Lingerie and Labeling on the intranet.

LaceOnce upon a time (it must have been around 2002) we reserved some space on our intranet home page for new products. Being in an international consumer goods company, we thought it would be good if local marketeers could share their new products or promotions with the rest of the world. At that time, the company was very decentralized, and many wheels were being reinvented. We hoped the little “box” (the words “widget” or “web part” still had to be invented  🙂 )  would make it easier to share ideas.

We called the box “New Products”.

Once someone had requested and received contribute rights, they could upload pictures and enter text. These were visible to all employees, and all new products were being shown in rotation. (the concept of “carousel” had not yet been invented 🙂 )

It was quite popular because people were proud of their innovations. Employees in other countries would sometimes ask if and how they could buy the product, or if they could use the promotion mechanism for their own purpose. So we considered this functionality a moderate success.

That does not mean all went smoothly.

Lingerie
The company also had a textiles division, and a brand specializing in pantyhose and ladies’ lingerie. The products were great – beautiful designs, innovative materials and latest technologies. The brand marketeers were very proud of their products and showed every new product in the New Products “box”. They displayed their products on beautiful models who wore not much else…
Not everyone appreciated that amount of exposed skin, and we (as the owners of the functionality) received many complaints.
We therefore asked the brands to dress the models in a long-sleeved blouse, unbuttoned, to cover some of the skin. The brands agreed, but did not understand that some people were uncomfortable with their pictures, just as the other party did not understand why you would want to post that kind of pictures on the homepage of the intranet.

Pads vs Pods
Another interesting discussion was the one following the display of our latest varieties of coffee and tea pads on the New Products box.  The European marketing teams were proud of their very successful new products, but other countries objected to the use of the word “Pads” on the product pack, because that was associated with feminine hygiene products. In those countries, the common word was “Pods’.
Of course the European brands did not change the name of their succesful range, but it was an interesting reminder of the different meanings of a brand name in different cultures.
Some time later, a computer company launched a tablet computer that used the “wrong” word and nobody complained about that. 🙂

A strategic decision
But then company management had a session about the future direction of the company. As a result, we were asked to change the name from “New Products” into “Growth Drivers”.
While we understood the concept, we were not happy with this, because we were afraid that many employees would not understand the purpose of this box anymore. After all, we were a multinational manufacturing company, and a large part of our employee base, including local marketing, was not exactly fluent in English.

We tried to discourage management but alas, “Growth Drivers” it had to be.

NPGD

From that moment, the use of the web part  (by then we had moved to SharePoint) declined. Even while the only change was the name, employees did not recognize it anymore, especially our non-US population. They asked where the New Products functionality had gone and were annoyed when they discovered that a perfectly good name had been changed into something “fuzzy” that needed “translation”.

What have we learned?
Keep your intranet labels simple and intuitive, especially when you are in a multinational company where not everyone may be fluent in English.

You may also like:

Mind your language. A guest post on Wedge’s Kilobox Communiqué.
How NOT to implement a Discussion Forum.
What does your content smell like?

Lace Image courtesy of andyk at Morguefile.com
The Banana-Caramel pie is my own creation. Recipe available on request!

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Tools for texts (on your intranet)

tools4textMany communicators complain that employees do not read corporate news. So they demand more space on the intranet homepage and newsletter functionality to make the news more visible.

I generally suggest them to measure the readability of their news articles first, using the Flesch Reading Ease test. Especially in multinational companies it is extremely important to write in a simple style. You want to reach all employees, including those who are not too fluent in English. And all too often, I find that corporate texts are simply too complicated!

I have recently written a guest blog on this topic on Wedge’s Kilobox Communiqué, suggesting various ways to make your corporate (and other) content easy to read for a diverse audience.

More tools!
The Flesch Reading Ease test is an easy tool to measure readability. Since I discovered it, I have been fascinated by tools that apply “hard” mathematics to “soft” language,  and come up with something useful!  I have found several tools that “do something” with your text. Some give your text a numerical score, others provide other insight in your use of language, or they convert your texts. There is a small collection on Scoop.it, for your learning and amusement. A few highlights:

If you have any other suggestions for my collection, fun or serious, please let me know!

Image courtesy of hinnamsaisuy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Title inspired by  1979’s song “Cool for Cats” by Squeeze.

6 Mistakes to avoid when installing intranet kiosks

kiosk_256It was not my plan to write about this. With more and more computers on the production work floor, and more home and mobile access for intranets, I honestly thought that intranet kiosks were a thing of the past.
But recently I met several people who are planning to install kiosks in their companies, so I thought I’d share my experiences and help them avoid the mistakes we made.

More than 10 years ago we installed kiosks in some production locations in Europe. The idea was simple: give employees without their own PC a place to access news, policies and procedures, forms etc. It was much applauded by the works council, we thought they looked pretty cool and we expected people to swarm around the installations regularly.
However, not much happened. Whenever I visited a production location, I looked at the kiosk, gathering dust. Some were even broken, and had been so for months.
We decided to take them away and ask people why they did not use the kiosks.

1. Nobody was responsible
There was nobody who was responsible for communicating the availability and purpose of the kiosk, work with management to stimulate usage and adoption, or to call support when something was broken.

2. There was no technical support
IT thought we were supporting these and we thought IT did it. Both parties did not know how to maintain the machines. 

3. There was no training or instructions
At that time, we thought our production personnel was not that internet savvy. Despite that, there were no proper training or clear instructions provided.

4. People had to use the kiosks in their own time
Since management did not know the benefits of using the intranet at that time, and feared all employees would be “surfing on the intranet all day”, personnel was only allowed to use the kiosks in their lunch break or after work.

5. It was not personalized and it was read-only
All our European kiosk-users saw the rather American-oriented homepage by default and they had to click several times to get to useful local content in local language. It also meant that people could not complete forms or make requests or share documents. The American news did not interest them, and the useful content was not fully accessible.

6. They were positioned in crowded locations
Although it was a good idea to bring the machines to places with many users, it meant that people had difficulty concentrating, because many people were talking and passing by. Remember, employees were only meant to use this during lunch!
And…you could only use it while standing.

One of my colleagues used these lessons to roll out an intranet café in a more comfortable setting and with better conditions. Still it did not bring what she had expected. I am therefore still doubtful of the use of intranet kiosks. I am not alone, see these earlier articles from Toby Ward James Robertson and Steve Bynghall who all suggest home and/or mobile access as a better option.

But if you really want to do this, please do not repeat our mistakes! (And please share a blog post with your key success factors!)

Image courtesy of Visual Pharm via gettyicons.com

Your intranet design = your company website design?

MirrorSeveral years ago we embarked on a renewal of our intranet. The platform had already been chosen, we had a vision, a plan for the new information architecture and we knew which functionalities we wanted to implement and highlight. But the visual design caused us quite a headache, and not just because we were better in functionalities, collaboration and efficiency than in visuals.

We had been looking at our company’s website, ofcourse. Following that visual design would give us a uniform brand appearance inside and outside the company. However, we did not know if we should take that as an example. The colour scheme and style did not match the corporate internal style guide and the design changed far more frequently than we could afford. So what should we do?

It seems logical…

…to style your intranet in the same way as your website, but the two sites have more differences than similarities:

  • Your website visitor is an unknown person from outside your company. Your intranet visitor is an employee.
  • Your website/brand/company has competition from other brands and companies. If your visitor does not find what he/she is looking for very quickly, he/she goes to the competitor.
    As an employee you can not escape your intranet, however.
  • Your website visitor is looking for entertainment, information or a purchase. Your employees are doing (part of) their work on the intranet.
  • Website visitors will remain on your site for a short time only, so you have to employ all sorts of tricks to keep them on your site as long as possible and avoid they go to the competition.
    Your employees are forced to spend a large part of their day on their intranet, though.
  • The websites of your competitors are easy to find and study. But however sharing intranet folks are, it is less easy to find intranets, especially if they are your competitor’s.
  • Websites are generally redesigned regularly. Intranets are not always so lucky.

So, the visitor, purpose, residence time, competition and design refresh rate of a website are all generally completely different than those of an intranet site. The only things they have in common are the organization and “web technology”. Hmmm….

Should your intranet therefore look like your intranet?

 I would say: not necessarily. With those differences in mind, I would make sure that your intranet has an excellent usability rather than match your website’s design:

  • Ask your employees what they need from their intranet and take time to test, and test again. Only your employees can tell and show you what works for them. That is why I liked the intranet launch video’s from Pirelli and Miroglio: they state that they have listened to their employees.
  • Make your intranet easy to look at and work with on an ongoing basis, without getting bored or provoking dizziness and headaches after looking at it for several hours each and every day. Increasingly, I see minimalist intranets with a plain white background, a limited number of colours and one font. Nowadays, if I see an intranet with a coloured background  and different fonts I think it is outdated, even if it is recent. (Like this one).
    Avoid annoying, useless or inaccessible elements as described in these hilarious-but-true posts: 14 signs you’ve lost the intranet plot and  and 10 more signs you’re losing the intranet plot. (Thank you @Intranetizen, I really enjoyed those posts!)
  • Opimize the design for different devices (if applicable).
  • Invest in clear navigation and good search.
  • Spend time on finding comprehensible labels with a good information scent and learn/teach how to write texts that are easy to understand for all employees.

I am not a usability expert or a designer, but I would give the topics above more priority than having the same design as the website!

And then…

… I encountered this intranet launch video from Fossil (you know I collect those) and  it completely defies my earlier statements. It is from early 2012 and it is heavily styled with no current minimalist design at all! The design matches the faded color scheme and general retro look-and-feel of their website.
I wonder if they have tested the “fatigue factor” with their end users. I think I would be easily fed up if I would have to work with such an overdesigned intranet (in my view) all day. But perhaps they refresh their design so quickly that nobody has time to get bored. It is fashion after all :-).

Check Out the New Switchboard! from Jeff McCord (Work Acct) on Vimeo.

Now please let me know: does your intranet look like your website? And I would LOVE to see screenshots of the pair!

Image courtesy of podpad / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A cure for “Social Media” allergy.

It still happens…managers who do not want “Social Media” in their organization, since they think this means “wasting valuable working time”.  Sometimes it is Communications who resist, because they think Social Media will remove the focus from their Corporate News items. Or it could be HR or Legal, because they are afraid that people will say inappropriate things.

Are you convinced that a social intranet is a good thing for your organization, but you feel that senior management blocks it because they do not like the word and therefore refuse to understand the concept and the benefits?  Why not use a better word for it? Here are some examples.

1. Give your complete Social Media suite a fancy name.

You could call it “The Hub” or “the Water Cooler”. Or as Philips does, “Connect Us“.
The good news is that it is a nice way to refer to it, and it does not sound as competition for your other initiatives.
The bad news is that it sounds like something separate from your other tools, while you may be looking for integration.

Barb Sawyers gives some more suggestions here.

2. Focus on the aspect that is most relevant for your organization.

Another option is to zoom in on the actual way this will help you in your organization. Social tools are pretty versatile and can be used for a variety of business purposes. The best name is depending on your specific purpose and your specific organization, but what about these:

  • Networking or Knowledge Sharing. In modern Knowledge Management circles, the people in the network are now considered to be more important than the actual knowledge of the network itself. And indeed, I have been able to find colleagues to connect with when I started a project. I searched for skills and experience in the company’s employee profiles.
  • Company Address/Phone Book. If this is created from your employee’s profiles, why not call it that? Nobody will object to the necessity of having that!
  • Two-way Communication or Open Communication. If you currently have formal, top-down communication on your intranet only, “two-way” or “open” communication could be the next logical step. It may come from comments to news articles, but also from microblogging and status updates.
  • Dialogue. Once again, this sounds like the next logical step for your internal communication.
  • Discussion Board/Forum. If you are used to discussing topics and opinions throughout your organization, why not keep the name when you change the tool from the traditional Discussion Board functionality into something more contemporary such as microblogging?
  • Democratic communication. I personally do not like this word too much, but it may be useful in some instances where you want to stress that all employees can have their say.
  • Crowdsourcing. You can use this if collecting ideas, getting feedback and opinions is the most important reason to introduce social media. My own experiences are very good – I have already received lots of good feedback to my questions through Yammer. I have also crowdsourced a “general terms of usage” for the Dutch Government intranet platform Pleio with help from the Pleio tools and Twitter.

3. Do not talk about it.

“We do not give it a special name, it is just part of our set of Collaboration tools”, an intranet manager told me once.  I really like this approach. If this does not sound like “work” then I do not know what does! What I like most about it is the natural and seamless assimilation of this new work tool into your existing established tool set. With all the hype around social media, giving it no emphasis is a refreshing idea.

What is the name that you use to describe your organization’s social tools?

A good executive Blog these days is hard to find

ExecutiveBlog“An old-fashioned manager sends a newsletter, a modern manager blogs”, I recently heard someone say.

Perhaps that goes for middle management, but to be honest I have not seen many successful internal executive blogs yet. Of course I have seen many enthusiastic attempts to start one, but I have also seen that they often died after a few months.

One executive that I have known started off fine, with very interesting subjects that nobody knew about and those posts received many responses, even if some were just “How interesting, thank you for sharing!” But the more standard posts about the quarterly earnings, or a “very inspiring visit to our R&D lab” generated less interest. The lack of response reduced his enthusiasm. So, when the publisher’s name changed into someone from internal communications, everybody knew the end was near.

I have also seen a couple of very nice blogs:

A project blog.
When we were optimizing our assortment, we did this in close cooperation with a large customer. Every week many documents with figures were produced and shared, and many presentations uploaded. It was quite hard to see the status or progress without crunching the numbers :-).
Until the project manager started a blog and shared her experiences from the meetings with the customer. How their eyes lit up when they saw the new packaging. How they kept bringing in new employees to the meetings to learn about a constructive collaboration project. How they did not like one of our proposals, and why not, but kept being positive about it. Suddenly the other team members realized that they were not only optimizing the assortment but also innovating our relationship with this customer, which made the project so much more than just a set of dry numbers.

A VP’s blog.
Every Sunday (!) he wrote a long post, starting with the things he had done in the past week. It could have been a meeting with analysts or with external peers, or the introduction of a new company initiative. He always added background and reasons, which helped every reader to understand why the company did this. Very often, he provided extra information that was not given in regular communication messages. |
He always ended with some information about his family and about sports. And when he skipped a Sunday, he apologized beforehand or afterwards. His blog was a hit with many employees and as far as I know, he has been writing for several years now.

From both examples it was also clear that they liked writing, and were quite willing to spend the time to share their experiences and write a nice story.

This leads me to some possible reasons why your executives are not exactly standing in line to get their own blog:

  • Too busy. Those of you who blog will know it takes time to come up with a nice blog, to rewrite, find a catchy title, a suitable picture, and rewrite again. Your executives are busy people, and may have no time to sit down and write. Didn’t  they hire a communications team to do their writing for them?
  • No writer. Your executive may not be a person of written text. He or she  may not like having to think carefully about their words, creating a good structure, or checking typos.  They may not want to run the risk of being exposed as a not-so-good writer, even if they know their employees would forgive any mistakes, as long as it shows that our executives are human.
  • No priority.  My former manager could write very well for purposes important to him or our team, but he could not be bothered to write a regular blog for all employees. (And that was a great opportunity for me! :-))
  • Can not write.  I do not mean that your executive can not read or write, but she or he  might be dyslexic. It often happens that people start a company because it allows them to focus on the things they are best at: networking, negotiating, selling etc. while it allows them to leave the reading and writing to others. I do not think this will be the case in large organizations, but I know of smaller companies where this is true.

For those executives, an audio blog may be a good solution. I have known an executive who recorded a message with his Blackberry every week and had it posted to the intranet.  They called it  “John’s weekly podcast” which made them all feel very modern. It was quick, easy and his employees liked it.
Video blogging is another option that I have seen used, although this will take more effort.

With my limited experience of succesful internal executive bloggers, I would conclude these are two success factors:

  • You have to add something new to the mix
  • You must enjoy writing and sharing your thoughts

But even if you are not an executive, you can start blogging and improve your career chances!

If you have any successful examples from your own experience or interesting articles, please share!

(Title inspired by the song “A good heart these days is hard to find” by Feargal Sharkey)

What does your content smell like?

ContentSmell“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Well, if William Shakespeare has said this, who am I to disagree? But I think that the name DOES make a difference when it comes to content!

Take a look at the screenshot below:

Local news functionality in two countries

Both countries use exactly the same functionality for the same purpose. But the language of country 2 is both more informative and more inviting: You know you have a new colleague called Annette. If you are curious about where she works, you can click on the article to find out more. But if you have limited time, you know at least the essentials.  This title has a good “information scent”: it immediately gives you an idea what the information is about.

This seems very logical. Yet sometimes we forget to think carefully about names and titles. My communications colleagues have been known to send a weekly newsletter from “”ic@company.com” (and not “Internal Communications” or other descriptive name) with  the subject line “Newsletter week 43, 2010”. That just does not smell nice!

Another example: in the Netherlands the first truly relevant documents on our intranet were about employee benefits. All Dutch employees had the link on their homepage for easy access. Yet we received complaints:
The content owner complained that people kept calling and emailing for information, even though “it was all on the intranet”.
Employees grumbled that they expected to find employee benefits information on the intranet, but they did not know where to look.
What was the case? The link was the same as the acronym of the originating department, and that was, very intuitively, “CSPO”.
Fortunately the solution was exactly as simple as you think! 🙂

Tips:

  • Always spend time thinking  of titles of documents, emails, navigation elements, links, “from” and “subject” lines in your e-mail, etc.
  • Look for alternatives and test them with a few colleagues, especially if this is information which is important, has a large and diverse audience, and/or will remain on your intranet (or website) for a long time.
  • Keep in mind that what is obvious to you is not always as clear for your audience. Your content may be a rose, but if you call it ” manure”  you will definitely have fewer visitors! 🙂

Further reading:

Helping people find the content they want, from Step Two Designs, with explanation and examples

Boosting Information Scent, from WebSiteOptimization.com, with useful tips

Keep People on your site …. of VanSeoDesign with the theory

And your own examples are welcome, too!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net