Intranet Planning

What TIME has taught us about featuring People content on your Intranet

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In 1974, Time magazine had a People column. This section featured short stories about people who’d done something great. Over time that People column became so popular the magazine’s editors wondered if they can spin it into it’s own publication.

Any idea what happened next?

People magazine was born, and today it has the largest audience of any American magazine.

Engaging with People-content

People love people-related-content but how do you separate the noise from actually engaging content?

We’ve all seen online discussion boards and forums becoming dumping grounds. Nobody wants similar clutter on their intranet, let alone show any of it on the home page.

Lesson learnt from the Time magazine back in the days was to feature:

  • Content about “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things

  • Content featuring celebrities

This 50:50 split was the magic formula to capture the engagement of the public.

How does this apply to your intranet?


Whether you have a communication team or not (lone intranet manager), have an editorial calendar. In this calendar, spread out your featured stories to cover:

  • Major Company Events

  • Employee Achievements (Safety, Innovation, Customer Success etc)

  • Executive Stories (Customer Value, Employee Success etc)

  • Day in Life of (Field Worker, Project Manager etc)

With this mix, your people will always want to know what’s going to be posted next.

Sourcing your People-content

How do you source all this interesting content?

Here are few ideas:

  • Is there a conference or a trade show your company is attending?

    • Interview few of your attendees

    • Ask them what are they excited about

      • What’s new and changing?

      • How will it impact the industry or how they work?

      • Who’s their favorite session speaker and why?

      • What’s the biggest lesson learnt?

    • Ask to keep in touch with those SMEs to follow up on the relevant industry trends in subsequent stories

  • Use input from your SMEs and post on industry news and trends

  • Are your people attending a competition, hackathon or training?

    • Find out about it and feature it!

      • In the past we have featured a series of 3 posts based on external hackathon company team was participating. Even though our team didn’t win, the challenges our team went through and lessons learnt were super exciting to follow.

        In our case we recorded a simple video but you can just talk to your team and transcribe it as a short article.

        Here is the first video to check out and links to the remaining 2 Part 2 and Part 3 videos.


  • Have a Major Process Improvement? Was it suggested by an employee? Feature it

    • What motivated them?

    • What’s the impact?

    • How did they come up with the solution?

    • What are other opportunities they see?

Other Types of People-content

So far we looked at a centrally managed content published by an intranet manager or a member of communications team.

People content can be much more decentralized and still organized. It can also be interactive and self-posted (with moderation on or off).

Here are few ideas we implement for our customers over years:

  • Idea and Feedback Crowdsourcing

    • Employees get to nominate new ideas

    • Employees tag their idea (same self-moderation applies here as in Employee News)

    • Others get to comment and “like“ submissions

    • Most commented or liked ideas get to bubble up to the top

    • Moderator gets to tag ideas as they get through the “idea pipeline” … this also provides feedback as to what happened to the idea

  • Topic Discussion Channels with Office 365 Teams

    • Example: Rally potential participants in an external industry hackathon

    • Employees get to start a new channel in Teams

    • Others get to contribute

  • Staff Recognitions

    • Example: Give kudos to hackathon participants

    • Employees get to nominate someone for a job well done

    • Tags can include company values

    • Others can “thumb up“ or “star“ the nomination

  • Employee WIKI and How-To

    • Employees get to create a how-to in a specific category

    • Moderators can approve the how to

    • Others get to rate the quality of the how to

    • Number of views gets tracked to showcase the popularity

What else?

Start small and add features later. Don’t enable all of the possible features at once.

Perhaps centralized news is more in line with your organization. If so, launch with that feature alone to post your people content.

You can always enable crowdsourcing, recognition and other tools later.

If you do launch social features, think whether you need content moderation.

Be very clear about the purpose of the content area. Eliminating ambiguity will keep the area clean.

For example: if you plan to have an area for idea crowdsourcing, don’t let it turn into Q&A or How To.

Here are few tips on how to do that :

  • Decide on the categories for each submitted idea?

  • Who will be moderating submitted ideas?

  • How will you get back to the employee who submitted the idea?

  • How will you encourage staff using this new area and check whether new ideas are submitted?

Cross promote bright new ideas in a company newsletter mentioning that this was brought up by using idea crowd-sourcing tool.

We’re here to help

If you have questions on how to make your intranet more engaging while leveraging your existing Office 365 and SharePoint investment, we’re here to help you make that impact.

Turn focus on your users.
Pre-built Office 365 intranet intelligently shaped to your company.


Yaroslav Pentsarskyy is the founder of OrigamiConnect, a rapidly growing service and product offering which enables organizations to get an intranet designed for them without starting from a blank page. He's also 8 time Microsoft MVP, speaker at many local and worldwide tech events, and a published author of several SharePoint related books.


Why focusing on apps and widgets can really make your intranet fail?

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Focus on apps and widgets is quite common in many intranet projects but it doesn’t yield results that business users are after. Successful intranet is all about the content and helping users access this content in quick and intuitive way.

As you design your intranet, perform content audit to make your intranet centered around content relevant to your users. Have a good representation of stakeholders in your workshop. Treat each app as a helper to serve content scenarios and not take over the stage.

Finally think about the maintenance of your apps if you’re considering building custom ones.

It’s about the content

Let me be very clear about one thing:

Your users come to your intranet because they need content they think they can find there.

That’s it. Everything else is a bonus.

When we talk to users about the biggest issues they face with their intranets - issues related to content are at the very top of the list, the middle of the list, and at the end.

Hard to believe? You be the judge. Here is what we hear when we start a new project and do a content audit in a form of a test:

  • “Actually quite hard to find things, some things are not obvious”

  • “I found that I had no idea about where to find half of the things on the site“

  • “The menu titles are really vague“

  • “Some of the resources took a few attempts to find what I’m looking for“

What to do:

  • Invest time in content audit.

    • Involve various content representatives in your workshop. They will be the authors of what’s going on the intranet, and they need to be there to tell you that.

  • Group your content by a function and not department/ownership.

    • If I’m looking for a template, I expect to find it in “Templates“, I don’t expect to have to figure out who would be the author of that template and then check out the site of that department. This also solves issues with content owned by multiple departments.

  • Include tools and apps that help finding information.

    • Focus on what users would look for not what you’d want them to look for.

    • Avoid generic roll ups such as “Recent Documents“, “Recently Updated Forms“. Ensure your forms are really the most popular before you start promoting them as such.

  • Allow to provide feedback easily.

    • If this means putting “Page Contacts“ app on your page, make sure you also include FAQ section, so authors of the page can actually post those questions they get most often and reduce the burden of answering the same things multiple times.

Apps as ingredients

Does this mean you shouldn’t have any apps? No. Think of your apps as ingredients to an amazing dish, and that means:

  • Adding everything can lead to surprises … often unpleasant ones

    • Just because you see an app on Office 365 “spice rack” think whether you add value by using it. Adding more apps to your pages just because they’re available will leave your users confused and lost.

  • Think of your customers

    • Intranet is not a meal you will enjoy all on your own. You share it, so remember to accommodate other stakeholder’s needs. The best intranets are well balanced with needs of entire organization.

  • Trust the recipe

    • It’s fine to improvise but be honest with yourself whether you’re stepping outside of your comfort zone. There is a recipe to a successful dish and there is a method to a successful intranet. Following proven methodology will save you time and money reworking the costly mistakes.

  • Trust the experts

    • Watching a YouTube video on “what’s information architecture“ doesn’t mean you can fully put one together. It’s best to acknowledge that and get qualified help before everyone starts unfavorably judging your work.

What to do:

  • Start with the content on sticky notes before you start building the site.

    • We often see this common mistake. People start adding pages and content without fully understanding what else is going in this area. You end up with disjoint site impossible to find anything on.

    • Build your content map on a pager using sticky notes or electronic boards. Refine, test it, and update it until it’s ready. Then you’re ready and can take to one level down and start creating sites and pages.

  • Use apps that help you deliver needed content.

    • Apps are there just to simplify access to the information not create new information that is not needed. If your users don’t need a stock ticker on the home page - don’t add it.

Think about the maintenance

Every time you think about building an app think about its maintenance, and that includes

  • Updates that keep it running as Office 365 changes over time

  • Performance.

  • Compatibility with evolving dependencies such as services.

  • Troubleshooting.

  • Data retention.

What to do:

  • Determine whether you need a custom app to serve up your specific content.

  • Does the app have an owner and optionally a contributor?

  • Determine who will maintain and troubleshooting the app.

  • Does the app require content moderation, is there an owner for that?

  • If the app has critical information, what’s the fallback plan?

  • Is the app compatible with the Office 365 platform in a foreseeable future or does it use approach and modules that are becoming obsolete?

    • What about app performance?

  • Does the app have consistent user experience with the rest of the site?

As you design your intranet, you will come across various alternatives, chose options which are driven by users’ demand. Ensure the demand is real and well represented and your intranet is set for success.

Pre-built Office 365 intranet intelligently shaped to your company.


Yaroslav Pentsarskyy is the founder of OrigamiConnect, a rapidly growing service and product offering which enables organizations to get an intranet designed for them without starting from a blank page. He's also 8 time Microsoft MVP, speaker at many local and worldwide tech events, and a published author of several SharePoint related books.


Intranet Themes, Intranet Templates, and a Pre-Built Intranet: What's the Difference?

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Intranet Themes, Intranet Templates, and Pre-Built Intranet: What's the Difference and more importantly, before you pull out your credit card, which one do you need?

These three types of solutions have one main thing in common, “intranet” word attached to them.

In reality, there is a world of difference between what you think you’re getting and what you’re actually buying, so let’s dive right into it.

Intranet Theme

Think of an intranet theme like you would a PowerPoint theme, but for your intranet. You take a pre-existing document and apply a theme to make it prettier. You still have to build out your intranet before you can make it pretty, just like you’d have to write a PowerPoint document before applying a visually appealing theme.

Key attributes:

  • Services, including support services, aren’t typically included as part of the package, you read the manual and install the solution.

  • Themes are designed to be exclusively compatible with pre-existing intranet platforms, such as SharePoint, Office365, or proprietary intranets.

  • You need an existing, already-built intranet.

  • Themes provide a visual face-lift including with:

    • Colors

    • Backgrounds

    • Fonts Options

  • You are constrained with a very limited functionality of what you can and can’t change in the theme.

    • Some themes will have a “control panel“ with switches and toggles and that’s all you have to work with

  • Custom apps you may have built in your intranet may not inherit the rules of the theme.

  • Themes are very inexpensive.

  • Support services are very basic since you’re responsible for everything but cosmetic look and feel supported by the theme.

  • Target audience: Organizations between 30 ~ 100 users.

Intranet Template

An intranet template is similar to an Office Document template. It’s designed for a specific purpose, but you need to fill in the blanks to make it function for you. You’ll have to work around their constraints, keeping features you may not need and finding ways to customize things you want but are not included.

Key attributes:

  • Basic installation and integration services are usually included as part of the set up. With some products the manual and install package is simple enough for experienced users to set up the template

  • Intranet templates are platform specific, just like themes.

  • Unlike themes, templates can serve as add-ons to pre-existing intranet, or starting points for new ones, for example:

    • Helpdesk Intranet Template - will provide helpdesk workflows and functionality to an existing intranet whether you have one or not.

  • Templates provide new apps, specific workflows, and in some cases:

    • Colors, backgrounds, and fonts, but those are often limited to elements in the template and not everything else in your intranet.

  • You may be able to re-arrange what’s inside the template (apps) but not change the functionality of the apps. Some templates allow you to add out-of-the-box features of the parent platform, like SharePoint.

  • Custom apps you build are yours to maintain and not part of the template.

  • Templates are more expensive than themes on average 3-4 times.

  • Support services cover the basic apps and functionality built into a template, but not changes you’ve made to the template our other apps.

  • Target audience: Organizations between 50 ~ 150 users

Pre-Built Intranet

Think of pre-built intranet as a set of intranet templates aimed at fulfilling a specific goal. This goal could be:

  • Ensuring information on the intranet is easy to find.

  • Facilitate employee engagement and gamification.

  • Simplifying document and information management.

It’s rare that pre-built intranet will fulfill all of these goals completely, but most will do one and maybe even two of these things well.

Key attributes:

  • Pre-built intranet is likely to have set up services aimed at maximizing the goal of the solution.

    • Some are very much cookie cutter intranets with additional configuration offered through contractors.

    • Others will include configuration and set up services for greater customer success factor.

  • Similar to themes and templates, pre-built intranet can be platform specific, but some can also come as their own platform.

    • Apart from SharePoint you may find many specific intranets targeted towards the goal. They are cohesive and complete units that may not require a platform or run on a platform such as SharePoint or Office 365

  • Pre-built intranet will typically require a fresh install.

  • Pre-built intranet generally includes new apps, workflows, various services, and branding.

  • Some, but not all, pre-built intranets extend their look and feel to your custom applications.

  • Cost is typically 3 times more expensive than an intranet template.

  • Support services will cover pre-built intranet and, in some cases, extended support covering questions related to the platform.

  • Target audience: Organizations > 150 users.

What else?

One option that hasn’t been mentioned yet is custom intranet. Still a popular choice but beginning to gain a reputation of having much less return on investment than before due to an increase in pre-built alternatives on the market.

The key is to accurately assess your company capabilities.

Too often do we see organizations attempt to build an intranet on their own by purchasing bits and pieces, templates and themes, overtime. Ultimately, resulting in higher costs and suboptimal, patchwork, solutions.

Always remember who you’re building an intranet for: your users. Rarely are they aware of budgets. Everyday interactions is what makes an impact.

Users will never know if the solution was inexpensive or not, but they will remember if it was frustrating to use.

Pre-built Office 365 intranet intelligently shaped to your company.


Yaroslav Pentsarskyy is the founder of OrigamiConnect, a rapidly growing service and product offering which enables organizations to get an intranet designed for them without starting from a blank page. He's also 8 time Microsoft MVP, speaker at many local and worldwide tech events, and a published author of several SharePoint related books.


Where does Intranet fit in Your Digital Workplace Strategy

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Your Digital Workplace is not a single tool. It’s a set of tools that make work possible by complimenting each other. By evaluating new tools that come on the market in terms of their fitness on your roadmap, you can avoid tools that are roadmap-distractions and require costly backtracking. Intranets have some very clear goals and purpose in comparison to other communication tools, but you have to ensure governance and adequate support in order to make the investment worthwhile.

1. Digital Workplace: Understanding

A bit more than a year ago, at Microsoft Ignite Conference in Orlando, I had a chance to speak with Joe Francis who runs a Yammer network for over 200,000 users at Glaxo Smith Kline.

The interview of our conversation is still available here, so feel free to check it out.

Joe and their MS Partner Leslie provided some real close-up looks on how they manage their Yammer network and how it has transformed communication within their organization.

At the time, Yammer was known in the Microsoft community to be on the “decline“. I spoke with several SME’s in the area and everyone had a nervous feeling what’s going to happen with the product. And yet it does so well at GSK.

Just 5 years ago, Yammer was considered a disruptor and many claimed it will displace SharePoint as a communication tool. But it didn’t. Now, similar disruptor stories are told about Microsoft Teams.

Many organizations are struggling to figure out how Microsoft Teams and other tools in Office 365 suite will fit their digital landscapes.

How do you know when a new tool is right for the organization?

First, let’s understand what a Digital Workplace is:

A Digital Workplace is a cohesive set of tools and environments which help the company operate successfully and drive towards a business goal.

Few key characteristics:

  • Each tool must have its purpose and audience in your organization

    • For example: you’re not trying to do project management with Yammer, just as you wouldn’t use Microsoft Project for employee communication

  • There is a governance around each tool and business users are not confused

    • Users are not mistakenly putting confidential files onto an externally accessible network

  • The tool belongs to a roadmap

    • It’s not a rogue tool installed out of someone’s impatience. Even if it’s an ad-hoc solution, it needs to have a roadmap and transition plan

2. Is the Tool a Distraction or does it belong to a roadmap?

Now that we know what the Digital Workplace is and that it can have several tools in its arsenal, let’s define the “distraction” on a roadmap.

The Roadmap

Your roadmap is a way to go from point A (now) to point B (say, 3 years from now).

A tool that is a distraction will take you on a side road and lead nowhere so you’ll have to backtrack to get back on the right path.

There are a few characteristics of a digital tool that make it a distraction.

Tool is a distraction if

  • It’s a short term “band-aid”; not tied to solving a business goal for the company

    • Example: A team needs to collaborate with a contractor who doesn’t have a corporate account, so they create a Dropbox account for them to share files with.

      • This action does not create a strategy for sharing files externally, it’s simply a band-aid for this one case

  • It doesn’t fit core values or policies of the business

    • Example: Help-desk team using email to ask customer for passwords

      • This action can result in breaches and customer information leaks

  • It doesn’t scale with growing demand

    • Example: Using Microsoft Teams channels to store project documentation

      • This decision might make sense temporarily but as more projects you’re assigned to, the more channels you’ll have and searching, archiving, and accessing relevant deliverables will become a nightmare as the team grows

  • It has visible negative impact on business goals

    • Example: Email blast company news

      • This clogs people’s email. They stop paying attention to newsletters and miss important announcements resulting in disengagement

3. Where does the intranet fit into all this?

Intranet revolves around these key goals:

  1. Be a hub for reliable corporate communication (leadership communication, KPIs etc)

  2. Be a one-stop-shop for corporate knowledge (templates, samples, Knowledgebase, How to’s)

  3. Be a central spot for resources that employees need to get their job done (manuals, policies, request forms)

  4. Be a one-stop-shop for collaboration (including: document management, findings skills and expertise through directories, launching key forms such as HR forms)

Additionally, if you don’t have any overlapping tools such as HRMS systems, your intranet can also be a place for:

  • Employees to connect (employee news, events, and ideas contributions)

  • Staff Engagement (shout-outs and kudos)

4. Setting up your intranet for success

As Joe mentions in his interview about Yammer, you have to plan for success.

Here are the key steps to implement your intranet successfully:


  • Obtain Executive buy-in

    • Propose a pilot project. Set targets, measure outcomes, report results

  • Avoid the trap of Planned Obsolescence

    • Planned Obsolescence has several shades, here are few examples

      • Example 1: Instead of maintaining the service subscription companies do not renew it hoping the software will just work. Instead, the software becomes stale and users become dissatisfied with its performance

      • Example 2: No budget assigned for an internal resource to collect employee requests, prioritize, and action them

      • Example 3: No budget for increased demand on helpdesk resources when rolling out a new software

  • Equally represented content

    • Content on the intranet is often heavily tilted towards communications with very little representation for the areas of the business. This reduces your audience and engagement.

  • Build intuitive information architecture

We’re here to help

Struggling to understand how Office 365 toolset fits the digital landscape in your organization?
It’s not always simple, and requires expertise to help you gain insight in the roadmap Microsoft has for its products. We’re here to help you.
We’d be happy to help you with a transparent and objective consultation to get you on the right track and maximize your existing Office 365 investment.

Pre-built Office 365 intranet that always delivers on time and budget.


Yaroslav Pentsarskyy is the founder of OrigamiConnect, a rapidly growing service and product offering which enables organizations to get an intranet designed for them without starting from a blank page. He's also 8 time Microsoft MVP, speaker at many local and worldwide tech events, and a published author of several SharePoint related books.


4 Best Practices for Evolving Internal Communications to Digital

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Many organizations switching from email, and analog communication channels (like this bulletin board above) struggle with adoption of their new intranet platform. These 4 best practices below will boost your engagement, build efficient communication strategy which includes people content, cultivates company culture, and promotes openness.

Internal communications are often associated with email blasts to everyone in the company or bulletin boards hanging in the staff area. Keeping track of updates and distributing important information in this way is not only time consuming, but often times ignored by employees.

With digital tools available, such as intranet, internal communications have evolved, but adoption rates often vary.

Here are the best practices that can help you get the most out of your digital communication tools.

1. Develop internal communications strategy

Switching from manual, bulletin board-style or email communication to digital involves a few more things than just moving your old content to the intranet.

Here are key questions about content you need to consider:


  • What is the purpose of communication (educate, inform, call to action?)

  • Does your communication cultivate the culture?

  • Can you re-purpose stories featured externally with slight adjustments?


  • How urgent is the communication?

  • How often things get posted/updated?

  • Does the publication schedule overwhelm your users?

  • How will the frequency scale with organization?

  • When do posts expire?

Audience and Roles

  • Does the communication need to be targeted to specific audiences?

  • Will leadership content be active on the intranet?

  • Who can post and where?

  • Who moderates content (if staff can post)?


  • Duplicating the content. People will come to the intranet if your original content is available on the intranet and not in numerous other places they used to come before.

  • Only featuring leadership content. People love to hear stories and not just important communication.

2. Feature employee content

Employee content has many different forms and is a great way to engage others.

Interesting Fact: People are psychologically drawn to individual stories rather than statistics. This is related to how our brain loves to associate and relate our own experiences through the lens of others. In psychological studies, people remembered content presented through individual story much better than the same content in a form of generalization or statistic.

Here are few ideas to include engaging employee content on your intranet:

  • Shout-outs or kudos

    • Gives an opportunity to inform everyone about who was working on what, which goals have been met, and which members of the team are collaborating well.

    • Executives also appreciate this type of content to see how employees are performing.

  • Crowdsourcing ideas or feedback site

    • Gives people an opportunity to provide valuable feedback and have others agree and comment

    • Excellent at building culture of collaboration, improvement and transparency.

  • People news

    • Provides a channel for employees to share their experiences at a conference, industry event, customer story etc.

    • Promotes awareness beyond corporate type of content.

    • Encourages other to contribute

3. Cultivate company values

Out of several tools and types of content mentioned above, building culture is the desired outcome for the majority. Communication is not just about building awareness, it’s also about reinforcing the culture through examples.

At Sharemuch one of our core values is Empathy. We try to embody that in the content we feature and highlight examples of empathy in executive decisions, employee and customer relations, and product strategy. Many of the stories we feature is how understanding and empathizing with customer pain points helped build amazing user experience on our recent projects.

Be sure to feature the content not just from the management team but also from the broader team. Content featured from the entire spectrum of the organization is perceived as more genuine and less scripted.

The communications team can leverage spotlight-type articles in their editorial calendar and help key contributors provide information for a spotlight story. For these spotlight type of articles, it’s best if the content shows as posted by the original author. This will draw attention and encourage other to submit their story.

4. Build areas for feedback and discussion

Companies which have an area for idea and feedback promote a culture of openness. To encourage employees to submit feedback, enable comments and likes so that the most popular ideas get featured at the top.

If you plan to add idea crowdsourcing to your intranet, here are the things to determine:

  • Set categories for submitted ideas to keep submissions on topic

    • Examples: Offices, Technology, Process, People, Facilities etc

  • Assign a moderator to update ideas as actioned/more information required/in progress

    • This is also a way to get back to the employee who submitted the idea

One of the ways for promoting this new area might be featuring a bright new idea in a company newsletter and mentioning that this was brought up using idea crowd-sourcing tool.

In Summary

Switching your communication to digital doesn’t have to be cumbersome. It requires a communication plan and strategy. Don’t forget to engage influencers within your organization to drive the content on your site to encourage others to contribute.

Effortless communication with Origami intranet tailored to your organization in 3-6 weeks.


Yaroslav Pentsarskyy is the Director of Product at Origami, a rapidly growing service and product offering which enables organizations to get an intranet designed for them without starting from scratch. He's also 8 time Microsoft MVP, speaker at industry events, and a published author of several SharePoint related books.