The Complete Guide to Internal Communications

While internal communications may have once been in the background, the profession has quickly ascended to center stage. With workforce dispersing and enterprises adapting to contemporary challenges, the need for corporate messaging has reached a peak. Regardless of their role and region, every employee is looking for updates from leadership. This includes advice on overcoming disruption, and opportunities to connect with their colleagues near and far. 

With the spotlight on internal comms, the time is now to assess your messaging strategy and fine-tune your approach. At Unily, we believe our next-generation intranet software can transform communications and generate unparalleled levels of engagement and participation. Below, we explore the current state of company communications, and the role technology can play in enhancing your strategy. 

What is internal communications?

Internal communications (IC) is the sharing of information between employees and company stakeholders. Some companies still perceive it as the function that pushes out messages, but it is much more than just that. Internal comms is more about creating two-way dialogues and building multi-directional strategies. 

"Internal communications is the sharing of information between employees and company stakeholders."

In recent years, internal communications has evolved significantly. Before, companies used to emphasize top-down messaging and relied on mediums like corporate magazines. Conversely, modern strategies utilize multiple channels to empower all employees to raise their voices. After all, the main goal for internal communicators is bringing employees together and cultivating a sense of unity.

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"Successful internal communication creates a culture and environment of mutual understanding. It forges connections between people, allowing them to perform at their best, both individually and collectively."

What is the difference between internal and external communications?

The main difference between internal and external communications is the audience. In external communications, messaging targets are readers outside the enterprise, such as prospective customers or existing clients. Generally, an enterprise's marketing and public relations teams will prioritize content geared towards external audiences.

In contrast, internal communicators focus on creating content and conversations amongst people within an organization. Frequently, this department uses similar tactics to marketing teams, but the purpose is different. External communications generate messages to sell your product or promote your brand to a public audience. Meanwhile, internal comms strives to build engagement amongst your workforce and cultivate a connection between colleagues.

Types of internal communications

From policy updates to culture-building initiatives, there are many different messages that internal comms teams must convey. Some of the most prevalent types of employee communications content include:

Crisis Communications

Whether it's a minor roadblock or a significant disruption, internal employee comms gets the word out during times of crisis. During these situations, company communications content might include the latest updates and resources for employees looking for additional guidance.

The COVID-19 pandemic is one recent example of crisis messaging taking center stage for many internal comms teams. New policies and safety measures were introduced from one day to another in response to the situation. Hence, timely internal messaging became vital to keep employees informed and connected as workforces dispersed.

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How your intranet can help you manage a crisis

Restricted travel. Canceled events. School closings. COVID-19 is shaking up how we interact, and the workplace is no exception. As enterprises react to the pandemic, the prevalence of remote work is set to skyrocket, as will the need for well-honed best practices.

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Change Communications

In moments of transition and change, employees look to internal comms to stay updated on what's going on within their organization. For instance, some internal comms teams might incorporate messages from leadership so that personnel can learn about significant changes straight from the source.

Information Communications

Sometimes, employee comms serves as the corporate version of your local news channel or daily paper. In other words, your internal messages let your employees get an inside look at enterprise happenings. A good example would be announcing the debut of a new office space or behind the scenes of a recent project.  

Savvy internal communicators often adopt a targeted approach to news messages. This method ensures colleagues receive relevant updates to their role and region and keeps them engaged.

Campaign Communications

From corporate givebacks to healthy living schemes, internal communicators can bring corporate campaigns to life. A well-thought-out campaign can get the word out while encouraging colleagues to get involved. In some circumstances, internal communicators may partner with other divisions. For example, the HR department becomes an ally when preparing to launch campaigns, particularly those related to employee health and wellbeing.

Culture Communications

Internal communication professionals employ messaging to ensure that every team member understands their employer brand and what their organization stands for. This content might include blog posts on your enterprise's purpose and mission. Likewise, some messaging can spotlight employees who embody your brand's values.

Internal Conversations

Two-way comms is a hallmark of modern messaging strategies. Organizational content allows employees to raise their voices and contribute to corporate dialogues. It can happen through mediums such as social networking functionality and discussion forums.

Why is internal comms important?

The right organizational communications can inspire employees, build a sense of community, and unite team members around a central goal.

"The less people know, the more they yell."

Seth Godin

The key business benefits that leaders can anticipate from enhancing their approach to employee communications include:

Keep Employees Informed and Aligned

How do you ensure employees in various roles and regions stay on the same page? Effective employee communications bridges any potential knowledge gaps within your company. Moreover, it keeps your workforce up to date on the latest developments and unites colleagues from every department.

Enhance Employee Engagement

Communications for your iInternal audience can maximize employee engagement. Similarly, it cultivates a shared sense of purpose and empowers their teammates to raise their voices. To achieve these results, your team must create a messaging strategy that enhances employee experiences. Always prioritize two-way communications channels, and spotlight internal ambassadors who are making a difference.

Convey Your Company Culture and Values

Your company culture can set your organization apart for all the right reasons. Organizations with a compelling culture benefit from a talent pool that is 50% more qualified than their competitors. As a result, a solid communication strategy can help enterprises build workforces comprised of highly skilled employees.

Are you not sure how to convey your company's culture and values to your employees? Blog content, email newsletters, and social networking all make for excellent starting points. The latter allows colleagues to connect and learn about each other. Furthermore, it can help you shape the future of your organization in real-time and unlock innovation opportunities.

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Provide Opportunities for Two-Way Communication

Modern employee communications is decidedly multi-directional. Therefore, many companies nowadays see the value in introducing social commenting and reacting, for example. Such channels encourage employees to branch out of their immediate network and build connections with peers from various departments.

Feedback forms and opportunities for ideation are also crucial. Your colleague's insights can very well underpin new developments and breakthroughs that will prove revolutionary.

Connect and Reassure in Times of Crisis

In moments of crisis, internal communicators step in to save the day by keeping colleagues informed and at ease. Corporate messaging can reassure employees and maintain morale among employees who feel overwhelmed. Likewise, it can underpin more agile approaches that take advantage of the skills every team member has to offer.

Improving internal communications within your company

There's always room to expand and iterate in every field, and employee comms is no exception. Particularly, as the practice continues to evolve, it is transitioning to more agile and inclusive approaches. Thus, internal communicators need to evaluate their strategy actively and look for opportunities to enhance their tactics.

Some tips to fine-tune your strategy include:

  1. Always keep your audience top of mind

As good journalists cater to their audience, effective internal communicators should always keep their reader's preferences top of mind. Try to envision a fully-fledged internal newsroom that serves as a one-stop shop for your company's stories. Additionally, when creating and refining your strategy, consider who the reader is and what they're trying to find. Divide your workforce into segments and develop personas for each group to create a more targeted approach.

  1. Take advantage of every tool at your disposal

The most impactful internal employee communications strategies will utilize multiple mediums to spread messages far and wide. In the same manner, diversify your comms approach to engage colleagues with various content preferences.

Do you want to make the most of a multi-media approach? Consider what types of formats may prove most engaging to various personas and segments. For example, are you trying to reach your customer service team to alert them of a new safety protocol? Push notifications and mobile alerts may be the most effective way to get your message across to your deskless workforce segment.

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Internal communications lessons from TikTok: Why you shouldn't feed elephants to employees

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  1. Ask for input

Want to know what messaging tactics are working and which are falling flat? Ask your colleagues on the receiving end for their input on various efforts and aim to put their feedback into action.

Pulse surveys are one tried and tested method for monitoring employee sentiment. You can send short, anonymous, informal queries to different segments of your workforce to evaluate engagement levels and identify potential challenges. Aim to keep pulse surveys to just 10 questions or less.

Similarly, consider what kind of rating scale will prove most effective for the types of questions you are asking. To maximize their efficacy, get the word out about upcoming pulse surveys to spur participation. Finally, always make sure to analyze your results.

  1. Don't shy away from data

Only 43% of internal comms professionals use data to lead their decisions. You can't overlook the importance of success metrics, especially when it comes to gaining buy-in and refining your approach.

Pinpoint a combination of analytics and qualitative feedback methods that will speak to specific, business-wide aims. Then use this data to benchmark your progress and make informed adjustments.

Not sure where to start? Consider metrics such as the number of clicks, opens, and reads. Likewise, don’t forget to gather information from your peers on how they feel about your enterprise's messaging approach.

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Mastering internal communications with an intranet in the remote work era

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work forever. This free webinar in partnership with the Institute of Internal Communications offers a playbook of best practices and insights to help internal communicators keep employees engaged and informed now and beyond into the future of work.

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What the experts are saying...

Looking for additional insight from industry experts? Check out the following advice:

"By cultivating and amplifying authentic employee voices, internal communications teams get important messages and themes across much more effectively than by broadcasting them through traditional corporate channels."

Elizabeth Barrett - Research Leader at Gartner

"Measurement is still generally a weak area for internal communicators. Organizations are grappling with getting accurate and trusted data that makes sense to them, as well as gaining actionable insight from that data."

"Retaining the human touch, keeping a human scale, creating a level of intimacy to balance the impersonal nature of many communication tools, these are all features to be prized"

"We’re moving from hierarchical to horizontal communication. Peers are powerful and can transform organizational communication."

Transforming internal comms - where to start

If you're eager to unite your workforce and enhance engagement levels, it's time to transform your employee communications strategy. Some steps to consider include:

  1. Create an actionable strategy

Currently, only 57% of enterprises have a written employee communications plan. Nevertheless, Without a structured scheme in place, internal comms teams will struggle to maximize their resources and cultivate a compelling engagement strategy.

The best strategies adopt an action-based approach underpinned by concrete success metrics that you can review to evaluate your progress. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the target audiences within your organization. Additionally, consider how your internal comms strategy will align with overall business goals.

One of the most effective ways to ensure your goals are up to par is by following SMART logic. It allows you to create objectives that live up to the following criteria:

  • Specific: Define what you want to accomplish in a straight-forward manner that everyone can understand.
  • Measurable: Include targets and benchmarks to evaluate your progress.
  • Attainable: Focus on manageable objectives that are well within your team's reach.
  • Relevant: When it comes to communicating with your internal audience, your goals should align with business-wide aims. Think about how you can support your enterprise's missions and values.
  • Time-based: Create a timeline for your objectives to keep everyone motivated and working towards success.

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7 steps to futureproof your internal communications strategy

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  1. Maintain an agile approach

Even the most comprehensive internal comms strategy will eventually need refinement to align with real-time changes. Take the COVID-19 pandemic as an example. When the outbreak started, companies had to adapt their internal messaging content fast to tackle challenges such as remote work environments.

That is why it is vital to never stop iterating and adapting your comms strategy. Make sure it remains relevant and targeted to the audiences you serve, even if that means embracing changes.

  1. Take a page from the consumer playbook

To engage your audiences, keep your finger on the pulse for consumer trends. Your colleagues are growing accustomed to personalized messaging that takes advantage of multiple media forms, such as video and graphics. Ensure your strategy is up to par by using an omnichannel approach with the reader's interests and priorities at the center.

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  1. Seek outside inspiration

Look beyond the walls of your organization to ensure your internal comms approach remains relevant and engaging. Consider attending industry conferences, participating in virtual webinars, and signing up for email newsletters. Those activities allow you to glimpse employee communications best practices and adapt your strategy accordingly.

  1. Consider weaving in a human touch

Staid corporate communications are a thing of the past. Your colleagues are more than employees; they are people just like you, with their friends, families, and personal challenges. Keep that in mind, as all those factors will play a role in interpreting and engaging with your messaging.

Human-centric employee communications now emphasize the importance of engagement and purpose in motivating employees at work. Messaging strategies that emphasize value-driven work will resonate with readers and unite employees around core goals.

  1. Measure your success

Data and measurement are power, but some communications professionals aren't taking full advantage of them. Only about half of industry professionals report using measurement to explain the value of their communications tactics to executives. While collecting data has traditionally been challenging for internal comms teams, now they have more metrics at their fingertips than ever before.

The new priority is adopting a deliberate approach to data that will justify investments and prove the impact of your initiatives. Select a combination of analytics and qualitative employee feedback methods that will speak to specific, business-wide aims. 

Give context to these findings to demonstrate the impact of your approach and create a compelling narrative that showcases critical takeaways. After all, measuring your success is essential to convey the value of your communications program to decision-makers and secure executive buy-in for your future initiatives.

Learn about some of our recent success stories

Gain inspiration from some of our clients who have launched cutting-edge internal comms strategies that are specifically tailored to their workforce’s needs and challenges:

When Stantec sought to redesign their intranet, leaders envisioned a fully-fledged internal newsroom that would bring their culture of inspiration to life. After a period of rapid expansion, the enterprise’s internal communications team was faced with the challenge of engaging 22k employees across 35 offices. “The Lens” shines a spotlight on the innovative work Stantec is doing to shape communities big and small, in turn empowering every employee to become an active participant.

For Windstream, a legacy platform had previously hindered the efficacy of internal comms. The enterprise opted to swiftly migrate to a new solution that levels up connectivity through two-way communications mediums such as social networking and user-generated content.

Cardinal Health is yet another example of a global enterprise that has enhanced their internal messaging strategy by taking advantage of a next-generation intranet. By replacing their employee website with a comprehensive healthcare intranet, the organization entered a new era of communications characterized by greater trust in leadership and more confidence in what the future holds.

Useful internal comms tools

When crafting a messaging strategy, internal communications professionals can choose to take advantage of a combination of the following communication tools:

Mandatory reads for employees

Whether it’s a policy change or a critical update, some pieces of content cannot be ignored. Mandatory reads improve information flows within the company. Furthermore, they level up compliance by requiring employees to certify that they have read key pieces of content before a specified date.

Email & newsletters to enhance internal communications

Email once held the monopoly on office communications, but as new digital tools break onto the scene, some have started questioning the relevance of email in modern employee communications. Although it is fair to agree that the use case for email is evolving, emails still play a crucial role in any communication strategy.

Internal communicators should ensure emails are compelling and impactful. As discussed previously, one way to achieve this is to create targeted content for specific sub-segments of the workforce. This tactic will keep your content strategy in line with the needs and expectations of the people on the receiving end.

On the other hand, avoid black and white Outlook messages of years past; instead, strive to create visually appealing updates. Compose messages that intersperse the text with graphics and video and pay homage to your brand's colors and themes.

Pink arrow light representing the role of email in internal communications

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5 tips for using email effectively to elevate internal communications

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Utilise blog and insights sections

Blogs can reduce your internal comms team’s reliance on email without letting important updates fall by the wayside. By targeting and tagging pieces, users can quickly get their eyes on what’s most relevant and skip over any content that doesn’t align with their role and interests. To level up two-way communications and amplify voices from across your organization, consider incorporating user-generated content into your blog strategy.

Gain traction by using video in your internal communications

Looking for a quick way to convey complex messages? Need to add a personal touch? Striving to cultivate connection with C-suite? Video content can come to the rescue every time. Potential uses include messages from the CEO, virtual town hall meetings, and how-to demonstrations.

Time and time again, video content proves its attention-grabbing potential. The medium generates 530% more engagement via comments and reactions and viewers retain 95% of a message from video as opposed to just 10% from text.

Increase engagement using mobile push notifications

With a workforce that is ever more mobile, internal communications teams must deploy new tactics to keep employees aligned. It’s not realistic to assume team members are sitting at their computer day in and day out, waiting for important updates to appear on their desktop. Sometimes news must be brought to users’ attention.

Push notifications do just that by sending alerts via an employee’s mobile device. Much like mandatory content reads, it’s best to adopt a strategic approach when deploying push notifications. Employees who find themselves on the receiving end of too many notifications are likely to ignore or unsubscribe. Reserve push notifications for emergencies, deadlines, major events or breaking news, and reminders.

Maximize the impact of your intranet homepage

As the first page many employees navigate to, your intranet homepage is a prime opportunity to engage from the start. To maximize this tool’s value, relevancy is key. Build targeted homepages to provide every segment of your workforce with centralized news and features specifically tailored to their role and location.

Take advantage of the homepage to generate buzz around new initiatives. For example, if your organization debuts a wellbeing plan, create a banner on your intranet homepage as well as blog content and tips for getting involved. Similarly, your homepage can serve as an optimal medium for spotlighting internal ambassadors through a takeover scheme.

Most important things you must know about internal comms

Some key points to keep in mind include:

  1. All eyes are on internal comms

Two-thirds of industry professionals note that leadership is looking to employee comms more frequently for guidance. Accordingly, half noted improved engagement with colleagues following the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. The move to the digital era is well underway

Modern organizational communications is driven by technology. The World Economic Fund reports that 85% of enterprises are expanding into new technologies to enhance communications.

  1. Teams are often small but mighty

Many internal communications teams are lean by design. It's not uncommon for a handful of employees to oversee the messaging strategy for a workforce of 10k or more.

  1. Email no longer has the monopoly

In years past, email may have dominated the playing field. However, with the average time spent on email estimated to be just 1.1 minutes per message, internal communicators must get creative to resonate with their target audience. Modern media enables professionals to diversify their strategy to maximize engagement levels and ensure key content reaches the right audiences.

  1. Many professionals view information overload as a challenge

46% of communications leaders consider audience information overload a key challenge to overcome. They all agree that it makes cutting through the noise and affecting tangible change increasingly difficult.

  1. Addressing workplace change is another top priority

Only 6% of communication leaders feel confident in their ability to manage change. On the other hand, 71% note that the pace of change has increased over the past 3 years.

  1. Expect sustainability to gain prominence

Many enterprises are increasingly embracing sustainability initiatives to unite their organization and power better working methods. With this shift already underway, employees are looking for updates on what their employer is doing to build a better tomorrow.

57% of workers agree that they need more information about their company's environmental goals. In the same way, only 16% claim their employer has clearly communicated their sustainability policies. Expect internal comms to take a leading role in publicizing new sustainability initiatives and encouraging colleagues to get involved.

Employee using an internal communications system on his company intranet whilst standing in a sustainable green house

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Why sustainability needs to be a focus of post-pandemic internal communications

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  1. Teams have their eyes on improvement

53% of internal communicators note that they will be focusing their attention on improving digital channels over the next year.

Keep reading to learn even more about internal communications

The field of internal comms is always evolving and the profound changes that are currently under way promise to change the playing field for the entire profession. If you’re eager to read more and keep your finger on the pulse for relevant updates, check out the following content pieces:

Top Challenges for Communicators

Employee Communications During COVID-19

State of the Sector

Effective Messaging is Building Trust

Common internal communication problems to avoid: 

There are several employee communications challenges that every professional should have on their radar, including:

  1. Changing expectations

As consumer marketing tactics have made their way into the workplace, internal communicators must evolve their program to prioritize segmented content. This method provides readers with personalized experiences customized to their unique priorities. Consider taking advantage of new mediums to engage users with different content preferences. Making messages accessible via mobile, and giving priority to real-time updates will make your strategy more effective and worthwhile.

  1. Cutting through the red tape

Traditionally, leaders with their eyes on the bottom line might have overlooked internal communications. Unlike other departments, the efficacy of this function is not so easy to quantify. To demonstrate their value and secure more funding, professionals in this area rely on a combination of quantitative and qualitative data. 

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  1. An ever-changing landscape

With the accelerated speed of technological innovation, it can be challenging to keep up with what tools to use. Thus, internal communicators must constantly monitor the technological landscape and pinpoint innovations that can prove valuable for their communication goals. As department leaders, their task is to envision the role each capability will play in their overarching strategy.

  1. Reaching colleagues on the frontline

Impactful employee comms should reach and engage the entire workforce, but frequently frontline colleagues report feeling out of the loop. As many as 60% of frontline employees note that their ideas and insights often go unheard. Similarly, 84% of deskless workers said they don't get enough information from senior management. Since most frontline roles are primarily mobile by design, employee communications must devise targeted messaging strategies to connect with this segment. 

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Sidestep these challenges and begin your internal communications transformation

Are you hoping to get a jumpstart on enhancing your internal communications strategy? Check out our guide or get in touch. Our digital workplace experts will provide information on how an intranet can underpin a superior approach to corporate messaging.

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