the back-story and the context.

Allow ‘people stories’ to wander away from the inverted triangle – not every article needs to be a news bulletin.


 

Although not exhaustive, I hope some of the above points inspire you to tackle your content strategy and tactics – even if unsure what ‘content strategy’ is. See Diana Railton’s content strategy presentations on SlideShare.

[ Wedge ]

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The #intranet dump and how to rise above the pabulum: http://kilobox.net/3442 – by @Wedge

Deconstructed typewriter

About Wedge

I’m Wedge, and this is my website! I’ve worked within internal communications since 2004, managing intranets and digital comms. Now I’m a freelance comms and intranet specialist - I help organisations plan and improve their intranets. I work with other agencies, and write a lot of blog and magazine articles. I founded the Intranet Now conference. You can catch up with me on Twitter - I’m @Wedge.

4 thoughts on “The intranet dump and how to rise above the pabulum

  • Thanks, Wedge – clear and straightforward advice, as always. I’ve blogged about (and linked to) your article on our own intranet as this is exactly the kind of thing our content authors should be *thinking* about when publishing, rather than concentrating on pressing the right CMS buttons.

  • That is so good to hear from you, Ruth, thank you ever so much.

    I was worried that I’d written too many words, but I made sure to make good use of headings!

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