Internal Knowledge Base: How To Create One For Your Company
By following a few basic steps, you can be up and running quickly with an internal knowledge base that’s not only easy for your team to use, but also helps you find information efficiently while continuing to build and add to it.
Let’s jump right in!
Step 1: Gathering the Necessary Tools
The very first step of anything worth doing is to have a plan, and in order to execute that plan, you have to have the right tools. In our case, this is going to be a very simple and old-fashioned exercise. In fact, all you need to get started is a pen and paper.
Yes, there are probably thousands of apps out there that make it easy for you to plan things, but everyone has its own learning curve and the more time you spend planning, the greater the chance that you’ll get stuck in “analysis paralysis” in terms of making sure everything is perfect. We’re going to keep things simple here.
With your pen and paper, the very first step you want to take is to design a basic article template. To do that, think of the very first question someone might have at your workplace, that they might need to search your knowledge base for. This is going to be the foundation for the content that you add, so think of how you might want to read the answer to that question.
Will your article contain media like video or sound? External documentation like slideshows or flow charts? No matter what external resources you plan to incorporate, sketching out a simple layout for your articles will help give you a visual reference when it comes time to actually create it.
Next, sketch out the homepage of your knowledge base. How do you want to organize the information? It doesn’t have to be extremely detailed, but a basic layout will again, give you a reference point to refer to when you start creating.
Step 2: Deciding Who Will Have Access
Keep in mind that for the purpose of this guide, we’re talking about an internal knowledge base for your work, organization, or club. It’s not going to be a public-facing repository of information. For this guide, the goal is going to be sharing information between employees.
When considering who is going to have access to your internal knowledge base, it’s important to keep two points in mind:
- Employees want transparency - They want to know what’s happening inside the company and get the big picture, so don’t hesitate to give them access to the things that they need in order to do their jobs to the best of their ability .Just be sure that you have legal protections in place to ensure that the right people have access to the right parts.
- Create user permissions - Especially if there may be areas of your knowledge base particularly suited to certain groups or departments, but not others. You want to encourage the free-flow of information but also avoid creating confusion.
It may even be worthwhile to establish a knowledge base team, such as an editor who reviews your articles, employees who contribute them (and are rewarded accordingly) and how often information should be contributed.
Step 3: Preparing the Content
The bigger your company is, the bigger is the looming cloud of “I don’t even know where to start!” and the sense that because there’s so much to do, nothing gets done. Instead of letting that happen, start simple. Create a list of frequently asked questions that you would use to train new employees.
Go to each department: tech support, marketing, sales, and get them to make a list of questions and answers that are most commonly asked. Here again, this doesn’t have to be needlessly complex. You can easily create a collaborative document in Trello or Google Docs and encourage everyone to contribute at least one question and answer.
Eventually as your knowledge base grows, your analytics will give you insights on what people are searching for, so that you can continue to add questions and answers along with supporting media like charts, presentations, videos and so on.
Step 4: Formatting Your Content
Although this is an internal knowledge base and not customer-facing, it’s still a good idea to brand it according to your company’s own style. It can be helpful to have an editor who checks the style and formatting to ensure consistency.
Generally-speaking, short titles in the form of questions work best, and simple “one question per article” styles of content tend to have the best results. This is where you’ll use that article template that you sketched previously. Remember, you’re not writing a blog post so you don’t need to go all out with an introduction -- just get to the solution as quickly and succinctly as possible.
Step 5: Structuring Your Content
One of the most important aspects of your knowledge base is going to be how it is structured in terms of the organization of your content. Will you choose to have several categories or few? Would you prefer to let users or drill down into each category to find what they need?
No matter which option you choose, it’s important to remember that the core goal is to make sure that employees can find what they’re looking for quickly. In other words, having a search bar is great, but if the results that are returned are irrelevant, it won’t do much good.
Ideally, you’ll want to create a few broad categories to start with, and then break those down into subcategories if needed. Here again, refer to the articles page that you sketched in the first step to best determine how to lay out your content. Invite feedback from your colleagues as well in terms of what they feel would be the easiest and fastest solution for them.
Step 6: Choosing the Right Technical Solution
Last, but certainly not least, comes the biggest decision at all -- the technical solution you plan to use. Sketching out page layouts and defining brand style is all well and good, but you need a solution that’s going to be able to make it easy to do all of those things while being easy to search and easy for your colleagues to use.
In order to help make deciding even easier, we recommend:
- Choosing a solution that is purposefully built to be a knowledge base - It might seem great on the surface to have a program or platform that attempts to be everything for everyone, but in the end, it’s better to choose a program solely dedicated to being a knowledge base, since you’ll have a much easier time organizing and creating the actual documents and content that will be part of it.
- Choosing a solution that makes it easy to design, search and collaborate - Here again, having a system that’s designed to be a knowledge base will keep this kind of flexibility front and center. You and your colleagues need to be able to easily search and locate the right articles, design the knowledge base according to your needs and be able to work simultaneously on different aspects of it. Having the flexibility to do all of those things is vital to the overall success of creating an internal knowledge base in the first place.
- Choosing a solution that allows for different user groups or roles - You want your knowledge base to be secure and private, but also accessible. That’s why it’s important to choose a solution that is built with the ability to assign users different roles or groups accordingly. This helps ensure that they can access exactly what they need to, when they need it.
- Choosing a solution that incorporates analytics - You want to be able to see which articles are the most used, which are used the least and much more. Who’s actively contributing and who could use a bit more encouragement? Having a system with analytics built in will show you this information and much more.
- Choosing a solution that incorporates user feedback - A knowledge base isn’t very helpful if no one is using it. That’s why we recommend choosing a solution that lets you gain valuable feedback from the very users it’s intended for. Polls and comments can be incredibly helpful in continuing to design a knowledge base that’s user friendly and accessible, so be sure that any solution you choose has this capability.
By following these steps, not only will you be well on your way to creating the best possible internal knowledge base, but you’ll be doing so with an eye on flexibility and user-friendliness. And to think, it all started with a simple sketch! Once you’ve got the groundwork in place, the next step will be to continue to refine and optimize the result while adding more content. Creating a knowledge base is an ongoing process, but by following this guide, you’ll be able to take your first steps with confidence!
Emil Hajric, 2020