user generated content

Thoughts on SharePoint governance

Nothing seems to attract attention more these days to a blog post than sticking the words SharePoint and governance in the title … without wishing to jump on the bandwagon – actually, jumping firmly on the bandwagon with a double backwards flip and triple salco thrown in – here are my thoughts to add to the cascade of information on the subject.

[To be honest, what follows is not specific to SharePoint but you’ve got to grab attention where you can! 🙂 ]

Anyway … it seems to me that when people talk about intranet governance they seem to view the intranet as a single amorphous blob which needs to be governed (read controlled) in one way. To me, this misses a whole spectrum of nuances around user needs and normally results in an overly restrictive governance regime designed for top-end, formal content being imposed across all content types and all user needs (see previous posts on the subject of differing content types: Changing nature of intranet content; and Content types should complement not compete).

To take account of different content types and user needs, you really need different governance models running in parallel with differing levels of control along a spectrum – a kind of controlometer if you like … at one end: total control; and at the other: the opposite of total control … whatever that is … anarchy; chaos; trust – you choose!

So, below is an attempt to illustrate the above in diagrammatic form.

As an aside, there’s one content type I’ve listed which might surprise people – the under-web. It strikes me that in the drive for control of intranet content over the last few years – fuelled by sound business reasons – we’ve stifled innovation and creativity and decoupled experimentation from core intranet platforms driving it under desks where it is extremely difficult to benefit from the great things which go on in these spaces. We should always legislate for experimentation in our governance models.

A final point, content types shouldn’t be kept apart in a kind of quarantine from each other … there should be exposure and cross fertilisation of different content types both to the left and right of the spectrum to generate valuable context.

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Context is everything with intranet content

One of the things that I can’t tell people enough when talking about user generated content in an enterprise setting is that users MUST understand the context of the information they are consuming. For example, they must know how it was created, who created it, who edited or contributed to it etc … because this vital contextual information will determine how they can re-use it, how reliable it is, how new it is and so on …

As more and more pages on the BT Intranet contain user generated content, we tried to figure out a good way to differentiate those pages from the more traditional, formal content pages. This is what we’ve done.

For some time now, all our intranet pages have had a global navigation bar at the top of them. This bar helps BT people to identify when they are on the official intranet – with all the guarantees/service levels etc. that this implies – rather than the internet or unofficial under-web pages. It also means that a user can never get lost as they always have a way back to the top or to the most popular pages and applications on offer. The standard navigation bar looks like this:

BT Intranet global navigation bar

BT Intranet global navigation bar

We decided to make a variant of this bar to put above pages containing user generated content – we changed the colour and added a Disclaimer link. We’ve also added a new icon to these pages. The user generated content navigation bar looks like this:

BT Intranet navigation bar for user generated content

BT Intranet navigation bar for user generated content

The new icon for user generated content is this:

User generated content icon

User generated content icon

Both the Disclaimer link on the new bar and the icon above link through to a page on BTpedia which explains what user generated content is, what its limitations are, and guidance on how it can be used and what to avoid doing with it.

The new bar is being piloted on Blog Central and BTpedia linked to an on-line form for user feedback. It’ll be interesting to see what users think.

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It’s not about the quality of the content …

Mass amateurisation of content publishing has taken a few knocks recently – most often from professional content producers, many of whom still have access to the loudest megaphones in the media space, lashing out defensively at the prospect of becoming irrelevant and losing their jobs. And, let’s face it, we amateurs have done our fair share of mud-slinging at the has-been professionals …

The key question for me is about what motivates professional and amateur content producers.

The professional producers are traditionally paid to write stand-alone content which is designed to attract as many eyeballs as possible in the shortest possible time, before lining the cat litter tray. That’s it … nothing more … and nothing less. To do this, it must be authoritative, well researched and well written.

On the other hand, the amateur content producer is writing to reach out to others. The content is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. That end is in making connections and forming relationships and starting conversations. For example, the quality of the content of an indivdual blog post might look poor, because the richness is in the context around the post not in the text of the post itself. Quoting snippets of amateur content out of context is a bit like only reading the top e-mail response in a long e-mail chain that has been forwarded to several people, each of whom has added their bit of knowledge … just reading the top response is going to be pretty meaningless and miss the richness of the conversation underneath.

I can see plenty of opportunities for both amateur and professional content to exist side-by-side long into the future and enrich each other along the way – if only the two groups would stop hurling abuse at each other for a few minutes!

Systems and humanity …

I was being shown a really impressive KM site yesterday on our intranet that one of our professional communities has set up with a view to rolling it out as a template for other professional communities across the business. They’d really given it a huge amount of thought and put a lot of effort into it. The problem is no one was using it and they wanted advice on how to increase adoption. I just had this niggling feeling which I couldn’t articulate very well at first around the fact that the site seemed to lack ‘humanity’.

My inability to articulate exactly what I meant by ‘humanity’ made me feel a bit stupid as the professional community director, who was showing me the site, is a really switched-on, business-focused, value-driven, hat-full-of-MBAs, high-flier kind of guy who, no doubt, I’ll end up working for one day! However, I persisted.

The problem is, you can tell people they are part of a business community (based on skills, experience, projects etc.) and provide excellent tools to support them in their community activities, but unless they feel they belong in some way, they won’t participate. For me, community is fundamentally about a sense of belonging. That sense can be very strong in close-nit communities (families; neighbourhoods etc.) or more subtle (Facebook groups; Yahoo groups etc.) but it has to be there as the invisible force that holds it together.

I eventually managed to explain what I felt was missing in a way that made some sense. While you can’t create ‘belonging’ via a system alone, you can ‘humanise’ your systems to help that feeling grow. Use photos rather than just names (photos that the users have chosen themselves); embed snippets of user-generated content onto otherwise ‘dry’ pages (such as Tweets and status updates); recognise most prolific or valued contributors in each area … but, the main thing for me, is to ensure that the people who create stuff, or contribute stuff, are linked to what they create and are properly recognised by their peers for their contributions. And, that every community member can see the entirety of both there own contributions and those of others (a kind of Friendfeed) … in other words, there own personal brand.

Mix it up …

One of the dangers of introducing user generated content (UGC) onto your intranet is that it will be seen as separate from the rest of your existing content – a form of ‘second-class’ information that will sit in ghettos and not be taken as seriously … it is, after-all, known widely as social content. It’s important to understand what value UGC brings to the party and integrate it into what you already offer. Failure to do this will banish UGC to the margins where it will deliver little value and validate the views of those who regard it as a frivolous activity for geeks and time-wasters.

One significant benefit UGC does provide is a context for static content – but only if they sit side by side and are presented together to users. A good example of this in BT is our corporate newsdesk – BT Today (see image below). This service is hugely popular in BT. Second only to the on-line directory, it receives millions of hits a week and is accessed by virtually all employees. It is professionally run by a team of free-lance journalists with a couple of full-time, BT-employed editorial staff to manage the whole thing.

To make it more interactive, new UGC functionality was added about six months ago (see red circles on below diagram). The new functionality is called Your Space and is composed of:

  • Your photos – a sort of internal Flickr but with a short story alongside each photo users upload to make them more interesting to a wider audience
  • Your adverts – where employees can advertise their stuff (free up to a certain value then there is a charge)
  • Your announcements – a section to wish people happy birthday, anniversary etc.
  • Your views – the most interesting section, I think, where employees can start discussion threads about topics of interest to them.

BT Today

Your views has proved extremely popular and some quite controversial topics have been aired in that space. Currently, each thread gets around 25k hits and around 100 comments from users wishing to get their point across – which, considering the high profile nature of this site, is pretty good (there’s no anonymity on any of our UGC tools). What is also encouraging, is that several BT board members have gone in and commented in the discussions as normal users. They’ve also started a few threads themselves … they really seem to want to join the conversation. So successful have the UGC sections been, that the site is soon to be redesigned giving these sections greater prominence in the centre of the screen. New functionality to allow users to comment on news stories is also being introduced.

I wonder how long it will be before the whole site is made up of only UGC – like CNN’s iReport site! 🙂

I’ve also highlighted RSS on the diagram – this site alone has around 150 separate RSS feeds so that users can subscribe to, and receive, information that is relevant to them in a very granular fashion.

Facing up to competition …

In 1984 BT lost its monopoly status with the de-regulation of the UK telecoms market. It has survived by defending its core, traditional business through quality of service, and flourished through diversification and transformation into a global communications services company – utilising its hard earned skills and sweating its key asset – namely its core network and its networking expertise. For me, the internal comms (IC) profession is about to have its own 1984 moment.

Until now, the IC profession has had monopoly supplier status on the flow of non-operational information within organisations. That’s about to change. The internal information environment is being deregulated through the deployment of tools that facilitate the publishing of user-generated content. This environment is about to get very busy, noisy and competitive. What can IC people learn from BT’s success:

  • Defend core business through quality of service – IC people are skilled communicators who know how to exploit channels to best effect – our core ‘business’. In a competitive environment dominated by amateurs we must exploit this advantage through the provision of ‘quality’ content and channel consultancy services by utilising our core skills to differentiate ourselves from the morass of unprofessional, competitive noise.
  • Transformation and exploitation of key assets – we must look at diversifying our offering, while sweating our key asset – namely, strong relationships and access to senior managers. What communications services will senior managers want in this new deregulated space? Time to start thinking and planning … maybe personal brand managers for senior people; information brokers; engagement consultants??

We must be thinking ahead to stay relevant …

You can read more about what the future might hold for our profession on my blog, and on Kevin Keohane’s blog … and probably many more besides!