Get The Word Out

Play By The Rules

Want to get started building your intranet? Start by scoping out the competitive products--put in a half-hour at each, deciding which will best suit your employees' technical skill. Then pick one and get busy uploading an initial batch of content.

What should you put up? When it comes to content, almost anything goes. But be mindful of two rules:

  • Don't include anything too sensitive. Confidentiality and security promises aside, it's wise never to put anything on a Web-based intranet that, if widely distributed, could compromise the future viability of your business. That means no trade secrets, no deeply private memos, no sensitive financial info. Why? Theoretically, any security can be breached--a fact made vivid by successful hacks into the U.S. government's own computers. Then, too, there's the question of employee judgment. Put up a draft agreement to merge with another company, and you risk a misjudgment by an employee who might copy it and put the document into the wrong hands. It happens, even when "confidential" is stamped all over the file.

By all means, freely put up material you'd rather wasn't public--employee work phone numbers, for instance. Sure, it's a hassle if this material gets into outsiders' hands, but if it does, losses are containable.

  • Avoid anything that could trigger lawsuits. Ethnic jokes, cartoons and such cannot be tolerated by a business that wants to stay out of court. And if an employee puts up material others find offensive, take it down immediately. Sure, there are free-speech rights, but corporate lawyers are united in urging fast purging of anything that co-workers might find demeaning.

The big content question is: Should employees be allowed to post to the intranet, or should all postings be handled by a Webmaster? A related question: Should employees be allowed to post personal material? Many hours have been spent debating these issues, and either way, you'll have plenty of company no matter which side you take. But for most small businesses, it usually makes good sense to allow all employees to post and, within the limits of available space and good taste, to put up personal material. Why the latter? An intranet can be a one-way communication tool--where management talks to employees--but you'll heighten employee participation and interest in the intranet if they're given some time to talk as well.

Better still, when the content is rich, checking the intranet will become fun and enjoyable for your workers. They'll like it, they'll use it, and, soon enough, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.

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This article was originally published in the February 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get The Word Out.

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