February 2, 1998
INTRANET ADVISORBy Steven L. Telleen
Understanding Unique Challenges of Intranet Newsletters
Q: How do you develop, structure, and manage a corporate newsletter on an intranet, and how does it differ from the print version?
Advisor: As with most intranet content, the issue really comes down to the purpose and objectives of the newsletter. Most large companies use a newsletter, generally owned by corporate communications, to foster a common culture and provide a place for new information that is of interest across an organization.
As such, the intranet version of a newsletter often becomes the intranet "home page" for the company. The challenges seem to be: giving it the proper cultural personality (this includes the name as well as the metaphors, images, and logos), keeping it useful so people have a reason to come back, and marketing its existence so people build the habit of remembering it is there.
Of course, there are some challenges and things to keep in mind as you move forward.
Different content has different shelf life. Unlike print newsletters, you can use this to your advantage. Divide your electronic newsletter into sections that can be managed independently. Right up front, have a section featuring "late-breaking news" that you change every day-this means you can keep the whole newsletter looking fresh by managing a very contained section.
Elsewhere on the newsletter's top page can be information that has a little longer shelf life (perhaps you change it weekly).
Finally, you should have index links to the commonly used resources in the company.
These rarely change, and they provide both value and context for the visitor.
Among the commonly used links should be the home pages of the different areas of the company (both line and support), and links that lead to specific useful information, e.g.
the corporate phone book, benefits information, online forms, etc. Remember, in this section of your newsletter, the goal is not to keep the visitors on your site, but to get them to the information they need, and back to work, as easily and efficiently as possible.
Set up the structure so you are not responsible for creating and maintaining everything in the newsletter. Since the depth past the first page is provided through links, let each organization manage its own information, while you just point to it. In this way, you have the whole company helping to keep things fresh and accurate. Identify responsible individuals in key organizations, explain what you are doing, and get them involved. Once you have established these brokering links in your index, maintenance of that content is distributed to the responsible organizations.
Even in this distributed environment, you can manage and change the look-and-feel of the overall site with very little effort by using formatting standards and a common location for templates, plus the top logos for each group.
You also need to monitor your links regularly to make sure a department hasn't moved something on you. There are several software tools that will check for broken links in your pages without requiring the other departments to publish their documents on your Web server or use the same publishing software that you use.
Finally, remember that an attractive new feature of this communication medium is the ability to develop meaningful conversations in which everyone can participate. At first, this benefit seems subtle, but traditional newsletters are information broadcasts and do not have the immediate, two-way interaction of an intranet. To capitalize on this potential, always look for ways to involve the audience in the community. At the very least, make sure they can easily feed back comments to you in an unstructured format.
Over time, look for ways to involve everyone more directly in the content of the newsletter, and use it as a springboard to facilitate cross-organizational conversations.
Steven L. Telleen, Ph.D., is a founder of iorg.com intranet consultants, Pleasanton, Calif. Submit questions to Telleen at firstname.lastname@example.org.