While internal communications may have once been in the background, the profession has quickly ascended to center stage. With workforces dispersing and enterprises adapting to the challenges of the new world of work, the need for corporate messaging has reached a peak. Employees from every role and region are looking for updates from leadership, 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 finetune your approach. At Unily, we believe a next-generation intranet can transform communications and generate unparalleled levels of engagement and participation. Below, we explore the current state of internal communications and the role technology can play in enhancing your strategy.
Internal communications is the sharing of information between employees and company stakeholders. Traditionally, it was seen as the function that pushes out messaging but in reality, the practice 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. As opposed to emphasizing top-down messaging and relying on mediums like corporate magazines, modern strategies utilize multiple channels to empower all employees to raise their voice. While every enterprise’s approach varies based on the needs and challenges of their workforce, the overriding goal for internal communications is to bring employees together and cultivate a sense of unity that spans the entire organization.
Selecting the right intranet CMS can feel daunting. As the need for omnichannel internal comms rises, so does the number of players on the scene. To choose the best option, leaders must prioritize a checklist of features and digest several key recommendations.
"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 readers outside of 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 communications focuses on creating content and conversations amongst people within an organization. Frequently, internal communications utilizes similar tactics to marketing teams, such as personalized content and multi-media messaging, but the purpose is different. Instead of trying to sell your product or promote your brand to a public audience, internal communications strives to build engagement amongst your workforce and cultivate a connection between colleagues.
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 internal communications content include:
Whether it’s a minor roadblock or a major disruption, it’s internal comms that gets the word out during times of crisis. Time is often of the essence during crisis messaging, so internal comms content might include the latest updates on the crisis and resources for employees who are looking for additional guidance.
The COVID-19 pandemic is one recent example in which crisis messaging took center stage for many internal comms teams, as professionals needed to update their colleagues about policy changes and safety protocols while also keeping employees connected as workforces dispersed.
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.
In moments of transition and change, employees look to internal comms to stay updated on what’s going on within their organization. Some internal comms teams might incorporate messages from leadership so that their peers can learn about major changes straight from the source.
Sometimes, internal comms serves as the corporate version of your local news channel or daily paper. Employees can get an inside look at enterprise happenings, like the debut of a new office or a behind-the-scenes glimpse at a recent project. Savvy internal communicators often adopt a targeted approach to news messages to ensure colleagues can easily learn about the updates that will prove most relevant to their role and region.
From corporate give backs to healthy living schemes, internal comms teams have the power to bring corporate campaigns to life by getting the word out and encouraging colleagues to get involved. In some circumstances, internal comms teams may partner with other divisions such as Human Resources when preparing to launch campaigns, particularly those that relate to employee health and wellbeing.
Culture and values
Internal comms departments make sure that every team member understands their employer brand and what their organization stands for through messaging that highlights corporate values. This content might include blog posts on your enterprise’s purpose and mission and employee spotlights that focus on colleagues who embody your brand’s values.
Two-way comms is a hallmark of modern messaging strategies. Internal comms content gives employees the opportunity to raise their voice and contribute to corporate dialogues through mediums such as social networking functionality and discussion forums.
The right internal comms strategy can inspire employees, build a sense of community, and unite team members around a central goal.
"The less people know, the more they yell."
The key business benefits that leaders can anticipate from enhancing their approach to internal comms include:
Keep employees informed and aligned
How do you ensure employees in various roles and regions stay on the same page? Internal comms bridges any potential knowledge gaps and unites colleagues from every department. By highlighting revolutionary work and exciting new projects, internal comms teams ensure that all of their colleagues are updated on the latest developments.
Enhance employee engagement
Internal comms can enhance employee engagement by cultivating a shared sense of purpose and empowering their teammates to raise their voice. To create a messaging strategy that maximizes employee engagement, 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 and an exciting employer brand benefit from a talent pool that is 50% more qualified than their competitors. As a result, a strong internal communications strategy can pave the way for better recruitment and help enterprises build workforces comprised of highly skilled employees.
If you’re not sure how to convey your company culture and values to your employees, blog content, email newsletters and social networking all make for excellent starting points. Give your colleagues the opportunity to connect with one another, learn about their peers, and actively shape the future of your organization in real-time.
Even under normal working conditions, cultivating a positive culture is both a challenge and a priority. Remote work can add an additional layer of complexity because it’s more difficult for dispersed workforces to unite under one vision. Paired with proper strategy and open lines of communication, the right set of digital tools can fuel a positive culture that boosts employee satisfaction and encourages every user to reach peak performance.
Provide opportunities for two-way conversations
Modern internal communications is decidedly multi-directional. Encourage your employees to branch out of their immediate network and begin to build connections with peers from various departments by taking advantage of social commenting and reacting. Feedback forms and opportunities for ideation are also crucially important, as your colleague’s insights can very well underpin new developments and breakthroughs that will prove revolutionary.
Reassure in times of crisis
In moments of crisis, it is internal comms that steps in to save the day by keeping colleagues informed and at ease. Corporate messaging can reassure employees, maintain morale, and underpin more agile approaches that take advantage of the skills every team member has to offer.
In every field, there’s always room to expand and iterate, and internal comms is no exception. Particularly as the practice continues to evolve and transitions to approaches that are more agile and inclusive, it is essential for every internal comms team to evaluate their strategy and look for opportunities to enhance their tactics.
Some tips to finetune your approach to internal comms include:
#1. Always keep your audience top of mind
Just as good journalists cater to their audience, internal communications teams should always keep their reader’s preferences top of mind. As opposed to one-off pieces, envision a fully-fledged internal newsroom that serves as a one-stop shop for the stories of your organization. When creating and refining your strategy, consider who the reader is and what they’re looking for. Divide your workforce into sub-audiences and develop personas for each group to create a more targeted approach.
#2. Take advantage of every tool at your disposal
Instead of relying on mass emails alone, the most impactful internal comms strategies will utilize multiple mediums to spread messages far and wide. From video updates from the leadership team to user-generated content, diversify your comms approach to engage colleagues with various content preferences.
To make the most of a multi-media approach, consider what types of formats may prove most engaging to various personas and sub-audiences. For example, if you’re trying to reach your customer service team to alert them of a new safety protocol, push notifications and mobile optimized alerts may be most effective way to get your message across to a deskless segment of your workforce
#3. Ask for input
Want to know what messaging tactics are working and which are falling flat? Ask your colleagues on the receiving end of your internal comms messaging for their input on various efforts and aim to put their feedback into action.
Pulse surveys are one tried and true method for monitoring employee sentiment. The short, anonymous, informal queries can be sent to segments of your workforce to evaluate engagement levels and identify potential challenges. Aim to keep pulse surveys to just 10 questions or less and 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 and always be sure to analyze your results.
#4. 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 and use this data to benchmark your progress and inform next steps. Not sure where to start? Consider metrics such as the number of clicks, opens, and reads, as well as testimonials from your peers about how they feel about your enterprise’s messaging approach.
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.
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."
"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."
If you’re eager to unite your workforce and enhance engagement levels, it’s time to transform your internal comms strategy. Some steps to consider include:
#1. Create an actionable strategy
Currently, only 57% of enterprises have a written internal communications plan. 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 and 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 S.M.A.R.T logic to create objectives that live up to the following criteria:
As leaders reimagine their world of work, it is internal communications that will lead the way in aligning the workforce against this vision. Future corporate communication strategies will be decidedly inclusive, agile, and digitalized. To succeed in this new era, internal communications teams will move towards an omnichannel approach that brings the consumer experience into the workplace.
#2. Maintain an agile approach
Even the most comprehensive internal comms strategy will need to be adapted and at times rewritten to align with real-time changes. Take COVID-19 as an example; during a mass-pandemic, internal comms teams needed to quickly shift gears to address evolving challenges like remote work and operational continuity. Don’t stop iterating and adapting your comms strategy to ensure it remains relevant and targeted to the audiences you serve, even if that means embracing changes.
#3. 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. Make sure your internal comms strategy is up to par by prioritizing a similar, omni-channel approach that puts the reader’s interests and priorities at the center.
#4. 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 to glimpse best practices from your colleagues in the field and adapt your own strategy accordingly.
#5. Consider weaving in a human touch
Staid corporate communications are a thing of the past. At the end of the day, your colleagues are more than employees: they are people with their own friends, families, and personal challenges, all of which will play a role in how they interpret and engage with your messaging.
With a renewed understanding of the importance of engagement and purpose in motivating employees at work, human-centric internal communications initiatives are now thriving. Messaging strategies that weave in softer touches and emphasize value driven work will resonate with readers and unite employees around core goals.
#6. Measure your success
Data and measurement are power, but some internal comms teams 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 measurements has traditionally been viewed as a challenge for the profession, internal comms teams 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. Contextualize these findings to demonstrate the impact of your approach and create a compelling narrative that showcases key takeaways. Ultimately, measuring your success is one of the most effective ways to convey the value of internal communications to decision makers and gain buy-in from stakeholders to support your next initiative.
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 tools:
Whether it’s a policy change or a critical update, some pieces of content cannot be ignored. Mandatory reads improve the flow of crucial information and level up compliance by requiring employees to certify that they have read key pieces of content before a specified date.
Email & newsletters
Email once held the monopoly on office communications. As new digital tools break onto the scene, some have questions whether the tried-and-true medium still has a place in internal comms. While there’s no doubt the use case for email is evolving, it can still play an important role in a modern strategy.
Internal communicators should ensure emails are compelling, impactful, and targeted to the specific sub-segments of their workforce who are likely to find the messages most relevant. Instead of the black and white Outlook messages of years past, strive to create compelling updates that intersperse text with graphics and video and pay homage to your brand’s colors and themes.
With nearly 320 billion emails sent over the last year, many messages are bound to get lost in the clutter. What does it take to craft an email that will resonate with your colleagues? Discover 5 tips for using email effectively to elevate your internal communications strategy.
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.
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 townhall 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.
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.
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.
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 internal comms more frequently for guidance and half noted improved engagement with colleagues following the COVID-19 pandemic.
#2. The move to digitalization is well under way
Modern internal communications is decidedly driven by technology. The World Economic Fund reports that as much as 85% of enterprises are expanding into new technologies to enhance communications.
#3. Internal comms 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.
#4. Email no longer has the monopoly on internal comms
In years past, email may have dominated the playing field. However, with the average time spent on email estimated to be just 1.1 minute per message, internal comms teams are getting creative and diversifying their strategy to maximize engagement levels and ensure key content reaches the right audiences.
#5. Many internal comms professionals view information overload as a challenge
46% of communications leaders consider audience information overload to be a key challenge that is making it increasingly difficult to cut through the noise and affect tangible change.
#6. Addressing workplace change is another top priority
Only 6% of communication leaders feel confident in their ability to manage change and 71% note that the pace of change has increased over the past 3 years.
#7. Expect sustainability to gain prominence
As leaders craft their success strategies for the new world of work, many enterprises will increasingly embrace sustainability initiatives to unite their organization and power better ways of working. With this shift already under way, employees are looking for updates and information on what their employer is doing to build a better tomorrow now.
57% of workers agree that they need more information about their company’s environmental goals and only 16% believe 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.
Sustainability will be a non-negotiable priority in the new world of work. By exploring the key insights from our latest report, Future of the Sustainable Workplace, your internal comms team can launch new messaging strategies that will align your workforce as you build a better tomorrow.
#8. Internal comms teams have their eyes on improvement
When it comes to troubleshooting for the future, 53% of internal communicators note that they will be focusing their attention and investing their resources on improving digital channels over the next year.
Keep reading to learn even more
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:
Common internal comms problems to avoid:
There are several internal comms challenges that every professional should have on their radar, including:
#1. Changing expectations
The targeted messaging and personalized experiences that prove so effective as consumer marketing tactics have made their way into the workplace. Consequently, internal communications teams must evolve their approach to prioritize compelling content that is customized to the unique priorities of specific sub-audiences. This includes taking advantage of new mediums such as video to engage users with different content preferences, making messages accessible via mobile, and prioritizing real-time updates.
#2. Cutting through the red tape
Traditionally, leaders with their eye on the bottom line might have overlooked internal communications. Unlike other departments, the efficacy of the practice cannot be boiled down into one all-encompassing number or calculation. Instead, internal communications teams rely on a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures to demonstrate the value of their work and secure the funding needed to fuel revolutionary initiatives.
Internal communicators emerge from the pandemic as everyday heroes across many businesses. Now, as the focus shifts to the return to work, what should internal communications teams be thinking about and how can an intranet support new challenges?
#3. An ever-evolving landscape
With the speed of technological innovation moving at lightning pace, it can be challenging to keep up with what tools to use when. Internal communications teams must monitor the technological landscape, pinpoint innovations that can prove valuable for their goals, and envision the role each capability will play in their over-arching strategy.
#4. Reaching colleagues on the frontline
Impactful internal 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 and 84% of deskless workers said they don’t get enough information from senior management. Since most frontline roles are primarily mobile by design, internal comms must devise targeted messaging strategies to connect with this crucial component of the workforce.
Of all employees, non-desk staff have the highest turnover rate and the lowest engagement scores. In this blog, we consider how modern digital workplace technology is combatting frontline employee engagement for leading enterprises, considering British Airways' cabin crew portal story as a prime example.
You know it's time to implement a cohesive internal communications strategy, but what should be a relatively simple process can cause as many problems as it solves. Here's our round up of the top 5 internal communications mistakes, and how to avoid them.
Sidestep these challenges and begin your internal comms transformation
If you’re hoping to get a jumpstart on enhancing your internal communications strategy, check out our guide or get in touch with our digital workplace experts for more information on how an intranet can underpin a superior approach to corporate messaging.
Discover how to supercharge internal communications with an employee experience platform.