Pseudo-social functions on news stories

Although I blogged about introducing “social functions” on the intranet, I have to admit that they are not 100% social. In fact, I probably should have called them “engagement tools.”

Here’s how it works. We have voting functions on news stories for “More like this” and “Fewer like this.” When you vote, it ultimately gets counted and sent to our editorial team. Our “Share with a colleague” function will send an email to another staff member. And adding a comment will send an email to the editorial team.

In all these cases we are still using old-fashioned one-to-one relationships. It’s not truly social because if I vote for a news story or add a comment, only the editorial team get to know about it. My work colleagues won’t know. And other staff across the organisation won’t know. These days, on the internet, if I share or like something then other people get to know about it. At the very least, whatever I share or like is out there and available for other people to find. And that’s the power of “social.”

On the intranet, these new functions are a good start in an attempt to open up a dialogue with staff and to improve sharing. But because we have no database or programming capability on our intranet server, we remain limited in what we can deliver to staff in terms of true social functions.

Social functions on intranet news stories

In January we implemented a voting feature on intranet news stories which consisted of a simple “More like this” and “Fewer like this” voting button.  The feature had good uptake from staff and we are starting to see thumbs up statistics settling down to around 75% of votes.

As part of the recent drive for staff engagement we have been asked to implement more functions to help improve engagement and reach of news stories.  We are preparing to add more elements to our news stories that will give us an arsenal of:

Like this

Staff can vote for more like this or fewer like this.  Statistics for the votes are available to editorial staff who can use the data to concentrate more on what staff want.

Share with a colleague

Send an email to a colleague containing a link to the news story.  The usual “share this” functionality designed to increase readership.


To allow staff to provide more detailed feedback.

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A simple list of links to similar/related stories designed to improve exploration and serendipity.
The features are nothing new but it’s encouraging to see that management are now seeing the benefits of such features inside the firewall.

Engagement and crowdsourcing

“Uservoice” screenshot
“Uservoice” screenshot
Engagement and innovation are the buzzwords at work at the moment. The message from the top is “go forth and engage.” Engage with the public. Engage with the staff. And come up with ideas. Help us save money. How can we be more efficient? Which laws can we repeal:?

I have never seen so many sites canvassing for our input. And they appear to be working. People are contributing and interacting. Voting and rating.  Commenting and arguing. These idea collection sites are not barren. Sure, there’s a load of rubbish on them. But alongside the jokes and profanity there are some golden nuggets.

And on the intranet, finally, we are getting requests to be able to comment on news articles and share stories with work colleagues. And a need, more than ever in this time of austerity, for a crowdsourcing tool to collect, vote and comment on ideas from staff.

Having been a  moderator for a crowdsourcing project, I thought I’d put my usability hat on and take a look at some of the products available on the market at the moment, from both the moderation point of view and the end user.

A major problem on crowdsourcing sites is duplicated ideas and comments. Duplication happens when lots of people enter the same idea (lots of people, one idea) and also when people hit the submit button again and again (one person, repeated idea). Uservoice has cracked this problem using type-ahead functionality when people enter ideas. As they type, it shows similar ideas that other people have already entered. They can then view, comment and vote on an existing idea rather than creating a duplicate by entering a new one. And a clever system shouldn’t let you hit the submit button again.

It’s often possible to flag an idea or comment as inappropriate. But in my experience of this people have tended to flag ideas that they don’t like, rather than because there is something in the idea that breaks the moderation policy. If people are able to flag up content as inappropriate then there should be some mechanism to question their action. Otherwise moderators end up with an inbox filled with *thumbs down* messages instead of the correctly flagged content that they need to moderate.

Site owners should spend their time harvesting the good ideas rather than moderating them.

The calculations that are used to *bubble* content up to the top of the list need to be fair. If one idea gets 80 fourstar ratings and another gets 1 fivestar vote, then which sits on top?

How do you stop people going vote crazy or getting idea diarrhea? Uservoice adds a nice touch by limiting the amount of votes that any one person can use. Votes can be used to promote existing ideas.  And adding an idea of your own costs you a vote. Votes get refunded if your idea is used or closed. This helps to limit the number of fanatical posts.

In addition to comments and a little light discussion, site owners should have some method to communicate back to let people know what is happening with ideas. People shouldn’t be left thinking “what happened to my idea?”

Here’s a selection of platforms that I looked at:

Any success stories out there?

I woke up in London 2012

London, 8 August
It’s taken me 15 minutes to setup my laptop at work, in my flexible workspace. But now the intranet homepage has loaded. I’ve got my morning coffee and croissant. I say the intranet homepage, but it’s actually my homepage with my newsfeed. There are little thumbnails of my colleagues running down the screen.

I can see that Chris is out of the office this morning doing some filming. He probably posted his status via his iPhone. I post a comment on his status: “Don’t forget, NEVER walk backwards with the camera!” The coffee tastes good this morning.

There is a meeting at my desk scheduled with some HR people in 10 minutes. They just phoned from their offices in Birmingham. Going to be a little late. Can we make it 10.45 to give them a little time to refine their comments on the document that we are collaborating on. No problem, gives me time for a cigarette and another coffee!

Back at my desk, the online meeting is starting.  Just 3 of us. I’m doing a demonstration of how to add metadata to job vacancy documents. I can see that Matthew is interested in “3D screens at work”. Might have a chat with him later…

After the meeting, I need to contact Stace. She’s on my friends list. I follow her on my newsfeed. I speak with her every few weeks but I don’t know her number and haven’t actually met her. I found her through my cousin’s profile, who, like Stace, works up in Essex. She’s recently dyed her hair. She’s now dayglo orange and very proud of it. She had 457 comments on her new photo and was allegedly “trending” in Chelmsford for a day or two! Her number is next to her photo. It’s still nice to talk to people.

During the conversation, Dianne direct messages me. “Out with us for lunch today?” I finish off with Stace and reply to Dianne: “Book me a place pls.” She’s over in the team farm workspace today. I’ve chosen a quieter booth on my own as I’m taking part in a chat this afternoon and need a bit of peace.

Being part of the digital team has added bonuses. We get an iPhone to play with. We’re “piloting” the use of them in the workplace in preparation for rolling them out to the frontline. Not everyone will get one, but with nearly 100K staff, we’ll get a good deal on the phones.

I’ve been to this restaurant twice before but I still can’t navigate my way around the backstreets of Victoria.  So, iPhone a-go-go, I tune into Jen’s beacon and start walking with my earpiece turned up. The girls left 15 minutes ago to get the table and I’m late as usual. I send an automated message to Jen with my tracking beacon and ETA. We’re on a strict timetable today. They’ll know what to get me for lunch, I always share the vegetarian platter.

I’ve been following one of the core intranet production managers over in one of our subsidiary organisations.  Their core content and structure has been in a state for donkey’s years, but they’ve recently seconded someone who I’ve been working with over the years to manage the department. Anyway, José is having problems. He’s got a few discussion threads going about how to go about the redesign and at 3 o’clock we’re having a closed whiteboard session. There’s a group of information usability people on the “stream”.  We’ve all got together and are going to do some kind of intranet makeover in real-time.

The session went well. There was a good consensus of opinion from the wisdom of the group. We also managed to mock up some initial ideas in the sandbox and they can start testing pretty soon. I also got 3 “Lovelies” added to my profile – that’s 7 I’ve notched up this week!

Everyone is a little excited today. There’s going to be an announcement a little later this afternoon as our Permanent Secretary is appearing live on the C-link to talk about the recent staff survey. We’ve all been voting and taking polls and taking part in discussions over the past few weeks. What with the Olympics on and the great weather, everyone has been in high spirits.

I’ve got a little time before I login. I type into the search box “eye test voucher”. Top of the list is the guidance page. It’s always had a load of 5 star votes. It’s well written and you can download the form. Ah, the realness of paper. I also need to prepare for my appraisal. They call it something else here. I managed to find the guidance page on the intranet. And I add a few tags to the page: “appraisals, review”.

I’ve never known the place so quiet. Everyone is tuning in. The channel is playing the current trends from the stream. #efficiency and #savings are high in the charts. And #responserate just moved up.

Tomorrow I’m going to be analysing what’s been going on in the public debate. A bit of a row has broken out recently. Some goings on in Newham. A conversation has started on the public website and there’s a ripple that might turn into a wave.

Nevertheless, life has been so much easier since we had the stream. And our tribes. And our mobile technology. Little groups have popped up all over the place. You know who to contact if you need help with something.  And there’s no end of interaction with people from all over the organisation. You can still have a little fun an work. A little social life. We’ve all got our business to do. But today it’s about people. The brave and happy people.


Vision for a public sector intranet of the future

I recently attended the IBF London Member meeting, a two day, confidential event for intranet professionals.  During the first day, one of the exercises was to brainstorm what the corporate intranet would be like in 5 years.  And I found the task terribly difficult to do.  That’s probably because I work on a public sector intranet and a lot of web 2.0 technologies that we take for granted on the web are just not available inside the firewall.

But it got me thinking.  

What if?

If we start with the idea of a staff microblogging tool.

The internal communications department can use it as a broadcast device to get across “must read” corporate announcements and campaigns.  Board and CEOs can be visible and connect to the staff.

Staff, already used to posting status updates on Facebook and Twitter, can microblog within the work environment, generating their own news.  And staff can “follow” other staff.  They’ll start to create links to other people, building relationships across the business, talking to each other.  Regions get connected to the central business.

They have opinions and knowledge.  The microblogging tool will capture it.  We’ll be able to dip into the pot of knowledge, the pot of opinion, to gain insight.  No more spending money on surveys and research.  We’d also be able to see current “trending” topics.

We’ll see the language that staff are using, enabling us to build the corporate taxonomy and improve intranet naming, labelling and search results.

Staff can rate and comment on intranet content.  Highlight out of date content.  Request missing content.  Tag and organise content.  They’ll be able to sift through recommendations, ask questions and get help from each other.  They can search for content and compare comments based on the wisdom of the crowd.  They can subscribe to content instead of having it rammed down their throats.  We can localise content and make it available where it matters.

And perhaps a solution to a problem that the majority of intranets must face; the staff directory. Since staff will have their personal profile in front of them, their contact details are more likely to be up to date.  And through microblogging and profile updates, staff can find other staff based on expertise and knowledge.

But what about frontline staff and those who don’t have desktop access all the time?  The microblogging tool will be available on handheld, mobile and tablet devices, outside the office.  So staff can still stay connected.

And that’s without thinking of blogs, wikis, or discussion forums.

Should we worry about moderation?  The general consensus is not to worry.  In most cases where social media tools are already in place or being trialled, we are getting reports back that staff have tended to manage themselves and adhere to posting policies.

We’re already seeing companies experimenting with these tools.  I saw a demo of the Thomson Reuters “Colleague Finder” on their intranet and it wowed me.  I know other companies are trialling Yammer.  Why can’t public sector follow suit?

The technology is clearly available.  Private sector companies, with similar security issues to the public sector are starting to use the technology.


We’ve already talked about reduced costs for surveys and research.  Sharing information, collaborating.  More important, I believe, is the issue of employee engagement.  These internal social tools will help to improve employee engagement.  Staff will feel more involved and listened to, with more information at their fingertips. And engaged staff are more likely to perform better, be proactive and aligned to the organisation’s goals and as a result, stay with the company.  This saves money on recruitment, training & development and gives brand a better reputation.  What about lower helpdesk costs?  Staff will help themselves through shared knowledge and so won’t need to call helpdesks.

What if all this is hosted in the cloud?  Did away with inefficient IT departments and hosting companies.  How much money and time could we save?


The experience of pioneers who are already experimenting with these tools tells us to manage and communicate the changes well.  Particularly showing what benefits there are for the business and what’s in it for staff.

See also: