The Intranet: The black sheep of the digital industry?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Is the intranet the black sheep of the digital industry?

An article recently published in The Drum asked if 'internal comms' was the dirty word of the creative industry. Its author, Giles Hicks, creative director at Synergy Creative, successfully argued the point that creativity in internal communications is both challenging and sophisticated, requiring a firm understanding of brand, engagement and insight and as such should receive the same kind of recognition and respect as its consumer-focused counterpart.

This got me thinking about the services and solutions that ClearPeople, the company I work for, has to offer. One of the main problem areas that clients come to us for help for is the design and development of their company intranet.

Now, if 'internal comms' is the dirty word of the creative industry, the intranet is the black sheep of the digital world. A lot of digital agencies steer clear of intranet development, choosing its sexier, glossier, feature-rich cousin, the website. But an intranet is just as sexy, just as glossy and has just as many features, if not more, than some websites. Let’s not forget an intranet is a type of website – it just has an internal audience and a very specific set of objectives.

There are many types of websites out there, each with their own aims, from selling services and products, providing advice, disseminating information, entertaining and allowing communities to engage with one another. The job of a marketer, and indeed their digital agency, is to understand the business objectives of their organisations and use their marketing armoury to meet and exceed them. With so many different types of websites out there and so many objectives to fulfil, it’s no wonder that such projects define the digital industry - creativity and innovation keep getting better and better, constantly pushing the boundaries to remain relevant and engaging to an ever-demanding audience.

But it’s this same audience who are today’s workforce. And their digital expectations in their personal lives are taken into their jobs everyday. If they can easily order a delivery or read a brochure for a new home on their mobile phone, why can’t they see their expenses report or marketing plan from this device too? Making their working lives easier leads to a happier working day and arguably, a more productive one.

Engaging your workforce

The way we work has changed. More and more people are working away from their desks, and in a 24/7 world, the classic 9 to 5 doesn’t exist anymore. This has created huge challenges for business as they need to continue to engage with their workforce, promote their culture and values and provide tools and resources to help their employees remain productive and efficient.

This is where the company intranet comes into its own. An intranet is an interactive and inclusive collaboration and communications gateway, providing easy access to the latest news, content, workflow, documents and applications from whatever device you are on, wherever you are.

Understanding the users of an intranet – your workforce – what they need to achieve, and making this all simple for them, is essential to its success. It requires buy-in from the very top of an organisation and is paramount to conveying the overall brand, strategy and vision of a business to its employees.

It demands just as much creativity as an external website as it needs to engage a wide-ranging audience from C-Level executives to support staff to volunteers. It demands exceptional user experience to allow this audience, all with varying levels of computer literacy, to easily find documents and complete the tasks at hand. And it demands advanced functionality to allow for global collaboration, enhanced communication and advanced integration with other business systems.

So there’s a hell of a lot of planning, research and creativity that goes on behind the scenes of this black sheep. But I think it’s actually the golden fleece - working on these types of projects can be incredibly challenging, exciting and rewarding. Employee engagement is so inextricably linked with customer engagement that intranet projects often help to make website projects even more effective. It’s time to wave the flag for intranets and no longer see them as the website’s poor relation. They shouldn’t be regarded as dry, bureaucratic dumping grounds of information but relevant, engaging collaborative platforms that create a happier workplace.

Ricky Wallace is marketing manager at digital agency ClearPeople.

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