Best Social Intranet

Boston Children’s Hospital’s social intranet promotes collaboration, innovation, ideas

When the newly hired community manager of Boston Children’s Hospital came to work in mid-2011, she faced a dysfunctional intranet in chaos. Here’s how she turned it around.

- Logo


The community manager of the new social intranet at Boston Children’s Hospital quit in mid-2011. The intranet’s pilot launch had stalled, and only 500 users had clicked on an intranet meant for thousands.

The new community manager, Sarah Mahoney, got to work. She did usability studies. She interviewed the pilot users in depth.

She found that the platform was clunky to use, unintuitive, and in need of more functions. But Boston Children’s IT department didn’t have the staff to help her build another new intranet from scratch.

Mahoney turned to the open-source online community, where she found a good open-source content management system with built-in social functionality. She started over in November of 2011, building and installing a new free social network.

Boston Children’s Hospital rededicated its intranet, SPARC (Social Platform for Accelerating Resources and Connections), in 2012 with one goal in mind: to exploit the intranet’s improved communication and collaboration to speed up clinical innovation.

The success Sarah Mahoney achieved has earned her and Boston Children’s Hospital top honors in the Best Social Intranet category in Ragan’s Health Care PR and Marketing Awards for 2012.

Success was not instant, but it surged in the first half of 2012. Today, SPARC boasts:

  • More than 1,200 users
  • A regular log-on rate of 70 percent (850 of 1,200 users)
  • HR usage for new employee orientation and to measure engagement
  • 40 active groups including clinical, departmental, laboratory, special-interest, and tech
  • 72 percent of users registered as members of at least one group
  • More than 100 blog posts, many by senior leadership
  • More than 700 wiki pages
  • 30 ideas submitted by users in Boston Children’s first Idea Tournament
  • 1,000+ users who voted in that first Idea Tournament

Here’s how Mahoney did it:

  • First, she wrote a comprehensive internal marketing plan
  • She put great emphasis in the plan on WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”) for each user
  • She supplied varied special incentives for employees to visit SPARC
  • She found business reasons to use SPARC: Workers won’t use it just to be social
  • She avoided the common pitfall of a big launch too early
  • She avoided issuing press releases, hosting kick-off events, and sending mass emails
  • She chose a slow, viral launch via a months-long, word-of-mouth campaign
  • She built a strong community sense by conducting interviews with early SPARC adopters
  • She wrote case studies of how early adopters found SPARC useful
  • She adopted a guiding principle: There is an art in telling stories to build community
  • She decided that she must know every part of Boston Children’s intimately
  • She decided that she must know how to balance many functions
  • She made herself a good intranet teacher and site cleaner-upper
  • She steeled herself to be comfortable with online conflict

The seamless coordination of lab and clinical practice didn’t just happen; it required a huge effort by the whole hospital—and an even bigger push from the indispensable community manager. Boston Children’s Hospital’s new intranet and its indefatigable community manager, Sarah Mahoney, embody that drive. We extend our congratulations for bringing into existence this powerful new communications weapon.

View More Health Care PR And Marketing Awards 2012 Winners.

Visit to learn more about awards opportunities.