More than half of my recent conversations with internal communications peers included frustration that their work is undervalued or not seen as strategic within the organization.
In fact, the head of communications at an international non-profit confided that she feared her incoming CEO might not support the existence of a communications function at all, putting her job at risk.
My advice to her and other communicators struggling with this issue? Start thinking like a marketer.
What IC can learn from marketing:
- Know your audience
As part of a routine communications audit, employee focus groups told me that they do not know why they receive certain messages.
Often, they are unclear what the relevance of communication is to them in their role.
For your communication to have an impact, you must take time to understand your audience and target your message.
When major brands launch a new product, they do not create one ad to reach all potential customers. Why do we, or the business leaders we support, assume it is acceptable to do that for employees?
I encourage my team to get to know our employees and find ways to segment communications so we reach the right people at the right time with the right message.
For a fun exercise, create customer profiles by department and geography. What do they like? What do they dislike? How do they view themselves? How do they feel about communication? How do they like to receive information?
Using your existing technology, you can create targeted distributions for emails. You can segment messages by location on digital signage. HRIS database integration allows for customized content on intranet pages or mobile apps.
Leverage channels that meet employees where they work, whether that’s a collaboration tool like Slack, a desktop alert, or, in the case of non-desk workers, high impact floor graphics. To be effective, don’t forget to ask employees how they prefer to receive information as well.
- Build a strong media mix
“We sent everyone an email, but no one read it.” Sound familiar? Good marketers do not rely on only one vehicle, and neither should you. Internal communications should not rely on a one-size-fits-most approach.
Create a list of all of your communication opportunities (meetings, email, newsletter, digital signage, mobile app, intranet, etc.) and define a strategy for them.
For each, identify what types of messages work best, its audience reach, and how you will interact with employees on the platform. Combine your audience analysis with vehicle analysis and you have a powerful tool for targeted communication.
- We don’t live in a one-way communication world
As a marketer, I had to convince leaders that converting traditional broadcast GRPs to digital buys (and the human resources to manage social media properly) was a sound decision.
They had to learn to trust consumers with pieces of their brand image. Years have passed, but many internal communicators have not had the same conversation about employee messaging.
Comments are blocked on the intranet. No time is allowed for questions or input outside of formal town halls. If you have a top-down, broadcast-only approach to communication, your leaders are missing out on employee engagement and advocacy potential.
A year ago, my team began crowdsourcing content for one section of our quarterly all-company call and soliciting questions in advance through a name-optional form.
Overall satisfaction with the calls immediately improved 5%. There are free solutions to crowdsource questions. You can also pay for services that allow transparent question solicitation with audience voting as well as interactive polls.
Digital workspaces allow comments; some have forums for informal live Q&A (think of it as an internal Twitter chat) with leadership. Encourage social interactions.
Ask for feedback. Above all, don’t let fear of the unknown prevent you from creating a two-way conversation with employees.
- Start with the end in mind
Before you write anything, take time to think about what you want to accomplish. What does success look like for this campaign? At the end of the day, what actions do you want your employees to take?
For internal communications, in particular, it is important to connect communications goals to business goals such as increasing sales, improving performance, attaining adoption of a new platform, retaining talent, improving engagement, etc.
Most important, make sure you select SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound).
- Measure your results
Colleagues who evaluate awards submissions consistently complain about the number of submissions with no measurement or the wrong type of measurement. Do not let a small budget be a barrier to measurement. There are a number of options that can be free — surveys, focus groups, pulse networks — or can leverage other organizational tools.
Be certain you have a way to measure the success of each of your goals with a heavier emphasis on message penetration and action than readership and clicks. Once you measure, know your numbers.
Create a dashboard and keep it with you. There is no better way to reinforce your point of view with leaders than by supporting your position with data.
- Write compelling copy…or don’t write copy at all
I am not ashamed to admit that I will occasionally use clickbait subject lines to encourage employees to open the email. But if the content isn’t just as interesting, your message will not break through.
One of our biggest hurdles is overcoming our internal stakeholders’ desires to send lengthy jargon-filled or highly technical emails.
In fact, the International Association of Business Communicators reported that only 21% of communicators say they keep their language simple and jargon-free.
That leaves a lot of employees confused, uninformed, or possibly bored with what you are sending them. Keep it simple with a tone that is relevant to the audience, but in keeping with your company brand.
Alternatively, do not be afraid to question whether you need to write anything at all. According to the Social Science Research Network, 65% of the population are visual learners. Introduce infographics to break up or replace text.
Consider adding video to your arsenal — but be mindful to include closed captioning for both accessibility and employees who do not have headphones available.
The best marketers are bold, innovative, and not afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to blow up what you are doing and reimagine what it could be using these tips.
Change is never easy, but your leaders and employees might thank you for it.