Bridging the Intranet Adoption Chasm

The SmallWorlders Intranet Engagement Framework - a 360° approach to creating and sustaining a successful, engaged intranet. For further information, please contact

SmallWorlders' Dan Jones on the SmallWorlders Intranet Engagement Framework

An Introduction to Intranet Engagement Theory

Synopsis: In 1991, Geoffrey A Moore famously wrote about the so-called Adoption Chasm in Everett M Rogers’ 1962 Technology Adoption Lifecycle. This chasm represents the leap in adoption that new technologies must make in order to progress from a small minority of keen early adopters to a much more mainstream acceptance (the early majority).

Like any other technology, intranets in the modern workplace also face an adoption chasm. In order to approach this problem, it has been suggested (Aaron Kim, 2013) that we map Maslow’s 1943 Hierarchy of Needs onto the technology adoption lifecycle. This leads to some very interesting insights into how basic, instinctive human behaviour can be leveraged in order to maximise the adoption of a new intranet venture.

In this article we present the SmallWorlders Intranet Engagement Framework – a 360° approach to creating and sustaining a successful, engaged intranet.

Why so many intranets fail

So you have just launched a brand new site. All the bells and whistles are there. Every feature that you could possibly implement. Everything that your research said that anybody could possibly want to do. Plus a few extra cool things that you once saw at a conference.

The first few days look good. Lots of people are logging on. Usage statistics are going up. Hopes are high that before long, this site will be the buzzing information and social hub of the company.

But after a week or two the usage stats start to level off, and after a month they have reduced significantly from their glorious peak back down to a slow trickle. By your first bi-annual review, the usage hasn’t really picked up at all, and you are left scratching your head to figure out where to go from here.

So what just happened? Well, clearly the launch of a new intranet, or feature within an existing intranet, will be accompanied by a spike in usage. This is quite normal, but it is how the curve behaves after this initial peak that will govern your site’s adoption in the mid-term and beyond.

This is where Everett M Rogers’ Technology Adoption Lifecycle comes in. in 1962, Rogers postulated that any new technology will follow a loosely similar adoption pattern, based on different groups of people with different attitudes toward new technologies:

The Enthusiasts, Visionaries, Pragmatists, Conservatives and Sceptics.

The Adoption Chasm

During the first week or two of launch, we had the Enthusiasts, the Visionaries, the Pragmatists and perhaps even the Conservatives show a bit of interest. The Enthusiasts and the Visionaries logged on, saw some cool features that they liked, they set up their profile, added all their colleagues to their contacts list and started eagerly imagining how this new site could fit into their day-to-day jobs.

The Pragmatists logged on and saw a site packed full of features, assumed that their intended use will become apparent over time and then logged off, awaiting a time when they would be required to log back on.

The Conservatives may have logged on, seen a site full of stuff they don’t really see the point of, and logged off again, hoping that they would not need to give up their existing, comfortable routines.

After the first week or two of launch, the only people left using the site are the Enthusiasts and the Visionaries.

This pattern of behaviour was first identified by Geoffrey A Moore in 1991, and he called it the Adoption Chasm.

Let us take for granted that the launch of any new intranet will be accompanied by a peak in usage. Let's then focus on the usage pattern after this initial peak. If usage remains nothing more than a slow trickle of Enthusiasts and Visionaries, you have failed to engage the Pragmatists and Conservatives and have fallen foul of the adoption chasm.

So how can we stop this from happening? How can we turn our usage graph into this instead?

We will need to Bridge the Adoption Chasm – we need to find a way of engaging the Pragmatists and the Conservatives.

Understanding Human Behaviour

To bridge the adoption chasm, we must first understand a bit more about why people behave in the ways that they do. If we can understand this then we can begin to formulate a plan to better engage the Pragmatists and the Conservatives.

This is where Abraham Maslow’s 1943 Hierarchy of Needs comes in. Maslow states we are all governed by a hierarchy of needs that we must satisfy in order achieve personal fulfilment and wellbeing. Our most basic needs are at the bottom of the hierarchy and our more aspirational ones are at the top.

Maslow develops this idea, stating that we cannot focus on a particular stratum in the hierarchy unless we have first satisfied all the supporting strata.

At first this may not seem relevant to technology adoption, but in 2013 Aaron Kim, Head of the Digital Social Collaboration Centre of Excellence at Royal Bank of Canada, noticed that the five personality groups in the technology adoption lifecycle could be loosely identified with the five strata in the hierarchy of needs.

This connection allows us to understand a bit more about why each personality group behaves in the way it does.

The Sceptics and the Conservatives will be motivated to use a site when their survival or wellbeing are at risk. In other words, you must make sure your site offers functionality that is essential for their day to day work. Anything less and although they may log on once at launch, they are unlikely to return.

The Pragmatists will use a site if it can demonstrate a useful purpose to them and their work. In other words, you must make sure your site contains functionality that makes their lives easier or more enjoyable.

You can appeal to the Visionaries and the Enthusiasts by giving them opportunities within the site for prestige and recognition, typically with social or collaborative features.

You should then use all the levers at your disposal to propagate momentum throughout the organisation. This is done with a mixture of traditional messages and a strategy to create and maintain buzz around the intranet.

Finally, you must base the entire intranet project on firm grounding by ensuring that you have wholehearted support from the management. This will ensure that proper resources and funding are available where necessary. You can do this by demonstrating why the intranet will benefit them directly, as well as the organisation as a whole. In other words, ROI.

The Principles of Intranet Engagement

So to summarise:

  1. For the Sceptics and Conservatives the site needs to be essential for day-to-day business (i.e. reasons to log on).
  2. For the Pragmatists the site needs to be worth returning to (i.e. reasons to return).
  3. Appeal to the Enthusiasts and Visionaries by giving them opportunities for prestige and recognition (i.e. reasons to lead)

These building blocks are the 3 principles of intranet engagement. But as we know, strong building blocks must be built on solid foundations:

  1. Secure wholehearted support from the management (i.e. reasons to sponsor).

Finally, we need a communications strategy to spread the word to the furthest reaches of the organisation:

  1. Propagate momentum throughout the organisation by leveraging the enthusiasts and the visionaries as well as traditional messaging techniques (i.e. ways to advocate).

This is the SmallWorlders Intranet Engagement Framework.

Engagement Framework

The key to bridging the adoption chasm is one of momentum. People will use the site if they think that everybody else is using the site. There is a buzz that naturally accompanies the launch of any new site, and it is capturing this buzz and turning it into an ongoing excitement that is the key difference between a highly engaged intranet and a barren digital wasteland.

The 3 principles represent a thorough, 360° approach to engaging all personality types within an organisation. If properly executed they will keep the momentum and the excitement high enough that the post-launch usage spike will not fall back to nothing, but rather turn into a healthy, increasing usage pattern for the future.

You can read more about the SmallWorlders Intranet Engagement Framework, including a detailed approach to each of the 5 parts, in our free eBook: Bridging The Adoption Chasm.

Dan Jones, January 2015.