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In many organizations, corporate communications doesn't get a lot of respect. The intranet gives a rare opportunity for corporate communications to get the respect it deserves.

Intranets often struggle because they are not seen as strategic. They are not seen as delivering real value. Senior managers often see them as a peripheral function—a cost that needs to be borne.

There's real work and then there's communications. Actions, of course, speak louder than words. There's the people who get their hands dirty and actually deliver value to the organization, and then there's those who are a drain on resources.

Content is a form of communications, and it's something you store as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Yes, the intranet can have some genuine value, but only where it allows people to access applications.

This is a view of the intranet I have seen change, and I believe it will be a very outdated view in five years. Because by then the intranet will have become like a central nervous system for many of the world's leading organizations. It will be something they simply cannot work without, and corporate communications will be getting respect.

Content, as I have said so many times, is a hidden asset within most organizations. The corporate communications department is ideally placed to tap this hidden asset. Here's how it can do it.

First, you must focus on how content helps staff do their jobs better. Focus on specific tasks that staff do. Isolate how intranet content can make these tasks faster and more efficient.

This is a very different way to use content. It means going for function and becoming much more hard-edged. It means avoiding big fancy images and lofty-sounding words. It's about being practical and relentlessly to the point.

Second, become obsessive about metrics, about proving to management that content does actually deliver value. This will take time, because most managers simply don't view content as something that will help bring in new customers or support already existing customers.

Third, keep your intranet lean and mean. Too many intranets try to become the Library of Congress, attempting to have content on every possible question that anybody might possibly ask. This is a noble aspiration, but it is fatally flawed because it creates giant, sprawling intranets that are more likely to destroy value by wasting time than create it by saving time.

I used to think that the Web was this great big wonderful library. Some intranets are indeed like libraries, except that all the books are on the floor and the lights are turned out. Some may even have the lights on and the books on the shelves.

Libraries may well deliver long-term value, but they rarely deliver short-term quantifiable value; and, let's face it, short-term value creation gets attention and respect.

More than once I have heard managers and staff describe corporate communications as the fluffy stuff. But there is a choice today for ambitious communicators.

You can take Web content and shake quantifiable value out of it. You can become relentlessly focused on helping your staff complete their most important tasks as quickly as possible. You can change content from the fluffy stuff to the hard stuff.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern (gerry@gerrymcgovern.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.

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