What is a social intranet?

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You probably hear the term “social intranet” a lot right now. But even though it’s quite a hot topic at the moment, you’re not really sure what it is and what it means. Terms like “social collaboration” and “digital workplace” are also mentioned in the same breath – and you nod knowingly, but really have no idea what they’re talking about. But never fear! We’ll tell you what a social intranet is (and why it’s so cool!) and what exactly the terms “digital workplace" and “social collaboration” have to do with it. 

Traditional intranet vs. social intranet – what’s the difference?

As the name suggests, a social intranet is a form of intranet. In contrast to the overarching Internet, it is a network that is limited to certain users. These can be, for example, the members of an association or the employees of a company. They will then normally all have access to an internal website and the information it contains. So far, so good.

Now here comes the BUT. Despite the similar name, the structure and basic idea of a social intranet is miles away from that of a traditional intranet. The latter is primarily used to disseminate information from the top down. This means, for example, that a company’s c-suite (or an editorial department used by it) is responsible for distributing content. And this content should then be consumed by the workforce. With this “managed content,” employees have no choice and no way to interact, provide feedback, or even create their own content. This makes the content on a traditional intranet completely static and fundamentally different from that on a social intranet.



Social intranet = social media?! 

When you hear the word social, don’t you immediately think of social media? Well, you aren’t too far off, because in fact some of the most common elements of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms are also core components of a social intranet. Sounds good, huh? We think so, too. It’s particularly important that every user, regardless of rank and status, can create content and interact with other content, usually by liking, commenting, or sharing it. 

The latest and/or most important pieces of content are also practically displayed on a social intranet in the form of an activity stream, which works like a news feed updated every second. In addition, each user can create their own profile with information about themselves. Members can send each other direct messages and create groups to discuss a project or simply chat about the best countries to visit in October.

But despite all these similarities, a social intranet does not fit in seamlessly next to other social media platforms such as Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. This is because it is an intranet that is not freely accessible to everyone – and because it has a completely different goal. You see, the social aspect isn’t an end in itself. The purpose isn’t to connect people for the first time as is the case for many with Xing or LinkedIn, or for self-expression and personal entertainment, as Facebook or Instagram are used by many users. 


Instead, a social intranet is social in order to enhance and deepen an already existing network. Because hey, the members are already coworkers, after all. But via a social intranet, they can now get to know each other much better and more easily – regardless of whether an intern, remote employee, or even the CEO. In other words, communicating with each other becomes much easier. And this is exactly what makes their work much more efficient and effective. A real win-win situation! In addition, employees feel like they are seen, heard, and are part of the group, which helps them identify more strongly with the company. A win-win-win-win situation!


What does a social intranet have to do with a digital workplace?

The digital workplace is closely related to the social intranet. This is because in the vast majority of cases, it includes a social intranet. And what’s more, the social intranet normally serves as the entrance to the digital workplace for the user and at the same time acts as the most important user interface. Here, half-asleep employees can read the latest news from around the company in the morning, like what the general managers have to say about the company’s performance. They can discuss what’s going on in the project they’re currently working on or in other departments. And once their first coffee has had its magical effect, users can navigate directly to all the other features of the digital workplace and go about their work.

The digital workplace namely contains all the important software applications that a company’s employees need for their daily tasks. This means they don’t need to juggle tons of different applications, but all share a central enterprise platform where they can easily share information and collaborate. Pretty convenient, isn’t it?


A social intranet builds on social collaboration

Social collaboration is another favorite buzzword related to social intranets. After all, this is precisely the purpose of a social intranet – especially if it is part of a digital workplace. To put it simply, the employees of a company should be able to work together as effectively as possible – and the digital workplace offers numerous tools to accomplish this and make teamwork easier. These include a calendar, a detailed task management system, and a central file management system, for example. This ensures that all of the team members are always up to date and can always seamlessly build on their coworkers’ results. Never again will two people unwittingly complete the same task!

Apart from that, a social intranet connects all of a company’s employees – across all departments, locations, and hierarchical levels. This makes it very easy for employees to discuss their projects with other departments via the social intranet. But they can also look for experts outside their team, even people they don’t know yet. After all, who at a large company is supposed to keep track of which employees can do what – maybe even across multiple locations?! Yeah, good luck with that! So it’s a good thing the social intranet has profile pages that list each employee’s knowledge and skills – because they finally make it possible to find all the expert knowledge hidden in the depths of the company.


But even if we ignore actual project work for a moment, giving coworkers the ability to discuss ideas outside of meetings and chance encounters in the break room presents an enormous opportunity. After all, this is how spontaneous ideas and solutions develop. And conveniently, thanks to the social intranet, they are also automatically documented. This means it’s easy to check whether the ideas are actually any good or simply just a product of too much caffeine. And if they are good, the team can immediately begin working on implementing them. So it’s clear that for this and other reasons, the productivity of companies with a social intranet automatically increases dramatically. And this is precisely why a social intranet can also be described as social collaboration software, a collaboration tool, or a collaboration platform.


What a social intranet does for a company’s corporate culture

A social intranet helps a company establish a new, modern corporate culture. This is because a company’s communication structures  change quite dramatically when every user, from intern to CEO, can (and should) create, like, comment on, and share content more or less equally. Top-down communication (from senior management to the workforce) and bottom-up communication (from the average employee to all, including senior management) are thus placed on the same footing, which brings everyone at the company closer together.

Sounds cool, doesn’t it? And it is, because this is how a social intranet can permanently enhance a company’s sense of community – by giving coworkers a platform to regularly interact and discuss everything from job-related to personal topics. And this feeling of being a part of the team in turns leads to them being able to identify much more strongly with the company. This not only increases motivation and productivity, but also employee retention and loyalty.


In Summary: this is why your company needs a social intranet!

A social intranet doesn’t really follow in the footsteps of a traditional intranet nor that of a social media platform. Instead, it combines precisely the structures and features of these two concepts that are really useful for a modern corporate culture, and then leaves out all the other stuff. Basically the best of both worlds – and a bit more!

A social intranet enables employees to connect and collaborate much more efficiently and effectively, especially when it is part of a larger digital workplace. It allows knowledge to be shared more easily and archived in a more effective way. And it increases the company’s productivity and innovativeness. Everything becomes easier, clearer, faster, better! 

The social intranet’s impact on the company’s corporate culture is also extremely important. This is because it flattens hierarchical levels, which can result in much more open communication and a stronger sense of community. And that leads to greater motivation, productivity, and loyalty to the company.

Now you know what a social intranet is from top to bottom. And what a digital workplace is. And also what social collaboration is. Well done, you’re a quick learner. So now answer one question: Why doesn’t your company have one yet? 


• Katharina Mauder •

As a freelance copywriter, Katharina writes for us on topics such as communication tools, mobile intranets and employee motivation and knows exactly which focal points are particularly interesting for the reader.

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