Transform Confluence into a social intranet using themes

Berry Kersten

Berry Kersten

Published: 1 April, 2020

You probably already know that Confluence is great for collaboration, knowledge management, technical documentation and for knowledgebases. But did you also know it can be used as an intranet? People might say that it looks too technical or that it's not user friendly enough, but in fact, there are several theming options available in the Marketplace that can help transform Confluence into a beautifully branded, fully functional (social) intranet. In this blog, I will describe some of these theming solutions, along with their key features.

theming-confluence-social (1)

Why Use a theme for Confluence?

Confluence is already advertised as an intranet, and by default, you can change the appearance (or look and feel) for the whole site and for individual spaces. So why do you need for a theme? Well, sometimes you just want the look and feel to fit your branding and you can't quite get there with the out-of-the-box options. Sometimes you really want more options for advanced layout customization or navigation menus. It could also be that your Confluence instance is just growing exponentially and that the default Confluence look and feel, its navigation and layout just isn't cutting it anymore for the number of users and the amount of content you have.

We hear these things pretty often:

  • "Confluence is too technical"
  • "I can't find content"
  • "I wish there was clear navigation"
  • "It's doesn't match our company's brand" 

In other words, there are several good reasons to use themes because in the end, you just really want your content to be easily accessible and you want to users to be engaged as much as possible. 

Social intranets

There are quite a few theming apps available in the Atlassian marketplace, so which one should you choose?

There are many factors in the decision process, like the need for branding, navigation and/or extra social features for your intranet. To provide you with some inspiration and perhaps to give you a kick start on your social intranet journey, we've selected three apps with which we've done successful implementations and that we certainly feel good in recommending. The three apps have some features in common and have their own unique characteristics as well in terms of theming, navigation, supporting collaboration, encouraging adoption, supporting specific use cases, etc.

Brikit Theme Press

 

Brikit, the developers of Theme Press, aimed for simplicity for the user first: It's the Confluence theme for non-technical users. The theme provides several look-and-feel layers so you can easily brand your intranet, configure space and page layouts, navigation menus, presentation, and more. In short, the look and feel is fully customizable. It’s not really an out-of-the-box theme for Confluence, although it's not that difficult to use, but you should think of it as more of a site construction kit.

Because Theme Press can do so much, you have to invest the time needed to configure it and to take ownership. But the rewards can certainly be worth the investment. Also, we should note that it's complexity means that it usually takes Brikit a bit more time to be compatible with the latest version of Confluence.

brikit component set-up example

Some features unique to Theme Press:

  • Rich navigation and authoring tools for sites, spaces and pages (also for banners, menus and footers)
  • Architect Pages:  underlying 'control' pages, which help shape, configure, and contribute content
  • Arrange content in multiple columns and editable blocks that allows you to edit content block by block, versus editing an entire page in one go
  • Use the in-context editor to manage colour palettes, font selection, and UI styles to match your exact visual identity
  • The Theme Designer offers simple options for selection, sizing, and positioning 
  • Customize (site-wide or space-wide) menus to provide effective navigation
  • Use macros for powerful, controlled content display and access

There's also the Targeted Search, a powerful add-on to help users find exactly what they're looking for. Deployed to select spaces for team use, or site-wide for a consistent search experience.

View Brikit site (made  in Theme Press)

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designer-screenshot

Refined for Confluence

Refined's goal is to provide users with an out-of-the-box solution that's super easy to use and covers most theming requirements. Among the main features, there is a navigation system that organizes all space within categories in a dropdown menu. Last year the developers released Sites. This means that you can build a structure for your content, not only uniting all spaces in categories, but by adding them to aseparate Site, or even multiple ones...

Refined is quick to set up and you can get some great results with minimal effort. There are limitations as far as customizing the look and feel and the navigation, but all and all it packs a lot of bang for the buck.

Some features of Refined:

  • Organize spaces into categories and sites with the Site Builder 
  • Use Sites for multiple Confluence use cases in the one Confluence instance
  • Organize spaces into categories in a drop-down menu
  • Create themes to match your team brand with the Theme Editor
  • Organize content on Site and Category Homes using custom layouts
  • Configure layouts per space
  • Display content visually using content modules and macros
  • Improve navigation by adding menus and icons
  • View permissions and easily control who sees what content
  • Define search boundaries in a site, category or globally
  • Use the Blog portal for a themed blog experience

There's also the Refined Toolkitfor using different UI elements such as buttons, tabs, etc.

View demo site

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Did you know there's also Refined for Jira? Recently, the vendor expanded the coverage from the existing Jira Service Desk theme engine to also support Jira Core and Jira Software.

Linchpin Theme

This plugin, made by //SEIBERT/MEDIA, is pretty easy to align with your brand. It’s possible to upload your logo, put a background image, optimize the font sizes, colours as you wish. Besides the theme plugin, there are many other modules for supporting different use cases like content personalization or extranet functionality (working with external users in protected spaces). There's also the Linchpin Intranet Suite that combines the most important features of a social intranet into one single app (instead of purchasing multiple apps).

Linchpin is easy enough to install and to use. Although it's a bit limited with how far you can tweak the look and feel, it will satisfy most companies. Where it really shines is when using the intranet feature package Seibert offers. This includes things like microblogging, personalized content, localization, custom navigation, external app integration, advanced profiles and more...

Some features of Linchpin Theme:

  • Use the theme wizard to upload a logo, set primary colours and your theme is ready to go
  • Use the new content modules for the Linchpin Sidebar with the updates stream, open Confluence tasks, open Jira issues, etc.
  • Navigation menus and their visibility are easy to control 
  • Assign non-admin users as menu editors
  • Choose individual colours for header icons, notifications, buttons, links, and more
  • Add personalized links in the footer section
  • Customize the login screen
  • Create different themes for multiple spaces
  • Give access to closed-off spaces to external customers

There's also the Space Privacyadd-on for working with customers, partners, and suppliers in specific extranet spaces for collaborating in private.

View demo site

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Conclusion

Every customer case is different, so we can't single out one of these theming products as the very best solution. Do you want a fully customizable social intranet or just better navigation and a cleaner layout? Or do you need personalized content (based on location, department, interests)?

It's hard to sum up generic pro's and con's as it really is use case dependant. What we've tried to do instead is to line up some of the selection criteria our customers usually have and rate the products that way. We hope this will help you in the decision process!

  Brikit Theme Press Refined Linchpin

Why we love it

Customize Confluence entirely for creating fully branded  corporate intranets

Customize Confluence design partially (which is sufficient in most cases), very quick & easy setup

Transform Confluence into a modular, fully personalized social intranet platform

Theming & customizability

⭐⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 
Ease of use ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 
Social intranet features ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 
Learning curve high low medium
Implementation effort 💪💪💪 💪 💪💪
Price €€

€€€
(when using all the social intranet suite features)

So to conclude, if you want a solid Confluence based intranet/extranet that fits your brand perfectly, you should certainly consider Theme Press. If it's a simple and (relatively) cheap upgrade to Confluence's look & feel and navigation you're after, then go for Refined. If you want to use Confluence as a base for a full-fledge social intranet, then Linchpin is probably the way to go.

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