Companies know that having an internal communication platform is important. But knowing where to begin is not always easy.
At Sociabble, we understand this. We’ve helped clients plan and implement employee communication programs all over the world, and we’ve seen firsthand which questions spring up and which obstacles need to be overcome. And we know how to transition from internal communications best practices and internal communications apps, toward a strong employee communication plan. That’s the reason we’ve built this guide, to help you and your company get the most out of your own internal communication/employee communication initiative. We’ll explore the steps and techniques necessary to launch and sustain a strong employee communication program using a proven methodology, even building upon your existing strategic internal communications plan. Here, we’ll provide you with the employee communication tools you need.
Table of Contents:
1. The Future of Internal Communications
Based on internal communication stats, for most of the last century, internal communication was the way that companies shared information with their employees. The value of internal communications was obvious, and the role of internal communications in employee engagement was clear. This was a top-down, one-way form of sharing updates and facts. “Why are good internal communications important?” was a question that in the analog age of decades past, was largely taken for granted. But in the digital era of today, things have changed. With the internet and social media now a daily part of engaged employee life, professional information has become a two-way street. And it’s happened quickly. According to an article published by Gartner, “The entire social media landscape and operating environment have shifted to something unrecognizable, even when looking back a mere five years.” A recent Forbes article takes it even one step further. It claims, “There’s no doubt that social media has changed human behavior over the past decade.” The article goes on to report that “81% of Americans have a social media profile, and two hours are spent on social media every day by the average person.” In short, social media has totally changed the landscape of professional communication. Being present is no longer an option, but a must.
And these changes have only been accelerated by the Covid health crisis. Remote work has become the norm, and strong communication is more necessary than ever, to keep employees connected and informed, and to give them a strong sense of belonging, at a time when distance and uncertainty are affecting the workforce experience. Having a powerful strategy and platform is the solution to these challenges.
The new direction is obvious. The times are changing. And as a result, businesses need to keep up.
“In short, social media has totally changed the landscape of professional communication. Being present is no longer an option, but a must.”
2. Introducing a New Solution for Employee Communication
Keeping employees engaged and informed isn’t a question of sending an email or mailing out a paper letter; it’s about making sure the company itself becomes part of their individual online ecosystem, to share in the mix of third-party news, user generated content, and live broadcast streams. The truth is, 98% of employees currently use at least one social media site for personal use, of which 50% are already posting about their company (sociabble.com). And 71% of employees spend over 2 hours a week accessing company information on mobile devices(fliplet.com). This is the new way employees receive and share information.
“The truth is, 98% of employees currently use at least one social media site for personal use, of which 50% are already posting about their company. And 71% of employees spend over 2 hours a week accessing company information on mobile devices. This is the new way employees receive and share information.”
With that in mind, it’s time to move past internal communication and replace it with a new evolving need: Employee Communication. This is a much broader concept. One that moves beyond the traditional boundaries of the company walls. At its essence, employee communication is simply the variety of ways in which companies can communicate with their employees. And vice-versa. It encompasses both internal and external communication. It incorporates new methods of achieving engagement, understanding, and input. Its strength, though, is that it allows for employees to become informed, engaged, and influential within their online ecosystem. They read, digest, and interact with information supplied by the different corporate channels (social media, newsfeeds, intranets, etc.).
They then spread that awareness as thought leaders and brand advocates in their field. They’re more aware of what’s going on within their company, but also in the larger industry and marketplace as a whole.
3. Organizational Communication vs. Operational Communication
An essential part of developing this new solution for employee communication is to recognize the fundamental differences between the two types of communication that exist: organizational communication and operational communication. Most of the messages and information that flow within a business can be organized into one of the two classes. Generally, they are as follows:
These are the messages related to overall business, the larger company-wide projects that are taking place, and news from within the business sector. This might include breaking news, quarterly financial performance reports, updates to HR policies, news regarding big events, potential mergers and acquisitions—essentially the news that is relevant for forming a picture of life at the company, and for understanding its place within the larger business environment.
These messages cover the nuts and bolts of everyday project communication, especially for frontline workers. These are often more targeted, because relevance is key, as they relate to specific undertakings. They aren’t about generating general awareness across the company, but focus on explaining things like new store guidelines, health regulations, manufacturing processes, or product descriptions.
4. Benefits of Employee Communication
We know what employee communication is. It’s a term that encompasses the new digital reality of information sharing, and the ways in which those realities can be incorporated into a broader communications strategy.
The question that remains, however, is why it matters. Why is it so important for a company to have an effective employee communication platform? What does a business have to gain by becoming a part of an employee’s online ecosystem and daily routine?
Perhaps the most obvious and timely answer is that with the ongoing health crisis, many employees are working from home and feeling disconnected from the workplace. Crucial information is slipping through the cracks and alignment is often off. An effective employee communication plan with targeted internal communiction newsletter or messages, push notifications and alerts, live video broadcasts, and of course pulse surveys to monitor the general morale of the team—this can keep employees connected and informed during a difficult time.
The most convincing evidence is simple statistics, and the figures are hard to argue with: employee communication doesn’t just matter, it’s an absolutely critical part of any successful company’s communications strategy today. For example:
— Excellent internal communication can lead to a 40% increase in customer satisfaction.
— Companies with good communication are 4x as likely to have high levels of engagement.
— Productivity in organizations with connected employees improves by 20-25%. (mckinsey.com)
— Companies that are highly effective communicators had 47% higher returns to shareholders.(towerswatson.com)
— Highly engaged employees can improve a company’s operating income by 2% over a 12-month period. (bluesource.co.uk)
But beyond statistics, there are the more general, qualitative advantages that come with strong employee communication. It will increase the diversity of ideas, breaking silos that exist within the company and encouraging the sharing of thoughts and fresh approaches across departments; it will strengthen the culture of the company by creating a solid, shared sense of identity that transcends groups, regional offices, and departments. And all of this, ultimately, can provide opportunities for innovation. Creativity comes from open lines of communication and the freedom to both inform, and become informed.
Next, we’ll explore the steps and considerations needed to launch an effective employee communication initiative.
5. Optimize Your Employee Communication Strategy
a) Consider all Stakeholders
This is true from the earliest planning stages, right on through to implementation. Many different people work at a company, filling various roles. Therefore, an effective communication strategy needs to involve all of them. This can mean offering extensive mobile support and an internal communication solution for frontline workers without professional email addresses or regular desk time, and amplifying the voices of entry-level and temporary employees to create an environment of inclusion. There should be no such thing as a “disconnected” worker. Everyone should be in on the action.
b) Set a Clear Strategy and Define Goals
From the beginning, decide how and what you want to accomplish. This might include: connecting frontline workers with the rest of the company, encouraging employee engagement with bottom-up initiatives, communicating a new company-wide strategy that needs to be adopted, improving local efficiency through better operational comms, or any other from a host of ultimate objectives. And in order to determine success, you need to establish clear KPIs from the onset related to your business objectives. Solid, tangible numbers that can be both measured and met.
c) Empower Managers
It’s necessary to include all levels in formulating a communication plan. But ensuring that managers and other top-level staff are leaders in communication is crucial. This includes encouraging managers to actively provide necessary information, but it also means giving them the autonomy and budget to inform and engage their own employees as they see fit. After all, who knows better what will keep employees absorbed than those who work closely with them on a daily basis?
But in order to be effective, the operational communication that we discussed above needs to be seamless. Employees, especially frontline workers, need constant updates, whether it’s for new Covid-19 guidelines, new best practices, or new directions for their daily tasks. For example, even a simple 2-minute video made by an operation’s manager and sent to team members on a daily or weekly basis can add the personal, effective touch that employees’ need. And surveys created and sent by local managers allow them to take the pulse at a local level, something HQ might not be able to accomplish.
d) Celebrate Internal Influencers
There are going to be those at any company who have a better handle on social media. Who are better known internally and externally, or who even simply have a more visible personality. Don’t be afraid to use these “influencers” to spread the word. This can include everything from rewarding engagement with gamification via badges and points, to simply identifying “influencers” to help roll out new policies and campaigns. In short, there are many ways to be a leader, and they don’t all necessarily have to do with a position in management.
e) Know Your Employee Communication Tools . . . and Consolidate
Email, enterprise social networks, intranets, and good-old fashioned newsletters—you probably have a number of tools sitting in your kit, and it’s important you use them to the best of their capabilities. Just as you wouldn’t use a screwdriver to hammer a nail or a saw to measure a table, you wouldn’t use a company email to conduct an office poll, or Twitter to conduct an employee review. Learn each channel’s potential, and then incorporate them all into a single, unified plan. And platforms with social media aggregators can definitely help, including an effective newsfeed or content feed.
This ultimately relates to the larger question of how to structure your digital workplace, and why it’s important to offer a clear purpose for each digital tool. For example: Microsoft Teams to be used specifically for collaboration on Office documents, an employee comms platform like Sociabble for organizational and operational communication, and Microsoft SharePoint as a document repository. And intranets? Many companies have stopped using them altogether, while some have been able to incorporate them into a larger structure. But each must have a specific purpose and cohere into the larger digital workplace.
f) Integrate Mobile, Video & Audio
Times are changing, and now more than ever employees are relying on mobile devices. Not to mention mobile-friendly video channels for information and entertainment. Rather than buck the trend, use it to your advantage. Make sure your communications are geared toward mobile. And don’t be afraid to incorporate videos as a major source of content. This is what will keep employees engaged in the modern era, when many only have a few minutes over a break or during a commute to check their phones for the latest information they can use. And of course, audio content can make a big difference as well, specifically when you consider the popularity of podcasts. According to one stat, 57% of consumers listen to podcasts on a regular basis. When media is combined to create things like company-wide town halls, it brings everyone together at once and creates a sense of presence and belonging, even when working remotely.
g) Foster Innovation Through Idea Collection
Use surveys and open idea-sharing sessions to encourage innovation at your company. This works especially well in the CSR sphere. With the Sociabble platform, for example, the “Support My Cause” feature empowers employees to suggest causes and charitable organizations that they want to support, with built-in selection and voting mechanisms. Promoting this kind of collective thinking not only erases silos and barriers, but will increase the quality and relevance of ideas within the organization.
h) Measure Performance
It’s hard to know if something works, especially if you don’t have any metrics to measure. When looking for a platform, make sure you have the capability to keep track of key metrics like engagement, shares, and views. This is the best way to determine the effectiveness of different strategies. What works for one may not work for the other. Essentially, keeping track of the numbers will keep you from wasting time and energy on ineffective measures.
Once you get the right platform, it’s important to benchmark your internal communication progress.
6. Create the Perfect Content Mix for the Best Employee Communication
When it comes to evolving from internal communication to employee communication, curating a diverse content mix is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Informed employees are generally happier and much more productive. Engaged employees are a brand’s best advocates. And keeping employees informed and engaged means giving them a rich and relevant variety of content. Third-party articles, competitive reports, industry updates, even company photos—you need to keep them informed with a single, steady stream of useful and interesting news. But how do you know which mix is best? At Sociabble, for organizational communication, we often suggest using the Content Rule of Thirds.
According to the Content Rule of Thirds, the perfect content mix is:
1/3 Company News
There’s always something newsworthy going on at any company. This is your chance to showcase it and keep your employees informed. New campaigns, new deployments, new hires, new offices—these are all worth communicating, especially across different departments that may not have contact on a daily basis. But it’s important to keep in mind that sources should be both internal and external. Compelling third-party content from public feeds drives employee engagement, and gives a different perspective on what’s happening at your business. And be sure to include this as part of your employee newsletter content as well.
1/3 Industry News
Keeping tabs on what’s happening within the industry ecosystem is a key part of business success. And it pays for employees to know what’s going on. Making sure 1/3 of your content is industry-related can help ensure everyone is up to speed on the general trends taking place in the market, or even at the local level, as is the case, for example, with frontline workers in clothing stores who need to be aware of changes in taste and buying habits. But don’t forget—industry news should involve developments with competitors as well as partners. Both are important.
1/3 Daily Life
If the 1/3 Company News portion is the macro version of what’s happening at your company, think of this as the more personalized, micro version. This is the chance to show the human side of your brand. Also, this is a great opportunity to employ more user generated content via social media. That can mean using badges, quizzes, and even polls to connect with employees. They’re the most important asset at every company—so make sure they know their voices are heard.
But what about operational communication?
In addition to organizational communication content, you need operational communication content to complete the picture. This needs to be very local, produced by operational managers or team members, to inform people about their operational work. This could mean a store manager who needs to provide information to their specific team members who work at the store regarding new products or regulations. This might mean specific pulse surveys to get a feel for how a team or local office is feeling about their work, their sense of purpose, and their general alignment with the larger company strategy. This type of operational content, together with the content mix for organization content, should go together hand in hand.
7. Use Mobile Employee Communication to Stay Top of Mind
An Effective Mobile App
Because many frontline workers don’t have professional email addresses or desktops at hand, it’s crucial to reach them wherever they are. This means mobile is indispensable. That’s why we have worked extra hard to make the Sociabble app user-friendly, visually appealing, intuitive, and adaptable to any mobile device. For example, a retail employee on their feet at an outlet store should be able to check and respond to the latest company sales report just as easily as someone their desk in the marketing department. And without an effective mobile communication strategy, you’re simply not going to reach the frontline workforce.
One thing not to overlook: an effective chat feature with live video capabilities to go with that mobile experience. This will facilitate the kind of natural, everyday conversations that normally occur in an office, even when workers are remote.
Explain That Their Voice Matters
However, all the mobile technology in the world won’t make a difference if employees don’t feel compelled to use it. It’s important to communicate from the beginning that their voice matters, that sharing it is important. Indeed, employees are a company’s greatest resource, and their opinions, ideas, and suggestions help form a better work environment. And just as Simon Senek says, you’ve got to start with why. Specifically, why it is in their interest to become informed and engaged within the company. It actually does make their experience as employees better in many ways.
Start with Concrete User Generated Content
To make sure their voices are heard from the get-go, start off your efforts with pieces of user generated content like feedback polls designed to gather employee input. When frontline employees see that the company cares about their opinions—and then actually does something to address their wishes and concerns, they see the immediate value of engagement. In short, it affects their experience and it can improve their workday.
8. Address Employees at Both a Global and Local Level
The Problem? Global and local content streams are all mixed up.
For international companies, information can have relevance at a global as well as a local level. But many companies can’t separate these two streams even with the best employee communication plan. The messages become jumbled and confused. Employees receive huge amounts of global information, but this news isn’t always useful at the local level. And companies don’t know if content should be sent in English, or in regional languages. Either employees don’t feel part of the group, or huge efforts go into translation. Neither is good for engagement, and moreover, both make employees less connected to the company.
The Solution? Content curation at both a global and a local level.
For international corporations with global and local communication streams, it is important to manage and filter the flow of information. It doesn’t matter where the employee is based. Relevance and clarity should be maintained. Therefore, an effective employee communication platform needs to be dynamic. It should allow for different levels of administration. For large global deployments, this could mean having an administrator who manages all global content. But it means also having regional and local administrators who choose which content should flow into their offices. And language is a consideration, too. The right platform should transition smoothly between global content in English and local content in other regional languages. For instance, news of a company-wide policy change would be something for a global administrator to pass on. A report written in French about changes at the Paris office, for example, might require the approval of the Paris office’s local administrator.
Which together will ensure that Employee Engagement is a top priority.
When all the above is put into practice, and coupled with priorities like a good UX for your app, eye-catching visual content, personalized alerts and notifications, and involvement-boosting gamification connected to meaningful rewards (CSR contributions, for example), you will see a dramatic increase in employee engagement for a very simple reason: getting informed with company and industry news will no longer seem like a chore, but a relevant and entertaining part of each employee’s day. It will become natural, helpful, and in the best cases, even fun.
9. Conclusion: With The Right Strategy and Platform, Strong Employee Communication is Within Your Reach
In conclusion, yes, employees have a lot on their minds these days, and company communication need to stand out in a world of limited time and competing information. However, with an intelligent employee communication strategy and the right online tools, it is possible. The importance of employee communication cannot be overstated. At Sociabble, we understand this. We understand that the guiding principle of any effective strategy needs to be your company’s best interest. Streamlined and optimized communications are the key to success, which is why we have developed a comprehensive platform to help you achieve it. With top of the line mobile and desktop technology, we bring together the elements you have with the elements you need, to create a program tailored to you and your communications plan.
If you’d like to learn more about how Sociabble can help your business create informed, engaged, and influential employees, feel free to reach out and request a free demo. We’d love to chat.