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5 predictions for internal communications in 2018

PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey  made it fairly clear that the past few years have carried some uncertainty for communications professionals.

Nearly 40 percent of communications pros said they were only measuring a few communications efforts or weren’t measuring at all. Most (59 percent) were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with the measurement their employers used. Lack of time, tools and budget were all major pain points.

What’s in store for 2018? Hopefully, some clarity. Here are five specific areas where change may very well be on the way:

1. Data will drive decisions.

Though not everyone who replied to our survey last year was satisfied with their measurement tools—or used any at all—data will increasingly become the key driver for communications decisions. What channels do employees use? What do they prefer? What types of emails do they open and read? The more concrete your answer to these questions, the better use you can make of your resources. Leaders are becoming more aware of that, especially when budgets aren’t growing. It’s why CEB offers this survey to help leaders use data to make budget choices.

2. Employees will step up.

Communication can’t just come from the top-down anymore. Research shows that people trust their colleagues more than their bosses. So colleagues will have to be the messengers. “Businesses will have ambassadors or advocates who will feedback key messages amongst their team,” UK-based agency Global Group suggests in a blog post. “An advantage of this form of communication—peer-to-peer content—is that it builds trust amongst your team.”

3. Employees will offer their feedback.

In a world where consumers are increasingly having their say, employees will (and already have) come to expect the same sort of attentiveness. At Business2Community, Mark Miller writes, “Fostering a workspace where employee engagement and feedback is encouraged allows employees to learn from each other and only benefit them and the company as a whole.”

4. New channels will emerge…

This year saw a big increase in the use of video for internal communications, as well as the rise of internal mobile apps and enterprise social networks. The year to come is sure to bring new channels and methods of communication to bear, and communicators will once again have to decide if these new channels work for them and their organizations or not.

5. …but they won’t replace what already works.

What’s become apparent over the years and will remain true in 2018 is that new channels and avenues for communication are supplemental to the communications tools that employees and communicators rely on. Nothing will replace targeted emails and newsletters, but those communication methods will work in tandem with whatever comes down the pipeline. Plus, analytics tools and tools for email distribution will continue to improve, providing communicators with the information they need.

Is anyone really using your intranet?

To put it mildly, there is some disagreement among communicators about the effectiveness of intranets.

To some, they’re invaluable. Others say they’re outdated and, in a word, dead.

The truth seems to be somewhere in between, but they’re definitely not used as widely as some communicators might like. According to a survey from Presicent Digital Media, even as far back as 2012, only 13 percent of employees said they use their intranets every day. Nearly one third (31 percent) said they never use it at all.

Yet even with what seems to be lacking interest, intranets are highly used by communicators. PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results show that communicators rank intranets as the second most-used communications tool after email. Only six percent of respondents said they don’t use it at all.

What, then, are communicators to do when they’re aiming (or perhaps being pushed) to make the intranet a centerpiece communications strategy even as employees and other stakeholders seem to be only somewhat interested, if at all?

Perhaps it requires a change in perspective. Though some communicators consider them to be, intranets are not the end-all, be-all of internal communication. And they’re not a replacement for email, though some have tried to market them that way. An intranet should be one part of a broad communications approach.

Intranets and email don’t have to be an either/or proposition. Indeed, our own research bears out that most communicators use both on a day-to-day basis. With that being the case, they should work hand-in-hand. Social intranet provider ThoughtFarmer suggests that intranet newsletters are a highly valuable way to drive employees to the intranet.

Best practice is to use the intranet as the destination to post all your long-form content, with email best used to provide the high-level messaging with links back to the intranet articles.

That’s especially true in a world in which mobile communication is increasingly a method employees want and even demand. A survey by theEMPLOYEEapp found that employees are more likely to look to email instead of intranets if intranets aren’t mobile ready. (It also found that most employees—87 percent—prefer to receive news by email.)

If someone is trying to sell you an intranet as a replacement for email, they’re quite simply wrong. Emails are the best possible way to drive more engagement on your intranet, hands down.

Are mobile apps for internal communication really worth it?

According to a 2016 Employeechannel survey, 57 percent of HR leaders across the United States say they’re evaluating mobile apps for communicating with employees. Even more staggering: 87 percent of employees said they would use a mobile app for internal communications if one was available.

But what does that mean, really? It definitely doesn’t mean employees want to be force-fed an app that doesn’t help them do they things they normally do day-to-day.

Often, that’s what’s happening when leaders make pushes to bring mobile apps into the communications fold. In an interview with Marginalia, Maribel Lopez of Lopez Research says businesses often just go for something trendy.

“Sometimes, organizations just buy a solution that looks good, but when they try to implement it, they cannot connect it to the existing data,” Lopez says. “At that point, the company realizes that it has to buy another solution, wasting time and money.”

So what does that 87 percent of employees who say they would use a mobile app really want? There’s no way to know from the survey data, but Connecteam offers this advice: “the best app is the one that most easily fits into the processes your employees are already used to.”

That’s why business leaders and communicators looking to add mobile communications to their employee engagement plans should consider starting with the easiest, most cost effective, and certainly most often over-looked mobile communication app out there – email.

All you need is an email address for every employee, even if they don’t work at a desk. That is certainly a more inclusive approach, and once that aligns with the current communication trends. According to PoliteMail’s 2017 Email Metrics Benchmark survey, mobile access of email has grown 48 percent since 2015.

The most important considerations when choosing an app is not selecting the one with the most buzz or best sales pitch. Generally companies will consider cost and features, but often forget to consider the most expensive item.

In terms of cost, you can expect apps to run roughly $3 to $4 per user per month. In terms of features, generally employees want access to work schedules, benefits information, PTO and company news.

The forgotten but significant cost consideration is process. How will you get the data and information into the app and push it out? Generally these are not systems that are in place. So who is going to configure and support it? Will it be secure? How much extra work does it create for the communications team once it’s up and running?

Trying to shoehorn in a buzzworthy app that does not provide satisfactory answers to all those questions might be far more trouble than it’s worth. Careers rarely advance as a result of sponsoring expensive, under-utilized shiny new things with low adoption rates.

There is certainly a growing appetite for mobile internal communications, yet it doesn’t have to be totally brand new to be successful. Start simply and give employees a way of comfortably and reliably receiving and responding to communications in the palms of their hands.

Learn more about how organizations are communicating with employees by downloading PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results.

7 tips to increase email recipients’ time on page

If you’ve ever kept tabs on your blog or web readership using an analytics tool, you likely know a key performance metric is “time on page,” a measure of how long the average reader spent on a particular piece of content.

Did they just skim it, read it or quickly click away? Read time or time-on-page is a good way to know if your readers are engaging with your content.

And though it’s a metric often associated with blogs and web pages, it’s just as valuable for other types of written content, namely, email. For internal communicators, knowing if and how long employees are reading an email can be the difference between knowing a message was received or ignored.

Here are seven ways internal communications professionals can keep those readership numbers high:

1. Write compelling content.

To put it simply, readers won’t keep something open if it isn’t worth reading. In a post on its blog, online advertising software firm WordStream makes the point that content should be three things: useful, entertaining and accessible. Make your content digestible (more on that in a minute), but don’t be afraid to write it in a relatable voice.

2. Design for different devices.

According to Litmus, a company that specializes in email previews, people’s email attention spans are actually growing. But communicators should still do all they can to gain and hold readers’ attention. Given the growth in email on mobile devices, one way to do that is using responsive design.

3. Use images, but not exclusively.

Content creators know good imagery and graphics is proven to draw eyeballs, but overloading an email with an image or using obvious stock imagery that doesn’t complement the content may hurt more than help. Word content should be text, and images should visually accentuate the story. According to Quicksprout, the most popular pages have an image for every 350 words or so.

4. Display quickly.

If readers see gray boxes or red x’s instead of images, it’s more likely they’ll click away before they read a word. Images are sometimes blocked from email, particularly when you are using external email marketing tools. Some mobile devices such as iPhones will only download 250KB of images automatically. For email to work effectively, the images need to display automatically and quickly. So it’s important to balance images with text and to size images down to screen pixel depths.

5. Break up your content.

Long paragraphs and monolithic walls of text are not inviting to someone opening an email. Email is for processing, and readers’ eyes need to be able to scan chunks of content. That requires effective use of white space to break up the text, not just paragraph breaks. Chloe Digital suggests using H2 and H3 subheadings, bullets, numbered lists, and bold text to add visual diversity.

6. Use the “inverted pyramid.”

Put the most important information or action request right in the headline and subhead. Don’t leave your readers frustrated because your email isn’t getting to the point. Torque magazine suggests using the content structure newspapers have employed for centuries, putting the most important information in the first few paragraphs, then adding increasing details of decreasing importance thereafter.

7. Check for clear, simple language.

Before you hit “send,” consider running the message through a readability checker to see if your content is easy to read or a bit of a slog. The easier it is to read—less jargon, fewer acroynms, less complex sentence structure and word choices, and the higher it scores on the Flesch Reading Ease scale—and the more likely it will be that your message is read and understood.

Learn more about how communicators are measuring their communications efforts by downloading PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results.

Quantitative or Qualitative: How surveys and focus groups help measure internal communications effectiveness

After making the sometimes arduous decisions of which internal communications channels and programs are the best for your organization, the question of “Is it working?” lingers for comms professionals.

There are two viable measurement methods for answering that question.

First there isthe quantitative data, which comes in the form of metrics and analytics gathered from your organization’s use of email, intranet pages, mobile pages and other communication tools. Qualitative data will tell you how many employees are reading an email message or regularly utilizing your intranet site. What that doesn’t tell you is why, and that’s is where qualitative data comes in.

Qualitative data is the internal communications feedback you get direct from employees by conducting surveys and focus groups. Qualitative data, using properly formed questions, can tell you why employees participate or now, and how they feel about the channel, program or campaign.

While surveys and focus groups are equally worthwhile methods of gathering qualitative information, each one achieves different things. Quantum Workplace points out the difference:

Often the employee survey itself simply uncovers weaknesses and strengths, but it doesn’t always point to action steps for improvements. This is the next part of the conversation and where employee focus groups can provide insight on how to improve employee engagement.

A broad survey of hundreds or thousands of people can often serve as a starting point for digging deeper using focus groups of 10 to 12 employees, Quantum Workplace’s article suggests.

The Society for Human Resource Management has provided a detailed, six-step outline communicators can use to set up an employee focus group, starting with choosing a purpose statement, through developing questions, to selecting a facilitator, inviting participants, holding the actual meeting, and then analyzing the findings.

SHRM’s guide suggests that “a productive focus group is much more than a chat session,” and requires care and planning to make sure the results are useful.

Surveys, likewise, require careful planning. The way a question is worded will impact not only the answer, but how participates feel. In many ways, communicators must consider the tone of a survey just like they do other communications. According to Custom Insight, “communicating and establishing trust will also increase the survey response rate as well as the candor of the responses.”

Like SHRM’s focus group guide, Custom Insight provides a planning guide for surveys, with tips for alerting employees that the survey is coming, then combing the results for information that can improve internal communications.

In a post on his blog, internal communications expert Shel Holtz notes that it’s important for communicators to not just ask employees about tools and features they currently use; they should describe possibilities that could come in the form of new tools:

If the responses come back pointing toward a mobile app or mobile version of an internal social network, you’ll know all you need to: You’ll know that employees don’t yet know what delivery mechanism they want. It is up to internal communicators to make that mechanism available.

Surveys and focus groups go hand-in-hand. According to Quantum Workplace, employees who receive follow-ups after a survey (possibly in the form of a focus group) are 12 times more engaged than those who have no follow-up.

To learn more about how communicators are measuring their communications efforts, download PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results.

How to engage a multi-generational workforce

By 2020—not too far off—five different generations will be represented in the workforce, and they’ll all have different communication styles.

Traditionalists who were born before 1946, will be sharing office space with Gen 2020, people born after 1997. And of course, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials will be in the mix, too. The first generation to embrace television will be shoulder-to-shoulder with generations for whom a world without smartphones feels like ancient history.

That presents a challenge for communicators who need to effectively message all those employees so they’re all working toward a common goal. How do you get everyone engaged, with shared purpose?

It’ll likely take a multi-pronged approach. According to Staff Management, it’s not just about technological differences. Members of different generations have different values, with some expecting a more hands-off approach, while others want regular feedback and recognition. Staff management advocates for trying lots of approaches:

In a multigenerational environment, it is wise to mix and match strategies like the team-building events favored by younger workers and the opinion-sharing practices promoted by their older counterparts. Younger generations might feel more comfortable communicating their thoughts when they feel like they know their coworkers, while older generations might need a structured forum in order to weigh in on key decisions.

Staff Management also recommends face-to-face interactions, as does Dana Brownlee, founder of training and management consulting firm Professionalism Matters, in an article in Business News Daily: “Bringing staff members of different generations together for face-to-face team-building exercises and ice breakers can help break down some of the barriers that can occur with digital communications.”

That same Business News Daily article warns that communicators and business leaders shouldn’t get bogged down in stereotypes. While workers of different ages will certainly have different methods and ideas, it isn’t fair to underestimate them or assume they’ll have certain flaws.

In another article at Forbes, corporate trainer Dana Brownlee notes, “It becomes very frustrating when you communicate with someone in a mode that they don’t like.” She advises that “workers across all age groups to individualize their approach by learning their coworkers’ preferences and attempting to meet in the middle.”

Once again, that likely means using numerous channels to communicate with employees, since face-to-face communication isn’t often the most feasible way to stay connected. It also means delivering messages through different platforms.

For example, consider sending emails that can be read across different devices. While some older employees may prefer to read email on a desktop computer, sending mobile-optmized emails means employees who prefer to view messages on their smartphones will get what they want, too.

Learn more about how communicators are measuring which internal communications work best by downloading PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results.

7 tips to justify internal comms measurement to business leaders

Most people who have worked in internal communications for a good amount of time are likely aware that top executives aren’t totally sold on the idea of making the effort to measure it.

In PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey, 25 percent of the communicators surveyed said the biggest challenge to measuring internal communications was that leadership didn’t see the value in it or doesn’t view it as a priority.

Yet 54 percent also said that measurement is valuable because it makes it easier to persuade C-suite executives to make good communication decisions.

Measurement justifies further measurement. That means communicators must be smart with the resources they have to prove why top business leaders should make measurement a cornerstone part of their corporate communications.

Here are seven tips that help make the case:

1. Go beyond “awareness.”

In an article for the Institute for Public Relations, Ethan McCarty, Global Head of Employee and Innovation Communications for Bloomberg, argues that “awareness is just one arrow in our quiver.” Communicators must show executives the business outcomes that arise from that awareness, not just prove that employees know more.

2. Demonstrate how information moves.

To build on McCarty’s point, internal communications are the most effective when messages don’t just move from the top down, but flow between employees and out into the world in a positive way. If you can show that employees are engaged and being activated to speak up, executives can instantly see the value. It can also change the culture. “The combination of openness and the easy flow of communication to everyone combine to make people feel like part of a coherent whole,” states the University of Kansas’ Community Tool Box section on internal communication.

3. Prove that the internal audience is unique.

The notion that internal communications are not PR may seem obvious, but it isn’t always immediately apparent to top-level leaders. You have to show them. “The models employed by strategy-focused internal communicators are…vastly different from the earned-media models that occupy most of the time of most PR practitioners,” communications expert Shel Holtz writes at his blog. With surveys and other tools, you can show that.

4. Show what you’re learning.

Measurement doesn’t mean much if the numbers aren’t being put to use. The people in the C-suite need to know communicators are changing up their strategies based on the metrics. In a LinkedIn post, Stuart Z. Goldstein, former managing director of corporate communications and public affairs at Depository Trust & Clearing, puts it this way: “Research won’t win the budget battles by itself, but it does provide a valuable lobbying tool, and it signals to management that corporate communications is learning from best practices.”

5. Drop what isn’t working.

Trying new things is really important, but executives aren’t going to stand for adding one thing on top of the other. If commuicators can show that measuring results has led to them dropping some less-than-effective channels to make room for the new stuff, it can prove that resources are being used more wisely.

6. Give examples of how it helped solve problems.

The KU Community Toolbox bluntly states, “Problems can be resolved, but only if they’re identified and acknowledged.” How do you identify them? Measurement. Show executives where you’ve pinpointed problems—perhaps email messages weren’t formatted in the most appealing way—and fixed them through employee feedback.

7. Participate in “strategic marketing.”

Goldstein says most communications reporting is viewed as “drudgery.” Don’t make yours a slog to get through. Serve up a road map that directly ties the metrics you’re presenting to business goals. “This approach addresses management’s question about ROI quite directly and is a powerful way to sell the value of corporate communications,” he writes.

Can your organization reach employee smartphones without investing in a mobile app?

From flyers on bulletin boards to digital signage in the lunch room to posters inside bathroom stalls, internal communicators have placed messages in all kinds of different places to try to get employees’ attention and keep them informed.

Within the last decade, employees have equipped themselves with convenient, versatile devices that are the perfect venue for direct communications. They’re small computers with a large screens that they carry around nearly all the time, and most people often glance at those screens throughout the workday.

The ubiquitous smartphone. And they’re easier to reach than many communicators think.

Yet many organizations haven’t tapped into their potential. According to PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey, only 5 percent of communications professionals think of their own organizations’ mobile solutions as effective. Only 30 percent have intranets that are accessible via mobile devices, and just a little more than half send mobile responsive email messages.

Only about a third (35 percent) think of mobile as the best way to reach employees and deserving of research, even though 84 percent of respondents themselves check their work emails using their mobile devices.

According to research from Informate Mobile Intelligence conducted in 2015—so the numbers are likely even higher now—Americans spent 4.7 hours on their phones each day. That’s about a third of their waking time. It would seem that the mobile audience is a captive audience.

So why aren’t more organizations moving toward using mobile apps or other mobile communication tools? It could be budgetary. In the PoliteMail survey, a whopping 70 percent of communicators said they don’t expect their budgets to increase or barely have any budget for new technology at all.

Also, more than half (54 percent) of respondents said their communications departments are understaffed and can’t get everything done, let alone add a new channel.

Or it could also be a matter of training. A little more than a third of respondents said they simply don’t know how to implement a mobile strategy.

But you don’t necessarily need an app or a mobile-optimized intranet to communicate internally via mobile devices. Every mobile device comes with an email client built right in. All an organization needs is an effective email strategy.

Mobile hurdles, may not seem easy to clear, but Inc. spells out the need for mobile internal communication in this post by Jeremy Goldman, founder and CEO of brand engagement consultancy Firebrand Group.

“Mobile is not only the current medium of the choice, it’s the future,” Goldman writes. “Leaders should be proactive in establishing a mobile-friendly workplace by ensuring all assets are compatible with mobile.”

According to new research by PoliteMail, employees with company email addresses will check email on their smartphones 38 percent of the time.

Instead of yet another app, it would seem the easiest way to reach employees where they are, is just to make sure they all have a company email address.

consolidate internal comms channels

Should You Consolidate Your Internal Comms Channels?

Executives don’t always know what they want or need when it comes to internal communications.

In a PR Week column, Philips ASEAN Pacific’s head of communications, Elaine Ng, calls internal communicaitons “highly underrated” among executives, and made the argument that it’s widely misunderstood. That’s why the first reaction execs often have is to scale back, simplify and consolidate internal communications channels.

That’s not always the wrong decision, but it’s not always the right one, either.

In a sweeping 2015 post on his blog, Holtz Communication + Technology’s Shel Holtz makes the case that internal communications should always be a separate discipline from PR and other external communications. He also pushed back against the idea that internal communications is just about sending mass emails to employees.

“One distribution tactic…does not comprise the employee communications discipline as practiced by the best communicators and organizations,” Holtz writes.

If anything, Holtz seems to be arguing that expanding the number of channels—not consolidating—is the path to healthy, effective internal comms. This blog itself has laid out the benefits of a strategic communications approach targeting different audiences with different communication techniques.

Yet there’s a reality executives and communicators can’t deny: Sometimes, communications methodologies become outdated or simply don’t work to begin with. It’s a waste of time and resources to keep investing in that particular channel.

The problem is that communicators and executives often don’t know if communications channels are working or not, because they don’t have any mechanism by which to measure their effectiveness. They’re simply making decisions in darkness, by gut feeling or as a reaction to a handful of employee comments.

The answer to the question of whether you should consolidate your internal comms channels isn’t a blanket yes or no. It all depends on what’s working and what isn’t. If your analytics show that a channel is waning in effectiveness or never was effective, drop it or fold it into something else. But it’s also valuable to try new approaches and evaluate new channels to see if they catch on.

Either way, measurement is imperative. It’s the only way to know for sure that you’re making the right choices and connecting strongly with employees.

To learn more about how communicators are measuring their communications efforts—if they are at all– download PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results.

How Strategic Communications Can Generate Maximum Business Impact

Strategic messaging is a communication method many marketers, advertisers and other external communicators will sing the praises of the second you give them the chance. And there are good reasons why.

Here’s an excerpt from The Routledge Handbook of Strategic Communication, a textbook communications graduate students often use, that gets to the heart of it:

An effective communication manager must engage with multiple interactants (i.e. consumers, publics, audiences) and should, therefore, understand how different interactants require different strategic messaging approaches. This is the unique domain of strategic communications.

To put it in less academic terms, not every audience is going to engage with every type of message, so messages must be tailored to target audiences. They can’t be one-size-fits-all. Strategic messaging is all about getting the right message in front of the right people at just the time they need to receive it.

That doesn’t just go for external communicators. Numerous different audiences reside within an organization, and a human resources manager may find a particular type of message compelling, while an IT architect may respond to a totally different method of communication.

Just like the goal of external communications is to generate awareness and positive feelings about a company or product, the goal of internal communications is often to create shared goals and a community culture within an organization. But you can’t tell everyone the same story the same way.

In a post on his consulting firm’s blog, communications expert David Grossman lays out seven keys to a strategic messaging methodology:

  1. Define and prioritize audiences
  2. Identify where those audiences are coming from
  3. Develop compelling messages
  4. Outline what you want from your audiences
  5. Make connections with your audiences
  6. Deliver messages with confidence
  7. Identify gaps in your plan

Grossman goes on to lay out a long list communications tools that could be used to implement such a plan including email, voicemail, speeches, brochures, social media posts, website copy, and so on. Communications managers should keep all these tools at the ready so they’ll have them on-hand when they recognize an audience for whom one tool might be preferable to another.

Many organizations take a scattershot approach to communication, and as such, much of the effort is wasted. Taking a little more time to strategically target messages to the people who are most receptive to them will undoubtedly pay off in the long run.

To find out more about how internal communicators are messaging to employees, download PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results.