If you build it, they will come, but will they come back?

This isn't you'll be pleased to know a blog post about the Kevin Costner film "Field of Dreams" but a reference to an excellent post on the 3 Geeks and a Law Blog called "If you build it, they will come. But will they return?" What you might wonder are they referring to with this statement. Well as it happens they're talking about Intranets and the answer is a resounding NO.

So what's wrong with Intranets within Law Firms at the moment? The blog post outlines the current state of affairs; "The problem with the conventional view of Intranets is that it is an enterprise approach to what should be a consumer experience.  In order to succeed, the Intranet needs to be an adaptive, ever learning, ever growing aggregate of my view in the firm as well as my web based social interactions. It needs to allow me to organize information in a way that makes sense to me and it needs to have robust search that makes information easy to find.  As we all know, users are more likely to use a Google style search to find information than they are to look through various sub-sites trying to figure out how to reserve a conference room.  But, robust search on its own does not solve the problem"

I absolutely agree that an Intranet should be visually engaging, intuitive and needs to contain fresh content. The problem is as the author outlines is that most content currently published to Law Firms intranet is that it doesn't compel people to keep coming back for more. Yes, it's crucial that someone knows about the latest development with the SRA or news about our latest panel appointment, but does this encourage them to return to the Intranet day after day, unless they don't get out much probably not.

So what can Intranet managers do about this? The author has a suggestion;  

"We need to do build Intranets that reflect the interests of the reader. A site needs to be able to look and feel different for each user to address each user's unique perspective. An effective Intranet needs to blur the lines of personal and professional, because most of today's workers do not have clear cut delineations between work and play.  For those few who still want the delineation, a well designed site will accommodate their wishes too. Intranets need to embrace social media, both external and internal. They need to foster a sense of community and quickly adapt to changing times" 

This is an interesting idea and there has certainly been some moves toward providing more social Intranets. However the problem with Law Firms in particular is that they tend to be quite conservative when it comes to providing content and the methods by which content is delivered to users. So moving to an Intranet or an application that not only reflects the needs of the users but blurs the lines between personal and professional will for many be a step too far. "The biggest challenge we face in making this move is changing management's perception that all this social media stuff is not only a waste of time, but also a time waster"

We also need to move beyond Intranets being useful to essential, which is the subject of the presentation I've embedded below.