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Creating meaningful employee communications

May 19, 2009

For all we’d love to think that employees want to hear about the latest news we want to share with them, the reality is that they often feel like corporate communications is far too corporate and not nearly good enough at the communications part. That’s why click-through-rates on mass emails are often disappointing, retention of company policies and updates is frequently poor, and participation in initiatives intended to engage them is often, well, underwhelming.

Want to change that? Here are a few ideas:

Ask them what they want.
The first and most basic step in creating successful communications is to find out what the people we are communicating with want to know and how they prefer to find out about it.  If we want this to work, we have to find ways to meet the needs they really have and not just the ones we perceive.  Start with research – surveys or focus groups are good options – and make sure it includes a sample that reflects the diversity of the folks you’ll be reaching out to.  And by diversity, I mean diversity of geography, demography, tech-savviness, access to communications vehicles, business units, education and literacy, function, and many other factors.  The larger your organization or target group within it, the more intense this research will be.  But take the time to invest in it because it will be the foundation of everything else you do.

Give them what they asked for.
Sounds simple, right, but it usually isn’t.  There are always hurdles – leadership, technology, brand, logistics, and others – that make it more complicated than we wished.  Make sure that you do everything – within reason – that you can to communicate the results of your survey and demonstrate how you’re responding to the feedback you’ve asked for.  And, when you can’t deliver something, explain why, and if possible, provide a plan for how and when you might be able to do so in the future.  This type of transparency will go a long way toward building trust.

Find the influencers and give them a voice.
They shouldn’t be hard to spot – they may be your biggest cheerleaders and even sometimes your most vocal critics.  The important thing is that they are heard and respected by the people you’re trying to reach.   Once you’ve found them, find ways to create converts who become internal brand evangelists.  One way to do this is by finding ways to co-create content with them.  This will also provide them an incentive to generate excitement that will be more organic and authentic than anything you could manufacture.


Establish editorial guidelines and processes.

Working with your team, create a clear set of goals and objectives for your communications.  You can then create buckets of content types – features, opinions, profiles, news briefs, best practices, etc – that will become expected over the life of the channel.  Every potential topic or story will need to fit into one of these and be filtered through the lens of the purpose of your channel.  Once you know what you’ll be talking about and how, you can begin looking at who will be doing the talking.  Employee influencers, subject mater experts, leadership, the communications team and others may be called upon to create or co-create content.


Be creative with your delivery.

Based on feedback from employees, find unexpected ways to help your communications rise above the clutter.  Is that bulletin board in the breakroom a jumbled mess of posters no one pays attention to? If so, it is probably not the best way to reach out.  Consider trash can lids for messages about recycling, light panels for tips on energy conservation, keyboard terminals for ideas on improving ergonomics, screening parties for videos, themed events for important announcements, etc.

Encourage conversation.

Finally, make sure there are lots of opportunities for employees to respond and that the content you’re providing is interesting enough that they will want to talk about it amongst themselves and with you.  Offer dedicated email addresses, toll free numbers, comment cards (both virtual and physical), forums (both online and in person), and other ways to go beyond messaging to real communication.

Sadly, we often fail to approach our internal audiences with the same care and empathy that we do our external customers.  We assume that they will comply with policies because they have to, participate in activities because it is expected of them, and read our messages because they are delivered to their inboxes. We’ve got to invest more in creating meaningful content and delivering it in ways that get our employees excited about it.

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