How to target information to garner more attention and interest in your projects, values, and goals. 

Think back twenty years: which applications did the first intranets conquer in companies? Exactly, it was the internal broadcasting of news and information. And news and information like this still form the heart of a company’s intranet today.

In this context, let’s give some thought to how customers deal with news as an application. As a rule, there are three types of news: 

  • News that is broadcast to each and every employee, where wide distribution and attention is important. 
  • Specific news for a department, location, team, or interest group. Particularly important here is personalization. 
  • News subscriptions that employees can use to actively monitor channels to automatically receive information relevant to them. 

Top-Down Communication – The Board and Management Keep Everyone Informed

When I look at the first intranet platforms we implemented in 2001, they’re remarkably similar to many systems that are still up and running today in 2020. Admittedly, dynamic websites do now exist with login functionality that didn’t exist then, some of which also look great. But they don’t offer users any significant opportunities to interact. Even today, many intranet platforms function like digital newspapers: They recount something to you from the corporate world. What doesn’t work in printed newspapers is obviously just right for top-down communication. 

Most people like to consume news, but if you look at the comments on most news websites, their content is rarely valuable. The news itself is of value. This is how top-down communication works as well. The boss says what’s going to happen and everyone else nods and does his bidding. This is the traditional way things are done and I don’t want to talk it down. Communication of this type is, in my view, still key to a good intranet. It allows me to orient myself and find out about the latest happenings. 

The times are long past, however, when an intranet showed you everything that’s going on in a company. And by the time group chats kick in, information is distributed so quickly that it’s impossible for everyone to stay up to date about everything all the time. This works when you have fifty employees but no more and most of our customers have 500 to 300,000. But the top-down approach does work. 

This is what home pages on an intranet with top-down communication look like:

Source file: 

Source file: 

The examples in these screenshots are based heavily on news in established news portals on the internet. A news item consists of a main headline, a title, a short teaser, and an image. It also shows how many likes and comments the news item has received. However, there’s still a problem here: 

Most companies don’t have active and interesting top-down communication. 

A key player here in my view is corporate communications. If a corporate communications team or department exists, there’s usually a steady stream of news. Unfortunately, these news items are often so diluted by dozens of revisions that it would be better to publish the original exciting piece on the website because the (for the employees) relevant news value has been completely removed. This is usually not the fault of corporate communications itself, but rather the coordination process in the organization. 

Let me illustrate what I expect from good internal corporate communications with an example from communications research that my good friend Gerrit Eicker drew my attention to. It deals with a process that he refers to as issue management and describes how the press officer deals with company crises in the public sphere. There are different strategies for this. 

Let’s say a company has found its way into the headlines, but negatively: there is a suspicion of corruption – and you’re the press officer. A newspaper publishes an article on the subject and suddenly interest in the case increases. You analyze the situation and find that the facts stated in the article are completely false. However, while performing your own internal research, you also find out about a case that really does exist, which could be interpreted as bribery according to your own internal guidelines. Now, the question in issue management is how are you going to deal with this situation? Are you going to continue boldly and hold a press conference where you throw all of the information on the table? Or do you just concede to what the press already knows and categorically deny everything else?

Gerrit had already dealt with this topic in detail and took a clear position. He advises playing with open cards, enduring the controversy that ensues afterward, and generally being the one who publishes the latest information. Then you’re never driven by outside forces but are always the information leader. This allows you to create trust because the press learns that if you know something, you’ll say it out loud. So, if we find out something that the press hasn’t already made known to the public, it’s probably because they haven’t found out about it yet themselves. 

What role do employees play in your organization in this regard? That of the press, who is always given every snippet of information? Is all of your news complete and fully comprehensible, and do you always confront people openly? Or do you frequently publish news that everyone knows about already through the office grapevine and you’re just confirming it? If your intranet news really is news and provides your employees with value, it always places you in a good position to fight rumors, because you deprive them of the air they need to breathe and grow: “If there was anything at all to this rumor, we would have read about it on the intranet already.”

This is how good internal corporate communication works in my view: internal news items are relevant to employees. 

Good internal news is current. It really is being published for the first time and can’t be read elsewhere. This is why it’s so important for corporate communications to hit the “newsstands” fast. Faster than the office grapevine.

Good corporate communication controls the style and the statements that are made internally. It’s a complex task that can only be accomplished if there are enough resources. It also entails all departments in the company submitting news quickly and on the fly, and that that news can be checked, edited, and published on short notice. That’s easier said than done, though. If the process takes too long, the news is already out of date. And, of course, the various other departments may also lose interest in the publication process because it always requires approval. 

To take the burden off of their corporate communications departments, most of our customers use the personalization options that Linchpin offers them. Everything meant for small target groups alone (just for marketing, just for the office in Frankfurt, just for trainees, and so on) is interpreted as a contained news item and does not require approval. Only real top-down news items disseminated to all employees have to go through the approval process. 

A federal system of this type guarantees increased activity and thus a greater level of attention. 

Differentiation like this means that not a lot of news will be left over to broadcast to everyone. The method using many news items targeted at small groups is becoming increasingly relevant and attracts more attention in the overall system. 

Here, take a look at this intranet screenshot from my computer. You can see from the positioning on the tiles that the top-down messages are always at the top and have a longer dwell time as a result. The departmental and location-specific information, on the other hand, passes through faster.

Source file: 

In this split, top-down messages are given priority and are visible longer. Most intranets even have an option for pinning messages to the top either temporarily or permanently. Then the corresponding news is stuck at the top for a defined period of time. I don’t think much of this to be honest – even though our own solution has exactly the same feature because many of our customers have requested it. But it’s a little bit like the New York Times printing the same front page for three days running. 

If a topic is so important to the corporate communications department or senior management that they want people to pay a lot of attention to it, then, in my opinion, the teams involved should take the trouble to write the topic up in three separate articles: for instance, the first could contain pure facts, the second an interview with the board, and the third a comment from the perspective of a person impacted.

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The Social Intranet

Foster collaboration and strengthen communication. Be effective with enterprise intranets mobile and in the cloud.

Virtual Collaboration in Companies: Social Intranets as a Digital Home 

Never before has the business world been so overrun by cloud software and specialized vendors as it is now. There is so much software out there that it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of things. It is all the more important for the future of work to have a place for digital meeting - a reliable home port meaningfully networked with numerous other systems that makes it quick and easy to navigate. This will increase transparency in the company and make collaboration more effective. Based on many years of experience, this book tells you how it already works in today's digitalized world and which trends you probably should rather than shouldn't follow.

About the author

Martin Seibert was 17 when he founded the software company Seibert Media. Twenty-four years later, it has nearly 200 employees and generates 35 million euros in annual sales. He has been sharing his enthusiasm for technology in YouTube videos for many years - and now also in his new book about social intranets.

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This content was last updated on 03/31/2021.

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