Discussion Point Helping Employees with Targeted Content

It's a source of revenue and potential driver of innovation. It's also a source of frustration, lost time, lost productivity and lost revenue. The problem isn't new, though it grows in complexity as more sources of information are introduced.

To mitigate the information chaos, companies have turned to targeted content delivery, which presents relevant information for an employee's context. While evidence of this tactic can be seen in the targeted messages marketers deliver to customers, the practice isn't as evident behind the firewall. In theory it's possible, but in practice? It's a different story.

The Question

How close are companies to delivering targeted, contextually relevant content to their employees? What needs to occur to make it happen?

The Answers

James Dellow, Consultant, Ripple Effect Group

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Dellow is a business and technology consultant with extensive experience working with large organizations. He supports clients on the organizational and technical aspects of their intranet, enterprise social network and workforce collaboration projects. Tweet to James Dellow.

Targeting easily identifiable groups of people at an organization level is already technically possible, assuming the right systems and user profiles exist to segment users. What is often lacking is the vision or resources to make this happen.

This proposition becomes harder if we need more granular segments in order for content to remain contextually relevant. The larger or more diverse the activities of an organization, the greater the likelihood of context complexity.

Self-service subscription models may bridge that gap in part, but this assumes people bother to self-identify their information needs or know what they do not know. Increasing use of mobile computing in the workplace also increases user expectations that context relevancy includes understanding when and where they need to know.

Enterprise social software, smart mobile computing devices and the application of the "Internet of Things" in the workplace all offer the opportunity to bridge the gap of delivering contextually relevant content that is based on dynamically understanding each user's situation. For example, it is already possible for a user to receive content recommendations based on the patterns of other users they follow, interact with or have some kind of affinity with. In the near future -- as the technology matures -- we will also have a better understanding of relationships between employees and place, then real-time location can also be a trigger or a factor in those recommendations.

Even so, technology solutions for improving the targeting of content will only ever take us so far; people and the way they choose to use the enterprise information systems provided to them remain a significant factor in their effectiveness. All organizations need to value and work to improve the digital literacy of their employees to tackle the problem of self-inflicted information overload. This also includes fostering a culture of contribution, not just consumption.

Sharon O’Dea, Head of Digital Communications, Standard Chartered Bank

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An intranet expert and thought leader, Sharon is one-quarter of the team behind intranetizen.com. She is also co-founder of event series 300 Seconds, which aims to improve diversity at tech events. Tweet to Sharon O'Dea

Unfortunately some of the things that organizations have to push to their employees will never make for exciting reading, no matter how much you tweak the writing. But employees still need to receive and read them.

Targeting your communications can cut through this and increase engagement, by reducing the signal-to-noise ratio and ensuring users receive only relevant communications.

Most CMSs now include targeting functionality as standard -- providing the ability to serve content based on location, for example. But key to making effective use of this to improve relevance of push communications is having -- and using -- accurate data on employee roles, locations, departments and so on. In many organizations this has proved challenging, with databases being out of date, or lacking the kind of granular detail that allow effective targeting.

Rather than relying on centrally-managed employee databases, many organizations are placing the responsibility on users themselves to manage their own profile, improving data quality.

Social can prove transformational too; content can be made more relevant by leveraging users’ own social graphs. Just as Google targets search results based on your social networks and other data, enterprise social tools such as Sitrion and Jive target content based on connections and usage, and also allow for content to reach more focused audiences through social sharing.

As with most communications challenges, technology is only a small part of the puzzle. Investment in managing rich employee data and in enterprise social tools can all help to serve timely, relevant and engaging content to our audiences, but the central challenge remains in creating strong content that users will want to read and share.

Andrew Wright, Founder, Worldwide Intranet Challenge

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Wright is the founder of the Worldwide Intranet Challenge (WIC) a web based survey that allows organizations to obtain and benchmark feedback from their staff about what they think of their intranet. He also publishes the Worldwide Intranet Challenge blog which contains many useful articles about intranets and how to improve them. He has worked with intranets for the past 10 years using a range of tools such as SharePoint, IBM Websphere and Lotus Notes. Tweet to Andrew Wright.

Forget social, mobile or video, the biggest challenge in the enterprise information space today is the contextual delivery of relevant content to employees.

Why is contextual delivery so important? With an ever growing glut of options available for electronic collaboration and knowledge sharing, both within the enterprise and on the internet, the prospect of employees drowning in a sea of information increases each day. In fact, recent research from Gartner says that “by 2017, 33 percent of Fortune 100 companies will experience an information crisis, due to their inability to effectively value, govern and trust their enterprise information."

So how close are companies to dealing with this crisis through the targeted delivery of content?

While there has been an improvement in recent years, if you look at any collection of intranet home pages, it seems that very few of them provide targeted content, such as personalized news feeds or task lists. And while intranets are not the sole source of enterprise content delivery to employees, they are a good reflection of the importance (or lack of) that companies give to the targeted delivery of content.

So what should companies be doing to make this happen?

Companies need to recognize that there are two fundamental types of enterprise content -- qualified (e.g., policies, procedures, forms) and unqualified (eg. discussions, activity feeds, Yammer, email).

Qualified (approved) content can be more easily managed, indexed and tagged by an enterprise, facilitating targeted delivery. Unqualified work-in-progress type content on the other hand is much more difficult to manage. In fact with the proliferation of collaboration tools (e.g., Google Docs, LinkedIn, Twitter, Dropbox and Evernote to name a few); it may even be too difficult.

The focus for companies wanting to deliver more targeted content then should be on creating policies, processes and systems to enable the systematic transformation (call it "content mining") of this unqualified collaborative type content into the more easily managed qualified content. For more information, see Intranets: the signal and the noise and the need for a 'content miner.'