Social Organizations from the Inside Out: Start with Your Intranet

by cv harquail on July 27, 2011

What’s the best strategy for making your organization more social?

Where do you start to transform your systems, so that you can transform your organization?


Many social media experts suggest that you work from the outside-in.

They encourage organizations to start with one function and one stakeholder group, and ‘get social’ by linking CRM (customer relationship management) systems to the organizational groups involved in customer support.

The smarter way to change is for the organization to get social from the inside-out.

Why? Because comprehensive change requires addressing the core of the organization itself.

The core of your organization’s digital systems is your organization’s intranet.

That’s why we should focus on intranets as we strive to make our organizations more social.

The Intranet as Your Organization’s Digital Core

As traditionally designed, intranets are a combination of portals and repositories, functioning in the background of your day to day activity. Your intranet is where all kinds of ‘managed content’ are located. It’s the place you go for reference materials, bulletins, request forms, employee directories and maybe a white label email system.

If your organization has an intranet you probably use it every day, several times a day, without paying much attention to it. Intranets are “stealth applications”, used regularly but pervasively in the background of your work.


If you work in a smaller organization, you might not have an official intranet. Instead you use an intranet proxy to access the resources of your organization. This proxy might be an external email system (like Outlook or Gmail), a file-sharing & collaboration system (like early Sharepoint) or your organization’s website.

A Common Center that Represents “The Organization”

Whether it’s a formal intranet or an intranet proxy, this place where you start your digital work day provides a common organization-focused center for all members. Thus, intranets should be the starting point for any system of organizational engagement.

Even more important, as the digital starting point of your work, the intranet actually represents your organization to you, and to every other member using it.

Intranets are the digital communications systems that cohere and construct organizations.

I know, intranets are old news. Many intranets are boring, underfunded, decoupled from business strategy, and lacking in tech-sex appeal.

Worse, we take intranets for granted, as the “always there”, “always on”, and nearly invisible.

But, because they are the shared backbone of your organization’s digital communication,

Intranets are the digital social scaffolding of the organization’s structure, processes and culture.

If you want to change your customer relationships and your brands to make them social, by all means start with boundary-crossing systems like CRM and work you way inside to support these changes.

But, if you want a more social organization, one that can support engagement among external and internal stakeholders, then you need to address the structure, processes and culture at your organization’s core.

Go social from the inside-out, and start by socializing your intranet.

See also: Social Intranet Design and Organizational Identity: Design for functionality and character

Images: Tiny Apple and Tiny Apple Core, on Flickr AttributionNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by me and the sysop

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