Best Practices For Deploying a Social Intranet

December 18, 2013 Harry West

By Harry West (@hj_west)

In a previous life, I used to run a Product Management team that helped design Talent Management solutions for global businesses. We did a lot of end user research on the types of professionals and casual users that interacted with HR and Talent solutions.

One type of user that really stood out from other HR Professionals was the Recruiter. Recruiting professionals are very often independent or third party agency employees, not direct staff. The nature of their work more closely resembles that of sales professionals than HR professionals – they are constantly making new contacts, and always trying to close. They are often at events, trying to make connections – and when they are mobile, they like all their data to be available immediately on whatever device is in their pocket. One comment from a Recruiter we interviewed several years ago that always stuck with me is,

“Why can’t the recruiting system just work like I bought myself a user so I can keep track of what I need.”

This one comment crystallized for me the importance of designing for end users from the perspective of ‘What’s in it for me?”. We could build the best professional tools for managing open headcount and requisitions, tracking candidacies, reporting and compliance, but the typical recruiter had very different concerns.

Social Intranet

Zoom out to today’s workforce, and the needs of Workplace 2020. How will you design internal solutions that meet the needs of employees – not just the HR department – and really deliver something of value that will build adoption? Since joining Appirio last year, I’ve increasingly gotten excited about the possibilities of solutions like and Google apps for meeting the needs of what previously were HR-centric solutions like performance feedback systems, internal job postings and referrals, rewards and recognition systems, and of course, the HR or Workplace Portal. Now more than ever, organizations are under pressure to deliver experiences to the workforce – managers, employees, candidates, contractors and even retirees – that are end user-focused to the point of mirroring the excellent experiences available in the consumer world.

Interestingly, it’s not always the core or talent HCM technology vendors that meet this need most optimally. We spend a lot of time working with clients to understand the information needs of the broader workforce. The workforce today needs solutions that drive addiction, not just adoption – partially because most HR organizations don’t really have the bandwidth to manage robust content portals on their own anymore, and they never really could understand the information needs of diverse groups of workers as close to real-time as those workers themselves. Employees today expect solutions that are real-time and relevant – not cyclical, periodically available, hidden behind forgotten logins, or  disconnected from their actual work. Bury a link to a performance feedback solution behind a portal, menu path or password that is separate from the place where employees spend most of their time actually working, and what you’ll invariably see is that the tool simply won’t get used as intended. It will also fail to deliver value.

When designing an experience for the broader workforce, we feel that it’s best to move away from some of the key design principles of yesterday, and to expand the palette of tools available beyond the traditional HCM solutions and HR Portal technologies/designs, into more consumerized solutions in the cloud. Some of the guiding principles that are key for creating this experience are:

1. Focus on People, Not Documents

When creating an Employee Portal, forget the concept that you have content (documents) and will have a centralized HR resource responsible for generating, staging, publishing and knowing what content is relevant for every audience in your organization. It won’t happen, at least not optimally. Employee interaction layers must be about connecting people with people through social interactions like sharing, liking, tagging, feedback, chat/instant messaging and more. Without sharing and social interactions, your portal is doomed to being managed and maintained from the top down by your own central resources. They will probably never be able to generate and promote the kind of relevant and real-time content that a socially-enabled workforce can produce from the bottom up.

These social intranets, or interaction layers, must integrate not simply to HR applications, but to all applications that employees need to do their work. This is one of the areas where solutions like, their social feed solution Chatter, and Google Apps for business can play a huge role in creating an experience your workforce will not just use, but will get addicted to.

2. Go to Where People Are

One of the problems with HR systems like Performance Management solutions and traditional HR portals is that users have to want to go there – or else you force them to do so, using the HR calendar. In this scenario the HR Calendar is the stick. For the end user, there’s no carrot.

Using a separate interaction layer to support event-driven alerts, workflows and simple transactions from critical work-related systems can generate natural adoption. Compelling, self-directed user communities within an organization also generate a lot of natural traffic. You can generate better user adoption by surfacing worker-relevant content into Groups and social feeds together with alerts and workflows that they need for their regular day jobs. If I’m approving someone’s timecard for work they performed, and I see this approval pop up in my feed, why not be able to jump right from that timesheet item to a feedback capability- so I can capture and share my appraisal of the work I’m approving right there on the spot. If that work merits extra recognition, why not let me share my positive feedback with a wider audience? Such interactions can’t be done in traditional HR systems that are hidden in the back-end of the system landscape. Newer solutions that integrate with key operational systems make in-context HR-related transactions all the more compelling for users. Again, this is an area where Salesforce’s capabilities excel in a way that traditional HCM solutions just don’t.

3. Engage and Reward

Gamification isn’t just a buzzword anymore. I’ve recently seen deployments of recognition tools with social feed integration that deliver as much value to their end users, if not more, as traditional heavyweight Performance/Comp solutions at a fraction of the cost.  And they do this in real-time, answering the question “What’s in it for me?” much more clearly for employees and managers than a traditional HR-oriented solution. This employee-facing value proposition is key to generating user addiction – not just adoption, and to making your Interaction Layer a self-sustaining, always-current place where HR can be a supporter, but doesn’t always have to drive actions from the top down.

Today’s HCM solutions are better than they’ve ever been at meeting the needs of end users. We advise clients to leverage what the latest cloud-based HR solutions have to offer – but when it comes to the overall worker environment and experience, to think even bigger. Take that state of the art HR transaction and make sure you can surface it in the same socially enabled interaction layer that you use to surface other mission-critical transactions. Don’t accept solutions that won’t run on mobile devices. Don’t over-engineer solutions around a once-a-year cycle when end users want to engage all year long. These and other attributes of the social intranet experiences of tomorrow will help drive end user adoption (and addiction!) – and deliver better value for Workforce 2020.

For an example of a compelling employee portal experience, see the social intranet Appirio deployed for Virgin America based on, among other things,’s Chatter and Communities capabilities.

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