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Fight Bad Intranets with Killer User Personas

January 4, 2019

Intranets get a bad reputation. Probably because there are so many outdated and confusing corporate intranets suffering from content sprawl.

Content sprawl happens when there isn’t a content management plan for how to remove outdated content, how to curate content, and/or a process for how to ensure new content gets added to the right spot. Not having a plan might not be so bad for the first couple months after an intranet launches, but fast forward a little bit and you can have a tangled mess of content spaghetti.

Signs your intranet (or really, any digital property) is in danger

  • Users can’t find what they’re actually looking for
  • Users have given up on your site and rely on HR, your public site, or Google
  • The site has tons of duplicate forms, pages, etc.
  • The site has forms and content that are out of date
  • ...worse: no one knows which forms are up to date!

Fighting bad intranets with personas

Even the most terrible intranet isn’t in a hopeless situation. But not having a strategy from the beginning of a redesign is one of the best ways to guarantee another redesign is just around the corner:

Best case: the redesign comes much sooner than expected

Worst case: a redesign and a significant amount of time to audit your content and clean up it up before the next redesign

One of the most common myths is that personas are only for lead generation websites, but they are one of my first stops when I’m working on an intranet digital strategy.

Personas help me create a strategy that is tailored to the people using the intranet and is my guiding light for dropping bad content.

What to include in your intranet personas

Below are some common sections I use when creating intranet personas, but don’t feel locked into using just these categories, though! Your job as a strategist is to think critically about the project and customize your strategy accordingly. 

Photo - This helps make the persona real, so don’t choose something that looks too much like a stock photo.

Name - I am a believer in using real names overplay names like “Negative Nancy.” It helps everyone take the personas seriously.

Role in the company - For example, if this was a university intranet, you might have a persona for "professors," one for "students," etc.  Sometimes this can be a direct translation to a user role in Drupal, the functionality needed, and/or the content the user should be able to access.

Demographics - Here’s where you start to see some bigger deviations from a standard buyer persona. Instead of focusing on details like household income, the most valuable demographic information for intranets usually centers around technology literacy.

Use cases or problems the website can solve - This is the place to detail what the persona is likely going to come to the intranet to do and what you might want them to do (assuming those aren't always the same). It will likely be your largest, most detailed section of the entire persona.

Day in the life - Focus on how the intranet fits in the day-to-day for the persona and the context the user is in when he/she is on the intranet. Using the university intranet example again, is the student trying to use the intranet from their phone in class? Is it in the library where they can focus? Is it at their frat where they will be very distracted? Do they have 1 minute to find the answer or can they invest time?

Desired online experience - Let your research shine through about how users will likely want to interact with the site. For example, your users might prefer (or have been conditioned to) searching for their information instead of filter for it.

You could also include any one of the following if you need get employee "buy-in" to use the intranet. If not, then they probably aren't needed:

  • Psychographics
  • Current beliefs about the intranet
  • Most common objects to using the intranet
  • Complaints the project will address
  • Training or marketing channels (to promote use of the intranet)

Sources of information for your intranet personas

If you have an existing intranet, you can pull some data around how users are currently interacting with the intranet. As a fair warning, though, if the intranet is very terrible or if you are hoping for a radical change, take those metrics with a grain of salt. They can only tell you how people are using the intranet now, which can be limited by the available functionality, the quality of the content, and their awareness of their options.

This is why my favorite way to collect information for intranet personas is talking to the people who will actually be using the intranet! Consider conducting surveys, one-on-one interviews, and/or focus groups to learn more about the users’ pain points and dreams. You will likely notice some common trends pretty quickly once you start listening. The bonus to this approach is that you are already getting buy-in because you’re taking the time to listen to what your intranet users want.

intranet on drupal


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