Should Your Intranet Be More Like Facebook?

More and more it seems companies want their intranets to resemble social networking sites. Facebook, to be exact.

Just last week, during a product demo, the prospect asked, “Can I ‘like’ an item?”

In fact, some organizations use Facebook itself as their intranet, or at least to provide the “social” part of their intranet.

Are these people insane, or are they on to something here?

The Advantages of a Facebook-Like Intranet

There are benefits to a Facebook-like intranet.

User adoption

For one thing, it will probably be a lot easier to get staff to use it than a traditional, boring intranet. If they’re Facebook users to begin with, then a similar interface would be familiar with them already. Plus, Facebook is associated with fun.

Personal connections

Another advantage to an intranet that looks like a social network is that it lets staff connect with each other more easily. They can post updates, photos, and videos. They can give each other thumb-ups. They can comment on each other’s status updates, comment on other people’s comments, and even get a small discussion going.

Curious about a person? Simply click on their profile page and you get an entire timeline. You’ll get snapshots of this person’s most life milestones.

An intranet that can do all this, or close to it, makes it easier for employees to collaborate with each other by building trust and familiarity.

The Disadvantages of a Facebook-Like Intranet

Of course, nothing is all good. There are drawbacks to using Facebook as the model for your intranet.

Poor archiving and search-ability

If you’ve ever tried to find an old post (even your own) on Facebook, you’ll realize it’s a poor tool for document management. Everything gets buried as new updates are published. This means it’s hard for you to find what you need when you need it.

Waste of time

Also, you may be surprised, but the truth is, some people simply don’t want their intranets to be overly social. They may see social networking as idle chatter, unproductive. Some prospects I’ve talked to want to switch OFF the social features of Noodle intranet, like user profiles, instant messaging, and status updates.

The problem of “likes”

Finally, some social network conventions are ambiguous and of limited usefulness in a work setting. Take the action of “liking” a status update or giving a thumbs up. Intranetizen has rightfully asked: what does “liking” actually mean? Is it useful at all?

“Liking” sure is an easy way to acknowledge a co-worker’s status update. But it can also be a cop-out. I’m in a rush, so instead of typing and posting a comment on your status, I will simply click on the thumb-up button and get on my way. Meanwhile, you bask in the glow of having so many “likes” but in the end, you have very little usable information.

In a work setting, would you settle for “likes,” or would you need comments?

Another problem with “liking” on Facebook is how it affects your update’s visibility. If your update gets plenty of “likes” and comments, Facebook tends to bump it up on your friends’ news feeds, so that more of your friends are likely to see it. This means content gets more exposure based on popularity — not usefulness. Is this how you want to vet content on your intranet?

What Can Intranets Learn From Social Networks

Facebook and other social networks may not be the perfect model for our intranets. But we can certainly learn a lot from them.

We can learn that our users want an intranet that’s easy to use, fun, and familiar. They want to be able to express themselves. They want an environment that’s rich in media — not purely text but also to have images, moving pictures, and sound. Most of all, they want to be able to interact with each other and actually build and strengthen relationships, even though its on a computer screen.

How about you? Do you wish your intranet were more like Facebook? Or Twitter, or LinkedIn? Or some other social network? What social networking features do you want to see in your intranet?

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