You can spend hours reading about internal communications best practices and dive deep into case studies that detail what worked for other brands, and you’ll definitely learn something.
But none of that will ultimately teach you the most important information you need to develop a successful internal communications strategy for your business.
The best information on what internal communications channels and methods work for your employees is found, well, internally.
That’s a topic that kept coming up at our panel discussion at Poppulo’s Communicator Forum in Dublin. The conversation between Chris Hill, the Communications Lead at Unilever; Kieran Ivers, Senior Communications Specialist at Poppulo; and Jeremy Petty, Managing Director of Scarlott Abbot, moderated by Poppulo’s Mairéad Maher, touched on the importance of making sure your internal communications strategy works for your employees specifically.
Why Your Business Needs a Unique Internal Communications Strategy
The right internal communications strategy for your business depends on a number of factors that are unique to your business. They include the way your business is structured, the particular types of messaging you need to communicate with your employees, and the channels you have available to you. But most important of all, they depend on your employees.
Your employees are different from those of any other business and, notably, they’re not all a monolith within your own business. Chris Hill addressed this during the panel, noting that there are a lot of assumptions in business “that we know our audience, they’re employees and it’s a homogenous group—but it’s not.”
You have to pay attention to who your employees are and how they actually behave if you want to reach them effectively.
You may have the technology to send your entire workforce an email with the click of a mouse, which is convenient for sure, but it’s only effective if all of your employees check email every day.
As Chris noted, around 70,000 of Unilever’s employees aren’t connected to the intranet most days. While your average desk worker would never think of it, for those employees, the company has found that posting “door talkers”— or print notices that are attached to doors of bathroom stalls—work better than an email.
That’s a novel idea you won’t see in a lot “best practices” lists for internal communications, but in this particular context at Unilever, it works. The only way to find your company’s version of door talkers is to collect and learn from your data.
Collecting Internal Communications Data
To learn from your data, you have to know where to find it and how to use it.
Qualitative and Quantitative Data
Jeremy Petty described two main types of data businesses should be collecting. Qualitative data includes analytics and employee surveys that show you the big trends in your internal communications— “that big kind of pulse-check on the organization. what are those burning issues,” as he puts it.
You’ll gain more insights into that data by following it up with qualitative work like focus groups, listening exercises, and telephone interviews. Actually talking to your employees about the issues the quantitative data presents shows you the story behind the numbers.
Combining the two data types is what it takes to paint a full picture of who your employees are, how they encounter and process internal communications, and how you can best reach them.
Effectively Analyzing Your Communications Data
In addition to the different types of data, Chris underlined the importance of asking two main questions when you’re analyzing your data. First, you must measure how many people you were able to reach with your message. That’s a question that can be answered with simple metrics like open rates or views.
But the second question is really the more important one: is the communication successful? It’s possible to open an email without reading it. And it’s possible to see a message without fully processing it, or putting the information into practice.
Chris illustrated this point with the example of a company that faced the issue of employees ignoring the travel rules and making their own bookings outside of the system. One of the managers proposed sending emails to the whole company reminding them of the rules. That seemed like an easy enough way to get the message they wanted out, and they had the technology to send 100,000 emails out all at once.
But here’s where quantitative data comes in, because the ability to reach all of the employees at once with a particular message wouldn’t have been good enough in this scenario. And measuring open rates wouldn’t have told them if the communication was successful.
When they actually sat down with the specific people guilty of the problem they were trying to solve, they learned that the issue wasn’t ignorance of the rules, they just didn’t want to bother with them.
The solution they needed wasn’t about education; it was about enforcement. Instead of communicating the rules to all of their thousands of employees, they needed to identify the people who were in charge of the few rogue employees breaking the rules and communicate to them the importance of holding their employees accountable.
“Tell them to tell those people, because they know who they are, they’re not going to get their expenses paid if they carry on doing it,” explained Chris. And once you’ve gotten that message out, the right measurement to determine the success of that communication is how many people continue to break the rules.
When you can put a number to that, your department shifts from being the people who can successfully get a message out to the people who help the company solve problems in a direct and tangible way. That makes internal communications much more valuable in the eyes of company stakeholders.
Put the Data to Use in Your Internal Communications Strategy
As Jeremy emphasized, collecting and analyzing your internal communications data is only valuable if you use it.
“It’s essential that your strategy is born out of the data and the insights that you glean from the organization, but make sure that absolutely marries up to the business organizational strategy,” he said.
Internal communications will be valued more in the boardroom if you can point to specific ways your efforts are delivering on their goals. If you can show not only real evidence of improved employee engagement, but also how that translates into better customer service and increased revenue, you’ll be adding real value to the company on multiple levels.
And just as importantly, you’ll be speaking the language of the people who hold the company’s purse strings. Proving your contribution to the company’s goals creates “a rock-solid business case there for…continued investment in engaging with your people and driving brand advocacy and pride in the organization,” said Jeremy.
It’s a win for everyone.