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What is an intranet?

Lisa Ardill

Content Editor at Workvivo

21 Oct 2019

Updated 29 July 2022

By Pete Rawlinson.

What is an Intranet really?

How have organizations used them to provide fast access to content, boost creativity, improve communication, and enable collaboration.

… and importantly, why have so many companies failed at doing it?

A brief history of the corporate Intranet.

When Intranets were born in the mid-1990s, organizations praised them as the ultimate solution to all problems in knowledge sharing and management.

Everyone expected them to change the way content is shared, taking it from filing cabinets and putting it inside the digital workplace.

While Intranets quickly became an improvement over these older physical systems of information management, their success was short-lived.

In the 2000s, Intranets slowly evolved, adapting to new technologies.
Intranets weren’t just limited to short welcome pages or bulletin boards with basic company information.

  • They started utilizing help desk for simple transactional features.
  • They began using corporate apps for more complex transactions like eHR and self-service.
  • They also integrated an enterprise portal, giving businesses the ability to use their branding, identity, and applications.

2010 onward…
This was when the corporate Intranet made a shift.

With the rapid development of various social media platforms, Intranets saw a perfect opportunity to revolutionize their approach.

  • They started introducing basic social features like blogs, wikis, and discussion forums.
  • They allowed for the creation of user-profiles and activity streams.
  • And finally, they began utilizing a more social approach altogether.

This allowed more collaboration to take place, significantly improving employee engagement, collaboration, and communication.

For the first time, the Intranet felt like the heart of an organization’s digital workspace.

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Firstly, let’s take a look at the traditional Intranet and some of the reasons why it needed to evolve.

What organizations benefit from using an Intranet?

Any team, organization, or business can benefit from having its own Intranet.

While the majority (62%) of Intranet users are business organizations, Intranets are also utilized by educational institutions, healthcare providers, non-profit organizations, and even religious bodies.

Despite its widespread usage, Intranets have been failing to satisfy most organizations’ content and data sharing needs.

Here are 25 years of reliable statistics behind the traditional Intranet.

  • 24% of companies are not satisfied with their Intranet’s UI and information architecture.
  • 21% of companies end up using their Intranet as a dump, mostly for outdated content.
  • 57% of employees see no purpose in their company Intranet.
  • 29% of employees are not sure about their Intranet’s ownership.
  • 15% find the search option to be less than adequate.
  • 24% believe that the Intranet is only used by employees and not executives.
  • 6% feel that the Intranet is a dumping ground for ideas that never get executed.

These numbers are scary.

Not only are some organizations *not* finding value in their Intranet’s structure and features, but a lot of them don’t even enjoy their time there. In fact, only 39% of organizations using an Intranet report increased employee engagement.

All this data ultimately proves one thing – the traditional Intranet did not plug the gap in communications.

Up until recently, organizations have struggled with finding the right solution to their communication problem.

An Intranet is a fantastic tool, but if it was to be used effectively, its fundamental architecture had to change. It had to adapt.

In the last ten years, organizations turned their attention to a new type of Intranet.

One that worked on solving the problems that the traditional Intranet was facing.

One that truly brings value to organizations, improves employee engagement and communication, and most importantly, has the numbers to back it up.

Cue – The Social Intranet.

The Social Intranet – revolutionizing the modern-day workplace

The Social Intranet came onto the scene when organizations started implementing more social features into their communication and collaboration functions.

This created a gap between the traditional and new Intranet.

It also opened the doors for a lot of new features and Intranet content ideas.

Let’s explore the differences between the old and the new, and take a look at how these new features changed the Intranet landscape (for the better.)

The Old Intranet vs. The Social Intranet

According to a survey commissioned by Appirio and conducted by the International Association for Human Resource Information Management (IHRIM), employee portals or Intranets are widely deployed but are little more than a virtual file cabinet or a glorified home page.

Here’s what the survey found.

  • 85 percent of companies have an Intranet or employee portal of some kind, and 75 percent say it’s important.
  • While more than two-thirds of respondents state their portal has reduced the administrative burden on HR, only 39 percent say it’s improving employee engagement.
  • Less than 25 percent of respondents’ portals are integrated with social platforms, and only 11 percent are optimized for mobile access. However, those who do offer mobile or social capabilities saw more than twice as much engagement (77 percent versus 33 percent).

Organizations were no longer looking at the traditional Intranet as a solution to the communication problem.

Instead, these types of Intranets created even more problems for both employees and executives. Running them was confusing, employees didn’t engage with them, and they often became a dumpster for old, irrelevant content.

Simply “having an Intranet” was not enough for companies to utilize all its benefits.

This technology had to adapt to a more interactive, social, collaboration and intuitive one. A technology that helped and excited a new age of employees.

The age of social media has made it easier for organizations to identify the weaknesses of their Intranets.

As a response to these shortcomings, Social Intranets were born.

The birth and purpose of the modern Intranet.

The Intranet, as we know it, has evolved.

Social Intranets have become a modernized, efficient, and people-centric solution to the communication gap.

They have left behind the traditional top-down approach to corporate communications. Now, it isn’t only upper management creating content for everyone else.

In the Social Intranet, widespread participation is encouraged, sharing content is easier, and employees finally have a place where they can freely communicate.

This enables cross-department collaboration. It also allows data to be shared and implemented close to the company’s workflow. Most importantly, it allows for two-way communication between employees and leadership.

The Social Intranet has become a revolutionary step in workplace communications, and the numbers stay firmly behind that fact.

Out of the 62% of business organizations that use a Social Intranet…

  • 77% report increases in employee engagement (as opposed to 33% with traditional Intranets).
  • 27% use it for storing and sharing documents.
  • 21% use it to manage tasks and projects.
  • 15% use it to organize meetings and events.


Internal communication has improved, employees are more engaged in their work, and productivity and collaboration have skyrocketed.

Companies have started realizing that the best Intranet practices were those based on social communication.

Nowadays, this people-centric approach is at the core of most Intranet features, and with good reason.

PS if you’re looking to learn the best practices for internal communications to implement in your intranet, check out our expert round up on the subject.

Features of the modern-day Social Intranet

The Social Intranet is “social” because it utilizes features that empower communication, connection, and collaboration.

Every Intranet has its own set of features that tailor it toward the goals and architecture of an organization.

Companies have been taking a variety of different approaches to building Social Intranets, so you’re never going to find a one-size-fits-all when it comes to Intranet features.

That being said, some of the features of the modern Intranet are essentially must-haves.

These are the features that make the Intranet ‘social’ in nature.

They are the foundation of its people-centric experience.

These features include:

  • Easy posting.

Everyone in the company should have the right to publish articles, blogs, updates, and other types of content. This makes communication free-flowing and helps you function more like an organization.

  • Widespread data access.

Content and data posted on your Intranet should be accessible to everyone who it’s relevant to, at all times.

  • Commenting.

Encouraging commenting is one of the best ways to start two-way dialogues between employees, execs, and any mix of the two. This encourages social behavior, drives team ethic, and skyrockets employee engagement.

  • Activity streams.

Helping employees stay up to date with the latest information going on inside the organization. If everyone in your company has access to activity streams, imagine what this will do to individual post engagement and overall employee participation.

  • Private and public groups.

Your Intranet should allow you to create spaces for different teams and departments. This will enable them to work better together and avoid all the chatter that might come with a public feed.

  • Social connection tools.

Your Intranet should utilize tools such as user profiles, status updates, bookmarks, tags, mentions, and more. These make communication much more free-flowing and encourage social behavior.

  • Mobile functionality.

A key function of the Social Intranet is the ability to access messages and data even when you’re not in the office. Optimizing your Intranet for mobile devices will, by itself, encourage more participation.

How can a Social Intranet help your business?

Save time and energy.

An Intranet will help you save time by streamlining your workflow and helping information get to where it needs to faster.

For example, if an employee has a question related to a project, they won’t have to wait until the next project meeting to get it answered. They can get their questions answered quickly via the Intranet.

Another example. When a problem happens in your IT department, this often results in everyone calling to see what’s going on. This can easily be replaced with a quick notification that lets everyone know that the problem is being worked on.

Strengthen security and keep sensitive data safe.

If your employees are used to working with USBs or apps like Dropbox to store sensitive information, you’re taking an unnecessary risk. This is because IT departments can’t control these applications, and in some cases, aren’t even aware they’re being used.

If your organization utilizes a Social Intranet, all documents and data can be stored there without the risk of it falling into the wrong hands.

Encourage collaboration.

A lot of the functionalities surrounding the Social Intranet are there to facilitate collaboration.

With only a few clicks, your employees can exchange information, discuss projects, ask for advice, and more. This makes working on projects feel much more like a group activity, and it brings an immeasurable boost in efficiency and productivity.

In a way, a Social Intranet streamlines your entire workflow by making every part of it fully transparent to all team members.

Improve employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention.

Your Intranet is the heart of your digital workplace. As such, it has tremendous effects on the way your employees work and feel.

  • Surveys show that there was a 20-25% rise in employee engagement after the implementation of a Social Intranet. This, in turn, translated to an 18% rise in revenue per employee. (Source)
  • Organizations that implement a Social Intranet are, on average, 7% more productive than those that do not. (Source)
  • Organizations that utilized social media tools in their Intranet reported a 20% increase in employee satisfaction. (Source)
  • Employee retention increased by up to 87% in organizations that utilize employee engagement strategies in their Intranet. (Source)

Improve internal communications.

Last but definitely not least, the Social Intranet is all about enhancing internal communications.

By helping you create a social experience and facilitating multi-directional communication, a Social Intranet becomes the heart of your digital workplace.

When you implement a people-centric Intranet, you’ll start seeing employee engagement improve, projects being completed more efficiently, and collaboration skyrocket.

This is a result of the newly added level of internal communication within your organization.

Both employees and top-level management can now share their ideas, quickly find the data they need, comment on milestones, attend online forums, and so much more!

The intranet is dead… Long live the Social Intranet!!!

Workvivo is a Social Intranet that combines the traditional needs of centralization and information access with a user-friendly, fun, people-centric experience.

If you’re looking for the most efficient Intranet for small businesses and big corporations, Workvivo has everything you need to power your organization’s new social network.

With a modern approach to corporate Intranets, it helps businesses streamline their workflow by improving communications and productivity.

Do you want to learn how?