An effective internal communications strategy is a critical aspect of your organization’s daily operations. You may have best practices and procedures in place for communicating well with customers, partners, and even potential new hires, but the same level of care applied to your own employees can help build engagement.
Don’t put strong internal communications with employees on the back burner – improvements in employee engagement, cultural alignment and employee advocacy will shine when you focus on connecting to your staff.
Internal communication programs can be daunting for some organizations, especially when looking to revamp or upgrade their efforts. However, we’re here to show you how to create a successful program and avoid the typical roadblocks that come with enhancing your strategy.
At a basic level, good communication is about change and adaptability. This is why our communication best practices need to constantly be rethought and updated to match the current environment. In 2018, as the digital and professional landscapes evolve, your organization’s communication goals should evolve right alongside them.
- 7 steps to form your internal communications strategy
- Best practices for communication in the workplace
Why you need to rethink communication goals
Effective communication in the workplace is paramount. Without it, you couldn’t build innovative products, provide exceptional services, engage employees or satisfy customer needs.
In other words, it’s the key to running a profitable business.
Unfortunately, many organizations continue to use outdated communication methods, often using a set-it-and-forget-it approach—in fact, evidence constantly suggests that most companies don’t communicate well enough with their employees:
- Employees spend up to 2 hours a day gossiping or worrying
- Confusion at work leads to frustration, reduced productivity, and rumors
- Frustration prompts the loss of key employees and costs up to 150% of their salary to replace
Yet, at the same time, productivity improves up to 25% in organizations with connected employees. The reason for this is clear – your employees are your brand ambassadors. They’re on the front line for your company, engaging with customers, sharing your messages on social media, and helping your business grow. With a defined communications strategy in place and a strong understanding of best practices, companies can create a stronger, more interconnected network of staff, all working towards a common goal.
According to a Bambu data report, 80% of employees want their employer to keep them updated about company news—77% said it would help them at their job and 66% said it helps them build better relationships with their colleagues. Additionally, 63% said that it would help them become an advocate for the business and tell others about their company.
There is tremendous opportunity for employers to capitalize on the potential impact a successful internal communications strategy can have on their reputation—both internally with employees, and externally with their audience.
7 steps to form your internal communications strategy
Internal communication programs can be daunting for some organizations, especially when looking to revamp their practices. However, we’re here to show you how to create a successful program and avoid the typical roadblocks that come with enhancing your strategy.
So, what does it take to develop an internal communications strategy?
Here’s our seven-step guide to launching a successful internal communications program:
1. Assess your current internal communication strategy
You likely have an internal communication strategy already in place, so it’s always best to start with internal research. If this is your first strategy, simply head to the next step. For everyone else, it’s essential to make notes on your current plan by answering important questions.
Some of the things you should immediately address when revamping your internal communication strategy include:
- Where you currently sit: How has your current strategy performed? What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses of note? Who is currently involved with your plan and who can you add to improve it?
- Where you’ll eventually be: We’ll dive into this more, but your initial assessment should point you in a better direction to where your strategy will be if you change your plan. Is it going to address your entire team?
- How you plan to get there: What is it going to take to get you to achieving your objectives? What type of content will resonate the most with your staff?
- How long it should take: How many resources are needed to reach your objective? What’s the difference between how long it should take vs. a realistic timeline for your team?
- Who’s involved: Is your current team too small? Are there too many cooks in the kitchen? Assessing your current strategy should indicate where you can add on or trim fat on your internal comms team.
Answering or at least planning to have an resolution for these talking points is important to reevaluating your strategy. You want to deliver the right message to your employees. So, try to spend time thinking about these issues.
2. Identify your key metrics to track for success
Just like most other facets of your business, your internal communication strategy can and should be analyzed for success. To do this, you need to gather your core metrics that will show you if your strategy is actually working.
Statistics on your internal communications show you if employees actually use your intranet. It also shows how they use your tools and if you’re able to reach others in the process. This means you can dissect your strategy and learn about what areas need more attention and what can be skipped.
— Julia (@juliaelman) June 23, 2017
While there are certain things that can’t be measured, we recommend starting with these few metrics to get a better idea of your strategy.
One metric of concern that many organizations don’t think about is the amount of social shares your content receives. Are you posting a job offer or highlighting a major win for your business?
Tracking social shares of content shows the power of social reach. By using an internal comms tools like Bambu by Sprout Social, you see the total shares by network, content or user to analyze your overall reach. Working within your own organization and relying on your employees to be advocates will increase your reach and awareness
Employee engagement metrics
How often are your employees reading your internal content? Do they comment, like, share or start a discussion with your content? Measuring your overall employee engagement metrics can provide deep insight into what your staff uses the most. A big setback for internal comms tools is the lack of open discussion. Evaluate your current internal comm strategy to see if your employees feel open to discuss, share or comment on organizational content.
Data from a Bambu report shows only 9.4% of people use social media to recruit for open positions. If you consider the size of your team and each one of their Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin followers, the possibilities of increasing your brand reach through employees’ social is real. Analyze how many employee referrals you currently see and whether or not there are options to increase that number through social.
Project management issues
Last but not least, it’s smart to analyze the number of roadblocks and project management issues. If your teams have consistent issues, this could be due to a lack of internal communication in your organization. A data report on internal comms from Bambu discovered 29% of employees believe their current internal comms tools aren’t working. Find where your company sees the most bottlenecks and see if these numbers relate to your communication strategy.
3. Set realistic goals & timelines
Setting realistic goals for your business will help you estimate the difficulty and time investment of implementing your strategy so you can take more efficient steps toward updating your internal comms effectively.
One way to better set your goals is by looking at the previous metrics and noting where you think you can make an immediate impact.
Try to plan effective timelines for your business. You could perform surveys to see what information is too frequent and unnecessary for the organization.
Some initial questions you might ask to get this conversation started include:
- What do you want your internal communications strategy to do for your company?
- Which areas are working well, why those areas are working well, and what needs improvement?
- How quickly do you want to reach your goals?
- What communication tools or platforms are available given company size, priorities, and expectations of what employees should be doing with information shared?
Answering these questions will paint a clearer picture of what you want your internal communications strategy to actually accomplish. These goals will serve as your blueprint for establishing your strategy, and then growing and maintaining it over time.
A good place to start when creating your goals is to ensure they follow S.M.A.R.T. logic—in other words, are your goals:
- Specific: Define what you want to accomplish in clear, simple terms that all your team can understand
- Measurable: Create milestones and targets that can help you see your progress towards each aspect of your goal
- Attainable: It’s good to have lofty ambitions, but you need to know that your goals are manageable, and realistic
- Relevant: In this case, you’ll need to create goals that are linked to developing your team, and connected seamlessly with your business model
- Time-based: Create a specific time for your goal so you don’t let yourself slip
4. Segment & map out your audience
Once you have an idea of what could bolster your internal comms strategy, it’s time to know who to target. Your content should always target a specific audience, even when it’s kept internal. It’s important to figure out what messages need to reach certain employees in your business.
Another major misconception is that to have a successful internal comms strategy, you have to include everyone in all messages for better transparency. However, that’s just not true. While your employees want to be up on news and company information, it’s smart to segment out your audience first.
According to a Bambu data report, 45.1% of millennials thought their company’s internal comms strategy was failing because critical messages were lost amidst other information. Mapping out your approach to communications more strategically can address information overload. Instead of sending a message to everyone or only your c-suite, try partnering with key stakeholders in the organization to discuss what type of content would be necessary for their team. Rather than sending the same information to everyone (regardless of role or department), your internal communications strategy should focus on delivering relevant information to the right people, at the right time.
Rank the types of content that is important to your different audience segments. Understand that while your sales team might want to have access to a large amount of granular sales updates, the marketing team may be better served by a higher level digest of important events.
Targeting your comms strategy will also ensure that everything runs smoothly within your organization. In fact, many brands are learning from the behavior of digital marketers and recognize that they need to communicate with individual recipients on a personal, more engaging level.
5. Build an approval process
A key part of planning out your internal communication strategy is planning out an approval process for your content. This will prevent any unnecessary errors, closed comments or news from accidentally being published to the wrong segments of your team.
First you need to determine who or what team is control of your internal comms strategy. Who will read, write or approve the messages you send to your team? Next, you need to know what stakeholders from each department can contribute to the approval process for content. In most cases, companies find this responsibility falling on their Marketing/Communications teams—and for good reason. These are the team members who are most confident in their ability to convey company voice, brand and overall image.
Your marketing team can also easily navigate the content library, identify the most up-to-date content and point co-workers to industry-specific resources that speak to relevant trends. All of these capabilities are critical to have when leading employee advocacy. Another important ability—and one that often comes naturally for marketers—is crafting social messaging that’s concise yet impactful, and relevant to the platform it’s being shared on.
Building your team this way can help streamline content approval and publishing and avoid bottlenecks. And using an all-in-one tool like Bambu allows you customize your approvals by each team member to prevent any collisions while producing content.
6. Identify your internal communications tools
It’s important to note which channels you’ll use to push your internal content. But it’s just as critical to decide on the internal comms tools you will use in the process. Certain messages are best fitting for different channels. For example, major news might be more suited to Twitter, while job openings may get more visibility on LinkedIn and Facebook.
By using an internal comms tool like Bambu, you reduce your marketing costs and increase your social reach through the power of your employee advocates. Simply giving your staff a route to share your content to their feeds will bring more people to your network.
Collaboration is another important part of strong internal communications. Slack is a great internal messaging and chat service that can bring together all the different pieces to your organization. Whether you’re sharing internal documents or looking to plan specific events without the dreaded email chain, Slack is great to pair with Bambu for internal comms.
According to the respondents in the McKinsey Global Survey, in companies where messaging platforms have become more popular, social tools have acquired a more significant presence within the professional environment. As companies focus on ways to reduce communication costs while streamlining collaboration strategies, social tools—from messaging apps like Slack to advocacy platforms like Bambu—are becoming a more natural way to bring those once disconnected teams together towards a shared goal.
The McKinsey study outlines that over the past three years, social tools in the workforce have helped employees to communicate more freely in the workplace, with 80% of employees communicating often with other people in their teams (compared to only 65% of staff not using message platforms).
At the same time, these technologies are giving people the freedom to self-organize more freely, with 63% claiming that they can organize themselves within their teams thanks to stronger communication platforms. The change in communication technology has meant that the nature of work has begun to transform, with groups focusing more on projects than function-based work.
7. Evaluate your progress & optimize
Your key performance indicators shouldn’t be used just for tracking progress. Learn from them and continually optimize what you are doing for the best results possible. Do quarterly or even monthly evaluations of your communications strategy and build it into the core foundation of your workflow.
For example, at each major staff meeting, you should spend just a few moments reflecting on internal communications. This will help you build communications related questions into your employee satisfaction survey. Some questions you could ask employees include:
- How well do you think we are communicating internally?
- Are we doing everything we can to keep our organizational vision transparent?
- What setbacks limit you from working with others on projects?
- Do you believe we could increase our communications across departments?
- What barriers prevent you from better internal communication each day?
- Where can we improve the most on company communication?
If you continually re-evaluate your internal communications strategy, you ensure your business goals are aligned with your staff, creating more transparency and trust. Without evaluating your progress, you have little information on how to improve and grow.
Best practices for communication in the workplace
Today, more companies are beginning to recognize that one-way communication is a thing of the past. Employees who feel as though they’re being listened to are more likely to stay with their employers and contribute to the workforce with enhanced performance.
Focusing on an engagement strategy that’s rooted in communication should ideally leave every employee feeling educated, informed and inspired. As you get your internal communication strategy up and running, you’ll need to continue to optimize and refine it over time.
Today, 39% of employees believe that people in their own organization don’t collaborate enough, and technology is a way of addressing this problem. However, it’s important to implement strategies that are suitable to the needs and goals of your company, rather than just adopting new technology because it’s the latest thing on the market.
These best practices will help you continually improve your strategy and make sure you’re using your internal communication channels effectively.
1. Keep it simple
There’s no single communication strategy that works for everyone within a business environment. The McKinsey survey shows that 45% of respondents consider social practices to be deeply integrated into their day-to-day work.
However, what those social technologies involve will depend on the needs of your employees—some will prefer phone, others may gravitate towards email, and you will see more and more people becoming comfortable with video conferencing.
The key is to be clear about which tools are meant to accomplish which tasks, and to identify one centralized location for employees to go to for information that can them point them to the next relevant place.
2. Make communication a conversation
Workplace communication, whether it’s internal or external, should never be one-way. Most employee engagement programs today are focused on the concept of making the workplace more inclusive for everyone. This means making it a point to promote productive and meaningful conversations among your employees.
The conversations to help establish and build on these connection can range from topics like company goals, current and upcoming projects, workplace culture, or general company updates. Whatever the topic, the information gleaned from encouraging healthy employee communication will transform your business for the better.
Employee engagement programs and workplace communications are two of the most important factors to focus on when growing a business from the inside out. However, if you want to encourage evolution, you need to provide channels for your team to share ideas and give feedback.
Employees will look to company leaders to help them kick off these conversations with each other, but once the connection is initiated, they’ll be able to grow the relationship organically from there.
3. Connect with a multi-generational workforce
We’re currently facing perhaps the most diverse workforce in history. Many employers recruit in age ranges from 18 to age 70, and that means handling numerous, complex generations at once.
When it comes to things like preferred communication styles, the difference between younger and older generations couldn’t be more significant. While Millennials are known for sending instant messages and texts to communicate, Gen X-ers and Baby-Boomers still prefer in-person conversations, emails and phone calls. To succeed in this changing landscape, businesses need to figure out how they can connect with everyone while still keeping efficiency top of mind.
For most brands, handling the multi-generational workforce means implementing a range of business communication tools. At the same time, companies will need to encourage different groups across their enterprise to collaborate with each other and mentor different demographics in new solutions for communication.
4. Empower employees to become brand advocates
When it comes to effective communication strategies, it’s important to remember that it’s not just internal connections that businesses need to think about, but external communication as well. Millennials and younger generations both in and out of the workforce are demanding a higher level of authenticity from brands, which is why the need for strong company culture has grown dramatically this year.
Employees will continue to emerge as the most important voice of a company, ensuring authenticity when connecting with new hires, prospects, customers, peers and everyone in between. With a strong employee advocacy solution, businesses can strengthen company culture and engage their most valuable employees, while also amplifying their share of market voice. After all:
- Brand messages are re-shared 24x as often when they’re delivered by employees instead of the brand
- The leads that come from employee advocacy convert 7x more than any other lead
- Employee generated, and shared content gets 8x more engagement than anything produced by brand channels
- Customers that are referred by employee advocates have a 37% higher retention rate
Already, 98% of your employees are using a social media site in their free time, and 50% of that group already use these platforms to connect with your brand. By transforming your employees into content marketers, you introduce a peer-to-peer dynamic into your internal communications strategy, improving both your employer brand and increasing your chances of better leads, more qualified hires and stronger business results.
In order to effectively implement advocacy into your current communication goals, it’s important to consider how you can help employees spread content that directly interests and affects them, while making the process simple with access to the right tools.
5. Strengthen company culture
Focus on company culture isn’t necessarily a new concept anymore, but in 2018, it will become mandatory to consider when businesses implement new communication initiatives. Whether you need to design a communication strategy that shares your content with remote and mobile workers, or you simply need to break down the walls between generations, the future of communication will be all about overcoming engagement issues through shared goals.
So, how do you make sure that your communication strategy shows your brand values?
The simple answer is to practice what you preach. Communication goals need to be shared and embodied from the top down, and new trends should be embraced by everyone from executives and managers, to lower-level employees. The more natural your communication and employee advocacy strategies feel to your workforce, the more likely they’ll end up identifying themselves as part of the team.
It’s safe to say that workplace communication has become an essential part of running a successful business. While less than 30% of employees feel engaged at work, higher engagement leads to stronger productivity, higher profitability and reduced turnover—so it makes sense to tap into this engagement component.
Today, workplace communication isn’t just about making sure that executives and lower-level employees feel comfortable talking to each other, it’s also about evaluating the technology available for communication and understanding how it can be adopted to improve collaboration, performance and ultimately, advocacy.