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Internal Communications Trends for 2018

What's the Latest In Internal Communications?

To communicate with internal audience and stay tuned with the latest developments in internal communication space.

— Sr. Manager, Marketing and Corporate Communications

The latest in internal communications trends is the social intranet.

In essence, a social intranet is a complete internal communications system. If used correctly, it should replace email as a means of communication with and among employees. But that’s not the best and most important part.

A social intranet can and should transform the way companies talk to employees because it does what no other platform can do. It captures all three streams of communication in real time.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, take a look at Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Chapter 18, Communicate. It explains the three streams in detail. They are:

  • Company to employees
  • Employees to company
  • Employees to each other

Which one would you say is the most important?

A typical job description for Internal Communications might be a 90-10-0 split among the three streams. That is 90% of the time is devoted to being the company’s mouthpiece—producing online news digests, print publications, events, speeches, and internal memos.

The remaining ten percent is gathering employee feedback. Maybe a survey to see how many remember the company mission, vision, and values. Or maybe some exit interviews forwarded by HR.

This leaves Internal Communications zero time for mingling with employees and getting inside their minds. How do they feel about their jobs? What kinds of words do they use when they talk about their bosses, management, the company? Do the corporate values make a difference in how they go about their jobs? Did the latest campaign change the way they treat customers? Prioritize tasks? Utilize resources?

If we compare Marketing to Internal Comms—which should be easy for our Sr. Manager to do, because she handles both—it looks as though Internal Comms has its priorities upside down. Both get paid to reach an audience, yet Marketing spends most of its time researching and analyzing the customer while Internal Comms spends most of its time speaking into a void.

Why such a difference?

I am going to guess that marketing has a better feedback loop. If your marketing message doesn’t work, you have no sales leads. Nobody calls. Nobody comes to the store. Nobody sends RFPs. After a while, you start asking questions. Where are the buyers? What are they looking for? What do they think of my product? And how do they respond to my messaging?

With Internal Comms, things are a little trickier. How do we know for sure whether the message works and which version has the most impact? You’re probably not going to A/B test because it would be weird if half of the employees got one memo and the other half got a slightly altered version. And even if you could do that, how would you measure the response?

At the same time, Internal Comms’ job is a lot easier than Marketing’s. Marketing deals with buyer personas—hypothetical buyers reconstructed from focus group and survey data. The real buyer—the person who is looking for a product like yours, but has not found it yet—is always an unknown. It will take guesswork, educated or otherwise, to find the words to move the prospective buyer through the pipeline.

But your employees are specific individuals. You have already found them and brought them in. Not only do they work for the company, but they are also tied to it through dozens of personal and professional connections. They are your community. As part of that community, you should never have to guess what they think. You should learn it through the ordinary course of business.

As the company grows in size, the degrees of separation between management and employees also increase. Traditionally, larger firms have had to work harder to stay connected to their workforce. Over the decades, smart companies have come up with various ways of making that happen, some technologically advanced and some surprisingly low tech. (Check out Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Chapter 19, Give Them a Voice, to see some fascinating examples.)

Once upon a time, only large corporations had the luxury of being spread around the country and the world. The dot.com generation created the virtual company. Today many businesses, like Axero, are born multinational. For us, having the right internal communications platform has always been a matter of survival.

Enter the social intranet—technology’s latest attempt to make size and distance disappear. Now you can find someone halfway around the globe just as quickly as someone in the next cubicle. You can talk to the entire company in the same way as you would to a single employee. And the entire company can talk back to you and each other.

Going social means never leaving the conversation. You would think any self-respecting Internal Comms would be all over such a useful invention. And, in all fairness, some of our biggest champions in the marketplace come from Internal Comms. However, along with enthusiasm comes another sentiment.

Fear.

Back when social intranets were just coming out, I would call it fear of something new. But now, with all generations using social media, and many companies moving onto their second or third social intranet platform, I’d say it’s something else.

Fear of losing control.

For ages, Internal Comms has had full control of the intranet. From that point of view, opening it up to employees sounds as bizarre as letting the animals run the zoo. “We can’t just turn them loose, Tim. They’ll eat each other alive!”

The most common concern is that employees will treat a social intranet like Facebook. And, in many ways—like checking in and staying on top of things—that’s the idea. The fear is that employees would also use profanity, argue about politics, post silly, irrelevant, and offensive content, or use chat to socialize during work.

The truth is that your people don’t need an intranet to do those things. They already have ample resources for wasting time and making fools of themselves. Facebook, Twitter, the break room, meetings, email—the list goes on.

Meanwhile, most employees are desperate for a way to find and share the information they need to do their jobs. Consider a customer service rep on the phone or a technician in the field who is under pressure to solve a problem while the customer is waiting. They’re looking for emergency help and advice from someone who’s been there before. In these cases, instant messaging via intranet could be a lifesaver.

Another popular feature is discussion forums where employees can learn from each other about potential problems and solutions. A single helpful response can allow any employee to fix a similar problem at any point in the future. Without a forum to post to, the advice would only be available to a few people for a short time.

There are lots of reasons to let employees create content and keep one another within instant reach. In fact, your biggest intranet fear should be that they don’t spend enough time on it. Most social intranet features (assuming they are easy to set up and straightforward to use) are designed to save time, not to waste it.

That said, not all companies are comfortable with an employee-run intranet. Some want to wait for employees to earn their trust. If this is your case, you can start simple and add features as you go along.

In Communifire, you can disable any social feature you are not ready to use. I’ve had customers turn off wall posts, activity streams, discussion forums, and even chat. Start with your static content and just one social feature, like comments, then take it from there.

For the more adventurous manager, there are also less radical means of control. If you don’t like something you see on the intranet, you can always take it down. You can ban foul language by automatically replacing it with blank spaces or any characters of your choice. You can get notified whenever anyone reads or responds to your post. And you can track all sorts of stats you couldn’t access before.

If you’re like our customers, you’ll be doing much less intranet policing than you expect. Most employees are great at keeping themselves and each other in line. Until they try it, most companies don’t realize that a social intranet is an awesome source of positive peer pressure. And Internal Comms can take all the credit too!

If you find it challenging “to communicate with internal audience and stay tuned with the latest developments in internal communication space,” you are probably not on a social intranet—or you are using the wrong platform. Check out this post on How to Make Your Intranet Work for You. And communicate to your heart’s content!

_____

If you like to communicate, you might like my book, because it helps you build common ground.

Tim Eisenhauer
Written by Tim Eisenhauer

Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.

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