According to PR Newswire, people in knowledge-based careers lost 5.3 hours a week, either duplicating in-house knowledge or waiting for coworkers to provide essential information. In 2018, these productivity-related snags saw American businesses lose an estimated $47 million a year.
But it gets worse for businesses:
Knowledge silos have a way of self-perpetuating. Multiple staff members are in the dark about every piece of information that one employee knows. And every time someone changes roles or relocates, another piece of institutional information is lost.
Fortunately, you can fix these issues with an internal knowledge base. In addition, a suitable internal knowledge base software can make for a smoother and cleaner experience.
We've got you covered if you want to know how to create a knowledge base that drives results. Keep reading to see how you can get your company on the same page in one fell swoop.
A Quick Primer on Knowledge Bases
As a general rule of thumb, there are two types of knowledge bases:
External and internal.
If you've ever seen a customer-facing FAQ page or a series of documents designed to make using a product more straightforward, you've likely encountered an internal knowledge base.
However, in the same way, you can create a centralized resource for customers, you can also do the same for your coworkers and employees. We've given a more in-depth explanation of knowledge bases and how they work elsewhere, but the concept still stands.
Knowledge bases are where you can give answers to your employees or customers. For the rest of this article, however, we'll hone in and focus on internal knowledge bases.
Why Having an Internal Knowledge Base Matters
At this point, we've all heard of client-facing knowledge bases. From FAQs to branding and advanced techniques, the business argument for these pieces is that they save you time. But do the same benefits of knowledge bases apply to an internal base?
Here are five reasons why your team should run, not walk, toward the creation of an internal knowledge base:
1. It Helps With Onboarding
In 2021, Gallup found that most new hires took about a year to reach their peak performance levels. And if you think about all the rockstars in your company, most of them had an orientation process going.
Imagine how your company would change for the better if new hires didn't have to be handheld every minute of every day. Think about how much better staff integration would be if you had a single resource to refer people to.
As it turns out, efficient customer onboarding can boost your conversion rates.
An internal knowledge base can give new employees the necessary information to hit the ground running. Suppose your company uses a specific software or departments need to know the flagship product specs. In that case, internal knowledge bases can put their tutorials and cheat sheets in a single and accessible location.
2. Internal Knowledge Bases Reduce Departmental Strain
When it comes to clients, customer service teams usually have a list of common complaints. For them, clients are often:
- Asking the same questions
- Taking up a lot of time
- Not using the product correctly
To no one's surprise, user error and departmental bailouts are common internal occurrences for many companies. Is your IT department constantly asking people to try turning their machines on? Are people from the marketing department constantly bombarding the product development team with questions?
Businesses have to be innovative when it comes to keeping customer service teams motivated and happy.
As we all know, internal clients can be just as difficult to serve as external ones. An internal knowledge base can allow your departments to reclaim their workdays while reducing the risk of creating a knowledge silo.
3. An Internal Knowledge Base Will Encourage External Consistency
By the numbers, 83 percent of marketers say authenticity is essential to their branding. Now that people are increasingly paying attention to what companies say and how they present themselves, the last thing you want is to be inconsistent.
For starters, inconsistency can lead to a frustrating customer experience. There's nothing worse than feeling like the victim of a bait and switch when you're the customer.
And secondly, the marketing department saying one thing while the customer service says another can make your brand seem inauthentic. In a world where people are becoming increasingly skeptical of companies and corporate marketing, it pays to have your ducks in a row.
When you've got an internal knowledge base up and running, you can be sure that everyone, from the customer service team to the IT department, is operating from the same information, which can go a long way for your customers.
4. An Internal Knowledge Base Can Speed Up Productivity
Whether you're watching the Olympics or catching a track meet at your local elementary school, both relay races likely had this in common:
There was always a slight pause when the baton was handed off.
If you think of institutional knowledge as a baton, it's easy to see how those minor delays can result in multi-hour productivity losses. It's like the difference between googling something and waiting in line for someone to assist you As your team learns how to navigate the internal knowledge base, people will be able to get more done in less time.
We've talked about the power of automated content marketing before. Similarly, automated internal customer service can free up your team.
In this way, internal knowledge bases are a Holy Grail productivity tool.
5. You Don't Need to Worry About Visibility
Raise your hand if you've experienced this before.
The marketing team wants to build a new landing page ahead of a customer engagement email. So you get together as a team and hammer out a draft. But then, as the management, the writing, and the legal team work their way through the content, the final copy isn't as impactful as it was in draft form.
When you've got liability concerns, client user error, and branding guidelines to think about, these additional layers can protect the company. But when you're creating an internal document, you don't have to think about, "How will this affect our positioning?" or "Is this on brand?" — you're free to focus on clarity and usefulness.
The 4 Qualities of a Fantastic Internal Knowledge Base
Let's say you've seen the business-transforming potential of an internal knowledge base, and you're all-in on making it happen. Even if you've got organizational buy-in, you don't want to be dealing with just any document repository. You want an internal knowledge base that gets the results you're after.
To that end, here are common traits that the best internal knowledge bases have in common:
1. They're Accessible
According to Neuroscience News, people don't take the path of least resistance entirely out of personal preference — it's hardwired into our biology.
Suppose your company has reached a point where internal knowledge bases look like a good idea. In that case, your company already has a problem with knowledge not being readily available. Internal knowledge bases can bring information and data to individuals, but they're only as good as their accessibility.
For this reason, experts recommend that you ensure your internal knowledge base is easy for employees to find. If folks need to click through a labyrinth of documents only to find the information they're looking for near the bottom of the page, they may find it easier to wait for colleagues to provide the answers.
2. The Knowledge Base's Structure Needs to Make Sense
Think about Amazon, eBay, or any other online retailer you've purchased items from. If clicking on a product was hard work, or if the sites were featured white buy buttons over a white background, would browsing Amazon have become a regular hobby for some people? Probably not.
And as a company, you want your internal knowledge base to follow design and UX best practices. You want using the knowledge base to be so easy that employees are turning to it as their first, second, and third line of inquiry.
Like your external client-facing content, you want your knowledge base to be so intuitive that people don't have to think about how to navigate it. That way, when people refer colleagues to the internal knowledge base, the natural response will be, "Sounds good!" and not "I can never figure out how that works!".
3. A Good Internal Knowledge Base Will Answer the Right Questions
Unlike a blog post or company website, your internal knowledge base isn't there to sell people things or get them interested in trying out your product or service. It's a repository of knowledge.
As such, you'll want to ensure that your internal knowledge base addresses the actual questions people are having. You can accomplish this in two ways, and we'll go over each of these in turn.
- Choose Entry-Worthy Topics
For every mission-critical piece of your company's infrastructure, there are likely a dozen internal stakeholders needing help to use it. Even among the more experienced people in your enterprise, a considerable number should be getting more out of your tools.
As the person in charge of your company's internal knowledge base, you'll want to ensure you're answering the questions people are asking. How? By choosing topics that focus on the practical logistics of "how."
This one can be tricky when you're dealing with multiple audiences. But if you can perfect this element, you'll improve your organization's institutional knowledge levels for years to come.
- Match the Intent of Your Users
Have you ever been disappointed by an article that didn't address why you clicked on the site? If you've spent many hours on the internet, the answer to that question is, "Far too many times!".
Even after you've got a list of relevant topics written out, you'll need to ensure that your content is up to par. It just takes an exercise in empathy.
Here's what we mean:
Imagine you're searching for a new way to use your department's latest software. If you know enough about the software to ask questions like, "How can I generate reports with Program X?" you probably don't need a crash course on the history of the software and why your department should be using it. It would be best if you had a simple tutorial telling you how to do the job.
Of course, this will depend on your intended audience, and sophistication levels can differ dramatically from department to department. As such, you should consider creating content under Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced categories.
It's not enough to choose an excellent topic, you'll want to ensure that the substance of your content delivers.
4. A Great Internal Knowledge Base Is Easy to Search
Imagine a world where navigating Google requires you to be a software developer, a data scientist, and a veritable tech wizard to reach the home page. The search engine wouldn't have become the world-famous behemoth it is today, would it?
Your internal knowledge base is your company's version of Google. People will be going here whenever they're stuck. And they'll be referring other people to your knowledge base.
An adequate knowledge base will be so well-designed and intuitive that nobody ever has to stop and think about navigating it. The content people are looking for should be popping up and visible at every opportunity.
Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Fantastic Internal Knowledge Base
At this point, we've talked about why internal knowledge bases are helpful. And then, we've covered the characteristics of a practical internal knowledge base. Now it's time to talk logistics.
Here's how you can make an internal knowledge base in five steps:
1. Take a Closer Look at Your Audience
In marketing circles, people often talk about the "audience of one." Instead of taking a scattershot approach to advertising, you can hone in on a specific demographic and improve your conversion rates.
When you're putting together an internal knowledge base, you're likely serving multiple internal clients by default. So in practice, you're already in a situation where you'll be writing content that speaks to numerous people.
As the person in charge of putting this base together, this puts you in an awkward position. You can't define the target demographic as "The sales team" and call it a day. The tech team, the customer service team, and the marketing department may also be relying on this material.
To ensure that your internal knowledge base appeals to the biggest cross-section possible, you'll want to familiarize yourself with every part of your audience. What kind of sophistication range are you dealing with? Which teams will likely be accessing your knowledge base the most?
These are the questions you'll need to have answers to.
2. Determine Your Content Needs
At this point, you'll know details like:
- How much your departments know
- Everyday tasks people are struggling to complete
This is the part where you put it all together and start writing, right? Not so fast. First, you'll want to determine how your audience demographics affect your content.
Here's an example.
Let's say your company uses a custom software solution for its KPI tracking. Although the UI looks like it should be intuitive enough, people need help to do anything more than the basics.
You've realized that your future internal audience members will include the tech, management, and customer service teams. Because you're dealing with such a varied audience, you know that everyone reviewing the content will approach it with slightly different motives.
The tech team likely won't need help using the software for its intended purpose. They may be reading your internal knowledge base entry to better understand what features they need to include in future upgrades.
The customer service team might read the entry to test some of the software's features. And the managers may be reviewing the guide to see how they can make department-wide changes without disrupting production timelines.
To satisfy the needs of your most prominent groups, you'll likely want your internal knowledge base entries to include intermediate-level tips and tricks, Software 101 explanations, and a set of developer's notes at the bottom.
Once you get into the habit of matching real people to the content you're putting together, you'll be in fantastic shape as we advance.
3. Map Out Your Knowledge Base Structure
Internal knowledge bases are often compared to websites. First, there's a home page or a central screen. Then, there's a menu and a series of links that people are invited to then check out.
You'll want to ensure that your knowledge base is organized in a way that makes sense for your company.
It may mean creating a drop-down menu that allows people to sort by department or general category. You may create encyclopedic entries that enable people to click on a table of contents to find the details they're interested in.
You want your internal knowledge base to have a simple and clean design. The way you think about accessibility and the user experience will make a massive difference in this regard.
4. Look for Ways to Enhance the Content
Williams College's Office of Information Technology once noted that the human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than it can process text. To put this bit of data in context, this means that images and video tutorials can take your internal knowledge base to another level.
Imagine the marketing department has a staff member with a gift for absorbing text-based information. A simple article in the internal knowledge base could be enough for that person.
However, a text-based knowledge base will only reach its full potential if you've got sales team members that live for YouTube tutorials and an additional group that learns best through multiple mediums.
Practically, you want to treat only some knowledge base entry as an opportunity to test your creative chops. People are still using your resource to answer their questions quickly.
But if you can look for ways to embed content enhancements into your ideation process, your internal knowledge base will be better equipped to assist people with varying strengths and skill sets.
5. Publicize the Publication
Raise your hand if you've seen this scenario play out before.
A new businessperson hits the scene. They've got a beautiful building, enthusiastic staff, and a killer product to boot.
But despite all of these positive initial signs, there's a problem.
The business keeps losing money, and eventually, the businessperson is left with no option but to quit.
"If you build it, they will come" is probably sound marketing advice in a 19th-century small town where gossip and a new building can do the heavy lifting for a new business. Today, internal communications teams can't rely on the grapevine to get people to use the company knowledge base — there has to be an extended promotional campaign.
Your knowledge base is only helpful if people actively seek it out and use it. To ensure that your new creation has maximum impact, you've got to let folks know that it exists.
5 Top Knowledge Base Practices You Need to Know
You've got your internal knowledge base pieces laid out on paper. And you think you've hammered out a solid strategy.
What can you do to put your knowledge base over the top? We've got a list of best practices that will save you time while driving results.
1. Make Content Templates
When executing ambitious projects like this, it's not unusual for the quality of your entries to change dramatically depending on who's producing the content.
Sometimes your product and tech experts need to be more skilled writers, and other times, your writers must become more familiar with the topic to write compelling content. Sometimes, the content quality could be better purely because your team has developed a bad case of writer's block.
However, you've still got deadlines. You need a certain number of entries in the knowledge base before launch.
Delays and attrition are more likely to happen when the team constantly reinvents the wheel. But content templates can go a long way towards telling people what to write and when, and they can banish the dreaded blank page syndrome while ensuring a consistent quality standard across your entire knowledge base.
2. Create a Calendar
If you are not careful, making and launching an internal knowledge base is the kind of project that can derail you for one or two quarters. That's why it pays to create a system that allows you to do extra work daily.
When you've got the tech framework, the wireframes, and the basic design locked and loaded, the last item you need to tackle is the content. However, rushed content is often lower quality. For this reason, a calendar can help you as you build your internal knowledge database.
In a perfect world, the calendar will include details like:
- The production timeline
- The tasks that need to be completed
- The people responsible for each outstanding job
- The smaller deadlines within the larger project
When you've got a pool of topics picked, and your team is ready to go, pausing to set dates and construct a detailed calendar can feel like an unreasonable delay. But once the end-of-quarter crunch starts getting to you, you'll be glad you took the time to put everything together.
3. Have a System for Sourcing Topics
We've covered the process of creating an internal knowledge base. And then, we talked about the logistics of creating a calendar and a method for executing your project. However, none of that addresses the piece that your project can't function without:
Topic sourcing. If you have no topics or if you're choosing bad topics, your internal knowledge base won't be as effective as it could be. Fortunately, there are three simple ways that you can generate knowledge base entries on autopilot:
1. Customer Reviews
Have you ever rolled out a new product or listened in on the Product Development team? Chances are you've heard the term "pain points" being thrown around in the lunch room. Entrepreneurs discovered that there's an easy way to spot and address potential problems:
Only some people have the time or money to run focus groups. And that's okay. You can flip the customer reviews to your benefit while developing topic ideas.
Why? Because customer pain points may indicate a knowledge gap in your organization, a benefit your staff needs to communicate to clients or both.
Customer reviews are a treasure trove of intel if you want internal knowledge base topics that can make a difference to the company's reputation and bottom line.
2. Lunchroom Venting
We've all had a coworker who goes above and beyond the call of duty.
They put up with inefficient processes. They attend meetings and spend all their time putting out fires.
Even after a long day of duplicating work and writing endless reports, many professionals will quit their jobs before letting their managers know they're overworked and struggling. But do you know who often needs to be aware of these systematic problems? Their coworkers.
People bond over food and bad shared experiences, and it's human nature. As such, a surprising number of knowledge-base-worthy topics are being discussed every day in the lunchroom.
People may take five steps to do a task they can handle in two. The product information the customer service team keeps looking for may be in a less-than-intuitive spreadsheet.
When you sit down and listen to people during lunch, you won't be out of relevant knowledge base topics for long.
3. Common Problems in Your Industry
They say you should always be trailblazing and creating benchmarks. But as it turns out, comparing yourself to the competition can help you build a best-in-class knowledge base.
What do we mean? Here's an example.
Imagine you're in the landscaping business. You're committed to your clients, and you're landing contracts. But you need help to get accurate clock-in and clock-out times from your employees.
Management doesn't have the time to oversee each timesheet. However, these work-related issues are wreaking havoc on your payroll department. In addition, you need help updating clients about their projects.
If your company needs help keeping track of job sites and workers, your competition will likely struggle with the same problems.
In your industry, you might be okay with tracking workers. Perhaps companies routinely struggle with providing basic product knowledge. Or they may have a difficult time drafting contracts for clients.
You can mine the website and reviews of your competitors to uncover potential topics for your knowledge base. It's a decision that you'll be glad you made.
4. Keep Revisiting the Content
Even after you've started creating and publishing content, you shouldn't assume that your job is done. You never know when a new development will make it necessary to refresh your knowledge base entries.
However, there's another reason why you'll want to do a regular review of your internal knowledge base:
No matter how good your first entry was, it won't hold a candle to your tenth or two-hundredth piece. And as you become more experienced at publishing tutorials, you should sweep your older entries to ensure consistency across the base.
It'll keep the knowledge in the base up to date. And the improvements you make might surprise you.
5. Have a Standard for Success
Creating metrics is straightforward when launching a new product or implementing a new set of customer service KPIs, and that's not the case with internal knowledge bases.
For example, if staff members don't access the knowledge base as often for a couple of weeks, that doesn't mean that the project has failed.
The cool thing about internal knowledge bases is that they can indirectly affect the company's success. For this reason, consider using productivity metrics to get a sense of your base's overall impact. Either way, if you want to justify the project, you'll want to have your criteria for success ready before you launch.
You never know when that knowledge base data will come in handy.
6. Think of Ways to Upgrade Your Content
There are knowledge base entries that look pretty. And then, some entries enable your team members to take helpfulness to the next level.
Look back on your personal life. When there's an issue with your food order, you want to avoid hearing from the customer service agent who can recite company policy. You want the person who knows how to escalate the issue.
Refrain from thinking of your tutorials as a way to dump information in front of people. Try to find opportunities to anticipate people's needs.
Here's what we mean.
If you've got a tutorial that helps people generate reports quickly, you can conclude the entry and call it a day. Or you can say, "What would this person need to see next?".
You can link them to an article about the software's data visualization tool. You could link them to an entry that talks about embedding tables into documents. The sky is quite literally the limit.
The Main Difference Between Effective Knowledge Bases and Ineffective Knowledge Bases
An internal knowledge base can have all the ingredients needed for success.
It can have a flawless design and be filled with helpful content. But a lousy tech setup has the potential to derail everything.
Fortunately, we've put together a list of absolute musts for your internal knowledge base software:
1. It's Robust and Reliable
Have you ever visited a site that's extremely hit or miss regarding loading times? For most people, the answer to that is "Far too often.".
Your internal knowledge base is supposed to be a resource that helps people avoid emergencies. If the core isn't loading, it cannot do its job.
There are a lot of software tools out there that look incredible. But if the tech stack has a reputation for being less than responsive, you should look for more reliable software solutions.
2. It Plays Nicely With Your Other Apps
Unless your IT department is starting entirely from scratch, your company probably has a bunch of software solutions it uses, like Microsoft Office, Google Workspace, and Chrome.
A Google Doc can be downloaded in Word-compatible format, and you can use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to feed information into Word. In other words, your current desktop applications are compatible with each other.
And in a world where businesses can only afford more tech-related problems than necessary, you want to ensure your internal knowledge base is known for its inability to work with your current tech setup.
The right knowledge base software will work well with the tech you already have.
3. It Has an Intuitive Layout
We've discussed the importance of excellent UI regarding the look and feel of your knowledge base for end users. But it's important to remember that you also have other projects.
If your internal knowledge base software has many hidden features and a 20-hour tutorial to boot, that's a problem for two reasons.
First, a 40-step publication process will take up more of your time than it should. And second, because the software is challenging to learn and use, the knowledge base project will stall if you ever go on vacation or leave the company.
In addition to all of that, unwieldy software isn't fun to use.
A few years ago, the internet got excited when someone posted a video of a chimpanzee using Instagram. Aside from the entertainment value, it also spoke to the more profound truth about what an effective UI looks like:
Instagram's design is so easy to use that even a chimpanzee can use it.
You don't need a software solution with an Instagram-level UI for your internal knowledge base. But you do need a software solution that doesn't leave you frustrated and confused.
Can you create new entries and post without problems? Does it allow you to change links and embed different media? Put another way, does the knowledge base software UI make it easy for you to get things done?
You'll save a ton of time by sticking closely to this requirement.
4. The Software Offers Solutions to Common Problems
You've got the internal knowledge base up and running. The entries look great, and your content is top-notch. But people aren't responding to your feedback emails as often as you would have liked.
With a less agile software solution, you're stuck looking for third-party solutions and unconventional methods to get results. But when you've picked the right program for your knowledge base software, adding feedback forms to your entries can be done at the push of a button.
As a software provider company, we pride ourselves on the fact that we're constantly adding new features and capabilities to our platform. Why? Because we want our software to be a solution to the problems you're facing and not a cause of additional workplace stress.
Looking for Internal Knowledge Base Software? We've Got You Covered
From marketing campaigns to customer support and executive decision-making, institutional knowledge can transform companies for the better. However, bringing all of that information together can take time and effort.
Internal knowledge base software allows you to create a centralized resource in record time — but that depends on your ability to pick the right solution.
We specialize in creating software for small businesses and enterprises that want to get more done. From email management to shared resources, our platform has all the productivity-boosting tools you need and more.
Register for your free trial today.