Persuading employees to use the company intranet is one of the biggest challenges intranet managers face, primarily because it's hard to get employees to contribute content their colleagues will find useful.

Just how difficult this task can be is highlighted by feedback from the Worldwide Intranet Challenge (WIC) online benchmarking survey, which has been completed by more than 45,000 intranet end users from about 150 organizations.

The chart below shows the breakdown of responses to the four questions that asked employees how often they contribute content to the intranet.

intranet use.png As you can see, less than 10 percent of employees are frequent contributors to discussion forums, team sites, blogs, micro-blogs, comments, messages or other intranet content. That means a huge amount of handy hints, information, business intelligence, insights, best practices, ideas, solutions and good advice is lost within the enterprise.

Mining the Gold

Wikipedia began in 2001 and has since grown to become the sixth most popular Internet site in the world, according to the Alexa website rankings. The Wikipedia statistics for June show there were more than 11 million page views an hour for the English Wikipedia. In anyone’s language, Wikipedia is a runaway success. And all the content is provided by volunteers!

How did this happen? Why do people contribute content? And can the same lessons be applied within an organization?

The article, Why Did Wikipedia Succeed While Other Encyclopedias Failed, explains there were seven collaborative encyclopedias that aspired to Wikipedia-like dimensions before Wikipedia came along. So what are the secrets to Wikipedias success?

Focus on Content

Wikipedia focused on content development instead of technology. Its competitors, on the other hand, saw themselves more as technologists than content providers. Wikipedia co-founders Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger played the role of content evangelists, seeding Wikipedia with information they solicited from contributors -- which, in turn, led to more content and more contributors.

Easy to Participate

Wikipedia also lowered the barriers to participation. Editing Wikipedia is easy, instant and virtually commitment-free. It’s possible to come along and do an anonymous edit and never make a contribution again. Over time, a sentence here and a paragraph there turned into articles, which ultimately turned into an encyclopedia. Without this relatively low barrier to entry, the community would be difficult to sustain.

In addition, there are no professional editors that review material before it is published. Instead, the people who visit the pages make the edits.

Why People Contribute

The article Online Motivational Factors: Incentives for Participation and Contribution in Wikipedia  examines why people are motivated to contribute to Wikipedia. It notes that users will contribute more to a community if they:

  • Believe their contributions are important to the group’s performance
  • Believe that their contributions will be identifiable
  • Like the group

Three conditions need to exist for this kind of peer work to perform well:

  • Cost to the contributors is low -- it needs to be easy to do
  • Tasks are "chunked into bite-size pieces" -- the ability to make minor edits boosts participation because the threshold for participation is low
  • Low cost of quality control

According to the article, research has shown that a high level of both two-way and large scale community interactivity is a strong inducement to participate. There is a strong correlation between interactivity and motivation in online communities.

10 Tips for Intranets

So what are the key findings for intranets?

  1. Become "content evangelists" -- seed the intranet with quality content
  2. Provide a quick and easy to use platform -- it lowers the barriers to contribution
  3. Make it easy to edit  -- enable edits on the run
  4. Consider the content review process -- eliminate anything unwieldy
  5. Don’t get caught up in the technology -- focus on helping users understand what you want from them rather than on dazzling them
  6. Provide tools to enable contributors to interact
  7. Organize content community events and gatherings
  8. Explain why content contribution is important to the organization
  9. Use gamification with incentives to reward certain user behaviors
  10. Make sure your platform invites rather than challenges

How have these strategies worked at your company? Can you offer any other tips or suggestions?