A business case for an intranet is like the business case for a bathroom; you can live without them (and use others), but you’re a fool if you do.

Social media has morphed to the intranet, and the intranet is becoming increasingly social. However, like the Internet, email, telephone, and other business transforming technology, the need for a social intranet is more implicit, rather than explicit. We all need email, don’t we? But did you need a business case to get your corporate email account?

The Fear of Change

As I wrote in Selling intranet 2.0, executives fear change, and business changing technology:

  • In the 1950s, executives feared the bathroom: employees will waste productive time.
  • In the 1970s, executives feared the telephone: employees will waste productive time.
  • In the late 1980s, executives feared email: employees will waste time.
  • In the 1990s, executives feared Internet access: employees will waste time.
  • In the 2000s, executives fear social media: employees will waste time.

Change generates uncertainty; technology stokes fear. Sometimes the fear is nothing more than a dismissive reflex; often fear is met with force. The modern corporation is not a democracy, it’s an executive oligarchy, and fear is quelled by force. Executives use force to combat their fears, and technology is but one.

Executives fear social media for many reasons (e.g., privacy, profits, PR, etc.), but mainly because it will drain productivity: employees will waste time. Those oligarchs of the executive suite will only overcome this fear through one of two principal catalysts: time and rationale. In time, executives embrace change and technology, or they are replaced. Alternatively, they can be reasoned with, if you employ the most equitable rationale. The rationale that speaks louder than words is profit.

Social Media Means Profits

Social media can generate direct profit, and indirect profit. As it relates to the intranet, social media (intranet 2.0) can indirectly deliver higher profits via multiple means including reduced costs (e.g., employee retention, knowledge sharing, etc.) and increased revenue (e.g., sales referrals, faster time to market, etc.):

Learning Opportunities

  • Sabre’s employee networking platform saved $500,000 in the first year alone (Employee social networking (case study))
  • A wiki-based intranet saves T. Rowe Price millions of dollars per year (Intranet 2.0: A must-have)
  • Cisco believes their social networking approach to their intranet, Cisco Quad, has delivered millions of dollars in savings (source: author’s interview with Cisco)

To Compete, Your Intranet Must Go Social

Nonetheless, the best business case or best reason for building a social intranet is because this is how business with employees is now being done. The transformation isn’t complete, it’s evolving -- just as the telephone, email and Internet transformed business in prior decades -- but the transformation is revolutionary and it is happening.

In fact, according to the preliminary findings of The Social Intranet Study (715 respondents Worldwide), about two-thirds of organizations have some form of social media on their intranet; and more than half of those claim to have a social intranet (an intranet that features multiple social media tools for most or all employees to use as collaboration vehicles for sharing knowledge with other employees. A social intranet may feature blogs, wikis, discussion forums, social networking, or a combination of these or any other social media tool with at least some or limited exposure on the main intranet or portal home page).

If your intranet is not social, or becoming social, your competition may already be there (or planning it). A sage mantra, repeated by many, states that if you’re not growing, you’re dying. To be a progressive organization, and an employer of choice, an organization needs to constantly evolve and grow. When you don’t embrace transformational technology, you shun growth and change. Technology delivers change and breeds fear, but those that don’t embrace it risk relegation to the scrap heap unless they can deliver the business case for NOT adopting social media.

Editor's Note: Other articles on social intranets: