3 Things to Keep in Mind in Internal Communications
More than once, I heard business professionals saying how companies they worked for featured their achievements in internal communications. And they felt good about it. Others saw their personal achievements, unrelated to career, shared in company news channels. Some won company scholarships, and earned praise in CEO bulletins, social media or specially-made video clips.
These are examples of internal communications done right. Identifying them on time, and shaping them into memorable news items can be a valuable capacity, especially for a growing company. If done well they can play a big role in cohesion, motivation and company culture.
Besides this, there are other things to keep in mind when running internal communications.
1. Channels and formats: From company bulletins to radio shows and video clips
From time to time, it's good to analyze channels and formats you're using in internal communications. If you're not new to this trade, you will already have an idea of what works and what doesn't. Still, you may find room for fine-tuning and improvements.
What fits an organization best will depend on its type and size, culture and values, and goals you're trying to achieve. For example, a very small company will not use intranet to keep employees informed. In such organizations, news, plans and milestones can be shared directly. Also, lots of exchange and alignment can happen informally. At that point, having structured internal communications is not a matter of priority.
Challenge comes with growth. With more people joining the company, workload will get divided. Separate teams, departments and email groups will emerge. They will take over portions of work, but also portions of communications. Although this improves efficiency, it can became a barrier to information sharing.
After a while, leaders can start noticing that not every employee understands the company - direction, goals and changes - as well as when the organization was smaller. This can lead to estrangement, weaken dynamics and teamwork. In fact, lack of clear communication and information from the company is often why employees fail to align with its goals and adapt to changes.
Historically, larger companies issued bulletins and newspaper-style editions. It was a good way of circulating company news and explaining strategy to all employees. This format is still useful in many larger organizations. Some of them share their bulletins with clients and partners as well. Production includes a number of journalist techniques which ensure timeliness and relevance.
Print editions can give a certain prestige to corporate communications. People like to see professionally edited and designed newspapers and magazines, lending them more credence and respect. They might stick with audiences longer, and prompt them to read articles more than once. They can also be available on company websites in PDF or other formats.
With email, distribution of company news and communications got easier and faster. Email newsletters became important channels in corporate communications. They also require professional editing capacity to stay relevant and timely. They allow an analysis of opens and clicks, which traditional channels lacked.
Larger companies also use intranets as publishing platforms. Archiving and search functions allowed intranets to become collections of company history, milestones, people and notable events. Social media added another dimension, and so did video formats and chat apps. They opened new possibilities for businesses to engage and inform employees. Some companies host their internal radio shows. Others have internal forums or promote social media sharing. Some companies are trying to stay relevant on mobile channels; they have included SMS messaging and chat apps into their mix.
All these channels and platforms can play an important role in how your message will be delivered and received. They can cater to different demographics, company cultures and goals. Identifying the best mix will likely need some practice, trial and error, and fine tuning.
2. Finding and telling great stories
The ability to find authentic stories from all parts of the company and bring them to internal audiences is the cornerstone of truly excellent corporate communications. It seems obvious, but this capacity can trickiest of all. Everyone seems to recognize a good story when they see it written or aired. Yet, discovering and shaping good stories consistently, and packing them through relevant channels for maximum impact requires loads of experience and specialist knowledge.
In multicultural and international organizations, opportunities for great stories are abundant. Still, they are easily lost amidst the chaos of deadlines and workload. As a result, many stories remain untold, and companies are missing out on a potential that could work for their culture and cohesion.
Capturing and developing good stories requires both talent and practice. Talent that delivers on this can be rare in business-minded organizations, as they usually recruit with other skills in mind. Except for creative agencies and professional editorial teams, there are very few organizations that will know how to find and produce compelling stories, and do that consistently. When addressing this challenge, it's good to use journalistic techniques and procedures.
Except for the specialized knowledge, it is important to keep people from across the company close to the process. By keeping in touch with employees from different departments you will discover lots of potential for stories. Also, you will deepen your understanding of your readers and their expectations. This will be useful in planning and decision making.
Offer opportunities for people to have their stories told. Also, invest some time into creating a network of informants - people that will recognize good stories and let you know about them. They will likely be excited to see them published, and could become valuable assistants on the project.
3. Consistency and pace: Top challenge for all
Internal communications can be off to a great start, or a new beginning, with lots of enthusiasm and big plans. The project can inspire interest and start off with great stories. But also, it can sink below expectations when good material is spent, and news leads get exhausted. Those with experience in news and production know this too well.
It takes experience to be able to run corporate communications on a good level consistently, over a longer time span. And this is what company owners and managers will expect. The ability to deliver interesting pieces every week, and include all key developments in a company is no easy task. Furthermore, you will want alignment with strategic goals and company culture.
Firm process, good planning and people with skills and experience are key to success in the long run. They will power corporate comms to deliver on all requirements over a longer period of time.
From time to time, consistency and quality will be challenged. There's always the danger of it becoming someone's routine work, done without passion or a sense of mission. Inspiration can get spent and output can get less than excellent. If you notice such mentality has started developing, find ways to boost the project with fresh energy and ideas as soon as possible.
Build your sources, talk to people and listen to their concerns. Make yourself approachable. It takes a lot of empathy to be able to recognize the ever changing pulse of your internal audience. It's important to track clicks and read rates, and understand how the outcomes resonate with your audience, i.e. employees.
Encourage your internal audience to offer opinions and suggestions for improvements. Some colleagues may have ideas for articles, posts or video clips they wish to contribute. Be prepared to hear negative feedback and act on it. Ask for comments and don't shun discussions when people start them. That can help breathe new sparks into the project, and steer it to the levels of relevance for both the company and its employees.