(Conducting an audit is a critical element of any internal communications strategy. This blog has been commissioned from auditing expert Sharon O’Dea to coincide with the publication of our new whitepaper, The Ultimate Guide to Internal Communications Strategy, and related webinar – the Poppulo Team).
When you work in comms you’ve probably got a hundred different requests coming in, plus the cycles of business planning and campaigns and all those other things that land on your desk. So investing time in running an audit can feel like it isn’t a priority.
When you have a leaky roof, you can leave it be. It makes your roof less effective at keeping the rain and cold at bay. It also means you regularly have to spend time mopping up rain when it gets in. You might need to spend more to heat your house because of all the heat escaping.
The same goes for your internal comms. When you have channels or content that aren’t quite doing as well as you’d like, you have to use extra time and energy to deliver the intended outcome – to make your people know, feel or do something differently.
Taking the time to identify what’s working and what isn’t will pay dividends in the medium to long term as it means you spend less time mopping up, and lose less through inefficient comms.
It’s easier to fix your roof on a nice summer’s day than when you have a storm coming in. And in the same way, prioritizing an audit in a relatively quiet period will mean you’re better prepared to weather any future storms and be far better placed to deliver impactful comms every day.
The aim of an audit is to provide actionable intelligence for you and your team so you can make your comms more effective and impactful, by:
- Identifying problems which stop the comms you produce and distribute being as effective as you’d like
- Identify possible opportunities for engagement. By talking to users and audiences we find out more about the things they want and need to hear about. These create opportunities for communications.
- Identify how the work you do can contribute to organizational goals – generating value through the organisation through improved engagement, productivity, etc.
A good audit is focused, so you make best use of your resources and get the right information to drive up quality and effectiveness. Unless you have all the time and money in the world It’s essential to know what you’re trying to find out and focus accordingly – for example to look at processes, content or measurement, or to better understand audience needs?
What’s the audit process?
When I audit internal communications I’m aiming to get an understanding of context, channels, audience needs and performance in the round. This means building out a broad picture, then focusing in on those questions I need to answer to get a more detailed picture.
First, it’s essential to understand the content in which communications are developed and received. This will include the things you can see and know – regulation, IT constraints, physical environment, the nature of the work – but it also includes things you can’t see immediately, like competitive challenges and the extent to which shadow IT is used.
People, processes and tools
Next, it’s essential to understand the processes and tools you have at your own disposal. This includes:
- Mapping out the ecosystem of tools you use, such as publishing platforms and analytics tools. This will help you understand where you have duplication of effort or cost, and in turn where you might be able to identify savings
- Mapping the processes by which communications are commissioned, developed, approved, published and measured
- Understanding skills and capability of your own team. The aim here isn’t to test performance, but rather to understand where there are training need
Utility is the number one driver of adoption; understand what people actually need, then meet those needs, and you have a strong chance your channels will be used regularly.
Start with some desk research. Who works for you? In what roles? How are they distributed? Understanding when, where and how communications are received will help you understand what people need and want.
Take a closer look at recent employee surveys to pull out insights on your channels, leadership and employee priorities. You could also consider running an internal communications survey, to understand views and perceptions of existing content, channels and tools. These give everyone the opportunity to have their say.
But on their own surveys can give misleading conclusions as employees often say what they think should be the right answer rather than what they actually do in their working lives.
It’s essential to get a feel for how people work in real life in order to understand why communications is or is not working, so combine quantitative data with qualitative approaches to get a rounded view of employee and organizational needs.
I use a combination of interviews, focus groups and observation to fully understand audience roles, goals, contexts, thoughts and feelings.
I watch people as they work to see how they search for and use information and their responses when they receive communications. I sneak a look at what people keep on their desk; the printouts and post-its people keep to hand are fascinating insights into the shortcuts people use every day.
You can have the perfect channel mix, and no problems with capacity or culture and still fail to deliver the intended outcome if the content isn’t up to scratch.
So it’s important any review looks at the quality and quantity of content employees receive.
Start with analytics if you can. At the very least this will show you what’s most or least read, while more fully-featured analytics tools will also give you richer detail such as heat maps to show where content was clicked. This can help you identify where there are a problems, like incomplete user journeys, or where content is performing particularly well.
Finally, take a look at the content itself and assess what’s good or bad about it. Is it short? Jargon-free? Does it have a call to action? Is it on-brand?
As I said at the start, an audit needs to be focused, so throughout this process in reality we will have been refining and validating hypotheses to help us answer specific questions. For example to help us get messaging to people in ways that resonate and help us achieve our organizational goals.
By the end of the final stage I usually have a list of 50 to 100 clear problem statements which have been confirmed through data or interviews. This could demonstrate that a channel isn’t working, that an employee need is not met, or that there is duplication of effort or spend.
At this stage I work with teams to prioritize those problems. Which have the greatest business impact? What are easy to solve? In prioritising these needs we develop an action plan for changes.
Develop a realistic timetable and assign clear responsibilities for making changes based on the evidence gathered in the audit.
Remember, just because it works now doesn’t mean it will in a year’s time. Build continuous measurement into your ways of working, and consider doing a thorough audit every few years to ensure you stay on track and that your channels and content continue to deliver value for employees, and for your organization.