Is Measuring Your Internal Communications Waterloo?
As a product manager with Newsweaver, I am fortunate enough to speak to a lot of our customers and internal communications (IC) industry experts on a daily basis. And over the past 18 months I’ve spoken to dozens of IC professionals on the subject of measuring your internal communications. While that may not sound like the most riveting topic, it’s something I believe holds the key to unlocking the organizational potential of communications.
Based on the conversations I’ve had, there are three topics that come up almost universally in terms of IC measurement that I’d like to share.
One of the motivations for sharing these issues is that, when speaking to internal communicators, I get a real sense that they feel they are working in isolation, and that there aren’t enough IC forums or avenues with which to swap war stories and best practices. A lot of communicators feel that they are working in a vacuum and want access to the wider world experience of internal communications. Hopefully, by sharing these universal issues on the subject of measurement, IC professionals will recognize the problems and understand that they are not alone.
The majority of IC groups struggle, for a variety of reasons with measurement and reporting. Unfortunately the net result of these struggles is that IC reports sent to senior stakeholders can lack clarity, cohesiveness and actionable insights.
One of internal communicators most widely used metrics is the Pageviews metric. For example, in a monthly report to senior stakeholders, the report may illustrate that IC produced one particular content item that generated 1,000 Pageviews. That sounds positive. IC must be doing something right. Right?
Let’s dig a little deeper. As a standalone number, is that Pageview total useful, insightful or actionable? The answer is no.
Presenting IC metrics without context, month after month, undermines the credibility of the IC function in the minds of senior stakeholders. Presenting a metric that is neither insightful nor actionable, when other departments are providing exactly that, is not going to assist in closing any credibility gap that might exist when it comes to IC being a genuine strategic partner.
But a Pageview metric can become much more insightful and valuable if appropriate context is provided.
- What was the strategic goal of the content item?
- Who was that content item aimed at?
- How many of those page views were generated by the intended audience?
- Is 1,000 Pageviews comparable with other new content items that IC produced during the last month?
- Can we segment that number and show where the Pageviews are coming from in terms of location or business unit?
- Can we put that metric in the context of the overall Pageviews total for the time period, was it 1% of total Pageviews or was it 80% of total Pageviews?
- How many unique employees contributed to the 1,000 Pageviews, was it 1,000 employees who all looked at it once, 500 employees who all looked at it twice, or was it one employee who looked at the page 1,000 times?
For IC to really show the value it is adding the organization, we must make the jump from basic reporting on metrics to a reporting in a more nuanced, contextualized and insightful manner.
The second common pain point among the majority of internal communication functions is a lack of control over their reporting. Most of the digital channels utilized by IC fall under the purview of the IT team, in terms of installation, upgrades, maintenance and reporting.
Taking the intranet as an example, IT install and configure SharePoint and, once live, handle the monitoring and reporting requirements. Same with an ESN like Yammer or setting up a video channel. In this all too common scenario, IC has to have the IT department generate their reporting for the individual channel.
It is fair to say from my conversations with IC professionals that providing IC with their monthly reports is not at or near the top of IT’s list of priorities.
This is a big problem. A lot of communicators I have spoken to don’t trust the reports/metrics that IT gives them. In that scenario, how can IC expect senior stakeholders to trust the reports they receive from IC?
It comes down to control. IC is in a much stronger position to control its own destiny and ensure that the reports being produced are credible, cohesive and demonstrate IC’s strategic value to the organization when it is in control of its own reporting. Unfortunately this current dependency on other functional areas for reporting metrics is a big drag on IC and their perception within the organisation.
The final issue that seems universal is the issue of communications planning. Again, based on my conversations with communicators, the ratio of unplanned to planned communications is about 65:35 with almost two thirds of communications unplanned. When I hear communicators settling on or around those figures, I wonder if those ad hoc communications are linked to your strategic goals? I also wonder if these unplanned communications have defined objectives and what kind of reporting and goals are in place.
It may seem obvious but why would you produce content with no goal?
Each item of content should have a measurable goal associated with it. The goal of an email might be to drive people to a specific intranet page that explains the organization’s strategic direction for the next six months. So the email has a goal of driving people to the intranet, and the intranet content has a goal of informing employees about the strategic landscape of the organization for the next six months. Now, we explicitly know what we are trying to achieve with these content items and armed with that context, we can begin our content creation process.
Planning communications in a large organization is not an easy task.
There will always be reactive communication requirements that don’t allow time for a formal planning effort. But even taking a step back and asking ‘what are our IC goals for the next quarter?” is a very valuable exercise and can lead to a closer alignment of IC goals with the organization’s goals, so that the IC function is very obviously seen as supporting the strategic objectives of the organization.
If you plan your communications with agreed transparent goals and KPI’s, measure and iterate as required, and then provide a context rich report, the credibility of the IC function will increase.
And down the road as the IC function gets more sophisticated in understanding its audience and what works for them in terms of channel delivery and message content, IC should be able to point to increased employee engagement, and ultimately link improved engagement with improved organizational performance.