Feed The Monster - Part I: Turning Employees Into Journalists

by Toby Ward — Communicators and content managers frequently fret over the challenge of 'feeding the monster'. The monster in question is the intranet; the food is 'content'.
One of the most frequent questions posed to me by communicators and content managers is, “How often should we update our home page?” Hopefully this issue was largely addressed in pre-launch planning. Unfortunately, it is rarely given much more than passing thought until the monster goes live and the masses start stampeding to it for enlightenment. One solution to the hungry intranet challenge is to turn employees into journalists.

Content & Knowledge Management

Content management is often considered a facet of ‘knowledge management’. We define knowledge management (KM) as the way and means that organizations create, store and access (reuse) knowledge to accomplish enterprise goals. Successful KM has three principal tenets:
  • Organizational processes and rules (e.g. taxonomy)
  • Knowledgeable and engaged individuals
  • Appropriate technology to support knowledge sharing
The principal precept of distributed content management is empowering content creators with the means to publish and manage their own content through a centralized system. At the risk of being redundant, and perhaps oversimplifying an otherwise complex subject, we simply define content management as the process and means by which an organization creates, publishes and maintains content via the intranet, extranet and/or Internet. Distributed content management is therefore decentralized content creation, publishing and management by multiple authors and groups throughout an organization.

Case Studies

Effective knowledge management begins with the second tenet, ‘knowledgeable and engaged’ employees. Cisco Systems understands the principal tenets of knowledge management and that employees tacitly hold the majority of an organization’s knowledge.

In fact, Cisco encourages each one of its 40,000+ employees to become journalists.

Strategically located under the intranet home page, Cisco Employee Connection, is a button labeled “Submit News.” This simple but innovative feature in an online submission form that encourages Cisco employees to submit their own news stories. While all submissions must adhere to certain guidelines (also provided via a link immediately adjacent to the Submit News button) and each submitted piece is evaluated for appropriate content and edited for grammar, the feature encourages several submissions per week and drives additional knowledge sharing at the technology giant.

Xerox’s best tips database is used by the company’s 20,000+ field customer service professionals and has produced savings of $10 million to date for Xerox.

One small-to-medium sized Canadian investment company operates its’ corporate intranet portal according to a multi-tiered governance structure which includes an Intranet Publisher’s Group. In an organization of about 1000 employees, more than 80 employees have become publishers using a centralized publishing tool to create and manage their own content and pages under the central portal. Guidelines spell out the rules for using the tool and managing content, and each publisher receives training on using the publishing tool.


Of course, using employees to drive content and knowledge can mean more than just increased corporate news. Some organizations are using employee driven efforts to ‘pad’ the bottom-line. Xerox established a web-based database a number of years ago that catalogues company best practices, namely repair and maintenance tips. About 3,800 employees, or 20% of the Xerox technicians worldwide, generate the majority of the tips submitted to the database, which contains over 30,000 logged tips. The database is accessed via the intranet by the company’s 20,000+ field customer service professionals and has produced savings of $10 million to date for Xerox (Source: Knowledge-Management Intranets, Corporate Executive Board, 2000).

For many organizations, content is being published in multiple areas on multiple platforms – be it on the intranet, extranet or Internet (see E-Business Convergence: The Melding of Internet and Intranet). As a result, many organizations are deploying a single tool and/or architecture for publishing content across multiple platforms as a means of reducing publishing time and costs.

“This can be the basis of increased ROI because a company can take advantage of content management software licenses they have for their Internet sites for use on their intranet portal,” says Lisa Sulgit, a New York-based intranet consultant and an associate of Prescient Digital Media. “Actually, Cisco has made use of the same taxonomy for all content management regardless of where the content will eventually be presented. P&G is in the midst of moving to a corporate branding and content management strategy, taking advantage of economies of scale and helping to provide uniform employee and customer information.”

Empowering employees to publish their own content will not only produce ROI savings, but also ease the content burden of corporate communicators.

Having spent a portion of her career stewarding Time Inc.’s intranet, Time Traveler, Sulgit explains that Time was able to benefit from significant discounts on their content management system because Time’s Internet team had already made a substantial investment in Vignette. “If nothing else, companies can take advantage of pricing discounts using the same CM system throughout.”

Finally, it’s obvious that if employees are using a content management system to submit content for live publishing or the necessary approvals, then the organization is achieving additional productivity savings from corporate communicators and content managers who can redirect their efforts towards more productive pursuits.

(For more on ROI, please email toby@prescientdigital.com for a free copy of Prescient’s most recent version of its widely read white paper “Intranet ROI” featuring a new section on content management).

Employees are largely an over-looked resource for hungry intranets, but more and more organizations are tapping into this knowledge basin. The payoff for empowering employees to drive content can be invaluable while easing the burden on communicators who continue to struggle with ‘feeding the monster’.

Read Part II of Feeding The Monster where we examine how Time Inc. is encouraging employee participation and responsibility for driving content, and the importance of standards and guidelines in the content process.

A former journalist and a regular e-business columnist and speaker, Toby Ward is a senior intranet consultant and the founder of Prescient Digital Media.