Monday, January 27, 2014

The National Archives' Tips for Creating a Successful Social Intranet

By: Aubrey McMahan, Internal Communications Specialist, US Geological Survey, Office of Communications and Publishing, January 20, 2014

The Federal Communicators Network hit off the new year with its first event of 2014 at the National Archives last Thursday.  Following introductions of FCN’s newly elected 2014 Leadership Team, the National Archives’ very own Kelly Osborn took the floor to share her proven tips on driving employee engagement through a social intranet.  If you couldn’t make it on Thursday in person or on the phone, you can review the presentation here.

As a web developer on the National Archives Office of Innovation, Kelly led the agency in the creation and implementation of its new social intranet.  Called the National Archives’ Internal Collaboration Network, this progressive employee engagement, ideation and collaboration tool underwent a lot of development and usability testing before becoming NARA employees’ respected social intranet that it is today.  How did they do it?  Kelly gave us the inside scoop:

Seek support. To get any (good) idea off the ground, the first thing you need is buy-in.  After all, Kelly pointed out, “You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t have management who trust and believe in you, then it won’t happen.” Work closely with your immediate coworkers and supervisors first. From there, your team can help back you up as you seek approval from leadership to turn your idea into a plan.

Do your research. Don’t waste your team’s time and the taxpayers’ money reinventing the wheel.  Identify your agency’s social intranet needs and ask around to find another organization that overcame similar challenges.  Even if you can’t replicate someone else’s system in its entirety, you have a much better sense of what’s out there than if your agency tries working from scratch.

Usability is your #1 priority. If navigation of your social intranet intimidates employees, then the tool will never take off.  Employees don’t need to catch on to the system right away, but they do need to keep coming back. One point Kelly mentioned here is, I think, particularly important for large organizations like ours to consider: make the system “stupid simple” to use.  Federal agencies are full of a wide array of people with different technology skills, all of whom will need to communicate through a single platform.

Make friends with the enemy. Your potential social intranet enemies, that is. Use your agency’s biggest intranet critics to your advantage. Learn from them and work from them as you shape your product. If you can make your critics early adopters of the new system, you’ve achieved another level of important buy-in.

Ease employees into engaging. The benefits of having your agency’s employees communicate via one platform will be incredibly rewarding.  Encourage generic conversation where all members feel comfortable participating and becoming acclimated to the tool (pictures of puppies!). And prohibiting anonymity will keep the conversations controlled; if you don’t provide a safe space for negative feedback, you risk the chance of stifling good ideas.

Each of our workplaces has its own problems.  Yet, I’m betting that the ultimate goals to resolving these problems are very much the same: we want our staff to be able to better communicate, collaborate, and build communities agency-wide. Driving this employee engagement through a strong social intranet is the way to go.

This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic, including social media and web design.


  1. Thank you for posting this along with your presentation. I've just recently joined the group and found your items on the social intranet really helpful

  2. Interesting! Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful and interesting blog to us. My mississippi marketing agency company appreciates this so much. Keep sharing!


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