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Corporate intranets have come under increased scrutiny over the last few years, with some users labelling them dull, clunky or stale. As companies modernize and update their technology strategy, some openly wonder if the intranet, long the hub of corporate communication and collaboration, still remains relevant in an age driven by the speed of social media. 

Not so fast. According to Forrester, the intranet market has seen a resurgence as vendors have employed new tools to help improve internal communication and the employee experience. Here's what some experts said about how how to keep intranets relevant and engaging. 

Defining the Purpose of the Intranet

Before diving into the debate about the future, it’s crucial to first define the intranet and understand the purpose it’s meant to serve within an organization. Vladimir Stepuro, HR director at ScienceSoft, a McKinney, Texas-based IT consulting and custom software development company, offered this definition: “An intranet is a corporate network that connects the company’s employees and helps streamline employee collaboration and communication as well as serve as an integrated repository of corporate documents, news and other content." 

Communication and collaboration are at the center of the intranet's purpose, according to Roman Zhidkov, chief technology officer at web and mobile digital solutions provider DDI Development in Kharkiv, Ukraine. “Intranets are used by organizations to communicate and collaborate internally from any device and help employees perform their roles and stay informed,” he said.

Intranets were initially created to help companies manage internal operations more efficiently, serving as a repository of the operational and transactional content that enables the company to run. That purpose has evolved as employee experience has taken on greater importance. "Employees can use intranets as gateways into the companies they work for," Zhidkov said. "Movements and preferences will be tracked and increasingly employees will find preferences from their intranet filtering into other daily applications.”

Even today, intranets still serve a similar operational purpose. Stepuro's company uses an intranet based on SharePoint as the company’s digital backbone and knowledge base.

"It supports key business processes like RFP management, hiring and onboarding, training, reporting and more via specific automated workflows," Stepuro said. "Also, our intranet supports corporate social life through such features as blogging and commenting, news and events, surveys, newcomers, a media gallery, discounts and more.” 

Related Article: The Corporate Intranet Is the Key to the Digital Workplace. Really.

Can Intranets Survive Social Media?

While intranets still serve a core purpose, some corporations may be expected to ditch their intranet for other options. But that's not always the case, particularly if a company has continued to invest in and support their evolution.

Igor Efremov, head of HR at Denver-based software development company Itransition said businesses that were among the first adopters of intranets are also today’s major users of corporate portals.

"Once implemented in the early 2000s, intranets had all the chances to survive to this day if businesses had a well-elaborated strategy of intranet-based collaboration. What’s more, typically having invested substantial efforts and budgets into their corporate portals, companies aren’t ready to give up on them now,” he said. 

But what about companies that have more recently come into existence? Social platforms may seem like a more accessible alternative. They are more likely to adopt a lightweight social platform that serves as a corporate news aggregator, said Efremov. 

Still, replacing the benefits that come with an intranet isn’t so straightforward. “None of the social media platforms can offer the same capabilities as an intranet does. Apart from spreading updates and announcements and inviting audiences to discuss them, intranets come with content management, project management, workflow automation and other business-critical features,” Efremov said. 

Related Article: Do You Still Need to Brand Your Intranet?

How Intranets Boost Social Engagement

Even though other alternatives exist, the solution to increasing engagement with an intranet lies in how it is used. “Only by giving your employees an environment to connect, communicate, collaborate can you improve the social aspect of the workplace and create a meaningfully engaging experience for your employees,” said Zhidkov. 

For Stepuro, the intranet still has much more to give and the answer could be in the form of a social intranet. “I believe intranets can offer more capabilities for employee engagement than social media especially if we consider social-focused intranets," he said. Social intranets offer an integrated communication space for discussion and feedback via an array of tools, such as news, chats, blogs, wikis, communities and discussion boards.

With social intranets, companies get the benefits of engagement without sacrificing what the traditional intranet has to offer. Stepuro said such intranets offer employee recognition capabilities via the ability to announce achievements and promotions, post employee success stories or assign status badges, such as Newbie or Expert. "What’s more, social intranets are usually integrated with social media for publishing employees’ posts from social media to the intranet and the company’s news to social media, which makes the intranet more dynamic and nurtures the company’s social life,” he said. 

By focusing on building community, companies can prevent intranets from becoming obsolete. Intranets offer built-in options for social engagement monitoring and improvement that may be hard or more expensive to get elsewhere.

"Intranets can help strengthen social connections at the team and enterprise levels as well as stimulate employees to become part of social initiatives," he said. "Typically, intranets offer relevant out-of-the-box features for managing formal and informal communities, conducting employee surveys and supporting ongoing social collaboration which would require serious customizations if made on unspecialized platforms.” 

Intranets remain a fundamental piece of company infrastructure. Understanding the features they offer to support employee engagement and socialization can help transform the modern intranet from a simple bulletin board to a vibrant community.