The Social Intranet

I attended the Social Intranet Summit in Vancouver on October 26th and 27th, a conference sponsored by ThoughtFarmer, a vendor of social Intranet software. The audience was a mix of Intranet managers from Marketing, IT and Knowledge Management departments. There were some terrific insights shared at this conference which are useful for anybody about to implement or upgrade a social Intranet. Here is a short summary of some of the key learnings.

What is social Intranet software? According to the experts, social Intranet software combines traditional Intranet elements with social collaboration features such as “rich user profiles, activity streams, discussion forums, wiki and blog capabilities,” micro blogging, etc. Social Intranets result in user generated content where updating responsibility is moved to a decentralized, open model. Giving up editorial control on parts of an Intranet can be a scary concept for many organizations but the transparency of authorship helps to discourage abuse and bad content.

Dion Hinchcliffe, one of the keynote speakers, kicked things off by talking about Social as a Global Trend where companies such as IBM and Siemens have started to implement strategies to reduce or eliminate collaboration by email. Dion then discussed strategies to help show the business value of social software which included: 

  • Defining the problem first before selecting the software;
  • Increasing everybody’s collaborative literacy – this was also emphasized in another presentation as key to a successful implementation;
  • Understanding why social software works and focus on aspects such as Search, Links, Authorship and Tags (taken from Andrew McAfee’s SLATES). Increasing the discoverability of information by search, links & tags and providing open, easy authorship can lead to “network effects by default”; and
  • Actively encouraging emergent and unintended consequences because “Social Intranets aren’t like classical enterprise software”

Eric Karjaluoto, founding partner of smashLAB, delivered a great presentation on “Visual Literacy: Understanding the Core Principles of Great Design”. According to Eric: “Design affects everybody but it isn’t democratic.” This generated a few chuckles in the room from anybody who has been involved with an Intranet, blog or website design committee. Eric summarized some key design principles for Intranets and websites that included: 

  • Unity to ensure that all elements work together;
  • Consistency which is achieved through repetition in colour, type, form, structure, language, and imagery;
  • Hierarchy where “bigger items attract the eye” and lead the viewer to critical elements, functions or messages; and
  • Simplicity – which for Eric is the most important principle and key to a successful Intranet and/or website 

Eric also provided links to some great resources on design principles including IBM’s Design Principles, The 7 Principles of Universal Design, and Google User Experience.

Lastly, Selma Zafar, a User Experience Designer from OpenRoad Communications, gave an excellent presentation on “Creating Effective Requirements.” Selma started by explaining the difference in requirements between an Intranet and website in terms of familiarity, efficiency, content updates and authoring models. Websites have a centralized model of authoring, less frequent visits in comparison to Intranets and fewer updates. Intranets have frequent visitors and updates so requirements should decentralize content authoring and help increase staff efficiency and familiarity. The key takeaway for me was to shift the focus from want to actual need. In other words “never ask employees what they want, but observe and interview them to assess what they need.”

Although this is only a small portion of the excellent presentations delivered over the two day period, these three presentations provided the following workflow for anybody starting out on a social Intranet project: 

  • Start by designing a good business strategy that solves a problem & shows the value of social Intranet software;
  • Focus on core design principles that will enhance the overall user experience; and finally
  • Design good requirements that result in content that addresses what users really need

More in-depth coverage of this conference will be provided by ThoughtFarmer on its blog over the next couple of months.

Disclaimer: My firm uses ThoughtFarmer’s Social Intranet Software.


  1. Wish I could have been there! Thanks so much for sharing your notes and thoughts, Heather.

  2. The challenge, of course, is articulating the problem you want to solve. It’s so much easier (and way more fun) to play with the new toy and see if you can squeeze your business into it!

  3. Great summary of the conference, Heather! Ten of the presentations are being converted into live webinars with Q&A that anyone can attend:

    You can also get Dion Hinchcliffe’s slidedeck here: