Employee Communications – who wins, content or channel?
By Caoimhe Buckley, Chief Content & Communications Officer, AGL Energy
We’re all busy and internal communications teams are no different. So when it comes to spending your time, do you prioritise channel or content? Well the obvious answer is to focus on both equally because they are both equally important. There is absolutely no point spending all your time getting channels working if you’ve got nothing to say and no point developing beautiful content that no one will see.
But, if you must prioritise one, I would encourage most employee communicators to focus on channel first and here’s why…
Measure, measure, measure!
Again with the broken record! As a new(ish) profession and facing the same budgetary constraints as most departments, we have to be able to demonstrate the return on investment, both money and time we dedicate to getting the message out there. Investing time on content is important but channel should come first. Channel, unlike content, provides instant feedback and measurement. All channels should be measurable – how many people opened the email, how many viewed the article on your intranet, how many people signed up to the training.
Employee communications survey
The first step for any internal communications professional is to conduct an employee communications survey to get feedback on both channels and content. What’s working and what’s not. Important in this step is not to confine the survey to how employees receive information at work. How do they generally inform themselves – via Facebook, posters, mobile lock-screen, hard copy newspaper, Twitter? The more you know about their preferences, the more you can make the channels work for them. And, more importantly, the quicker you can stop using ineffective and resource-intensive communications channels.
Then tell employees what their feedback was and implement your channel strategy accordingly. It should go without saying but channels should be both digital and traditional. Employees want to hear important news from their leader, so support leaders with toolbox talks or key facts.
Beware channel cannibalisation
In people’s excitement to collaborate, you often see new technology and new channels spring up within organisations, mini-intranets and other tools which serve to reinforce existing organisational silos. Unofficial versions of Jive, Yammer, Slack can spring up quickly and can create cyber security risks, misinformation and undermine the effectiveness of your channels.
Often these channels emerge because what you are providing employees simply doesn’t make the grade and out of frustration, they have turned elsewhere. Reward their enthusiasm but narrow the channels so everyone is on the same page and make sure they are secure. Maybe initiate a technology amnesty to get people to bring forward channels they are working on so that you can provide a suitable alternative.
In developing new channels, closing channels down and providing an environment in which employee advocacy can take place, you need to be best buddies with your technology team. Usually the technology department wants the same things you do – effective channels, which minimise cyber risks and support employee collaboration and communication.
Managing collaboration platforms
Channels like Yammer need to be effectively managed. What do I mean by managed? Outside of flat structured start-ups, enterprise collaboration needs to be carefully curated, stories cultivated, and communities actively managed. I’ve seen Yammer reduced to a chat room which does nothing but irritate people. Most established companies do not embrace collaboration channels organically. A full implementation plan is required. Leaders need to be on the platform, sponsors need to champion the channel within their businesses, most people (especially employees who are new to collaboration) need advice on what channel to use for what and people need overt permission to engage.
Design channels for the coalface or frontline employees
Whether it’s bank branch staff or truck drivers in a coal mine, the vast majority of what you communicate, in all channels should be focussed on what employees care about and they care about the performance of their business and how it links to the overall performance of the company. They want timely access to the latest stats on how they’re doing on safety and productivity as well as local community initiatives that employees can get behind. Remote workforces operate like a community and they want to hear about their colleagues and local community. It’s best to avoid using communications to forcefully integrate a highly localised workforce (e.g. a mine or a remote branch). In fact, if you want to bring them into the fold, you should communicate more not less about local initiatives, carefully weaving in ‘group’ communications and make the connection for them. By shoving ‘group’ communications in front of their noses, you’ll just turn them off and reinforce the ‘them vs us’ feeling.
Content is king
Having said all of that about channel, even the best channels are nothing without zinging content. Everyone knows that humans are bombarded with information 24/7. You can’t give your employees rubbish content because it has to stack up against all the other pieces of information clamouring for their attention. It should be visual, shareable and pull you in. If it’s corporate must-know information, it should answer the question ‘what’s in it for me?’
Establish a content engine
Somehow you have to work out a way to draw content out of the organisation. There are nuggets of gold buried within most organisations and it’s usually the job of your team to draw these out, package them up and make them available externally and internally. In nearly every organisation there are great stories about customers, people and the history of your organisation that inspire people and make them proud to work there.
The content engine is usually within the communications team and the best way for these teams to hear about new products, new initiatives and great stories is to get them sitting with their counterparts in other parts of the business. It’s our job to understand how their projects can be amplified and packaged up into a film, podcast or written story to best effect. We need as much advanced warning as possible so we can book the photographer, edit the footage and write up the story.
If your organisation is 90 % white and male, no amount of female voiceovers or non-white models will change that. Achieving true diversity and inclusion takes commitment from the leadership of the organisation and it takes time to change. I’ve always been lucky enough to work with people who are committed to achieving diversity because it makes business sense, it’s not only the right thing to do.
Build an awesome team
I’ve been very lucky in the teams I’ve built, inherited and cultivated. My top tip; try to prioritise diversity as much as you can. The richest team discussions happen when we respectfully disagree and have our views challenged. I think it’s important to have people in your team that have spent time in the operational side of the business, it’s important to have introverts (especially if you’re an extravert like me) and people with different strengths.
Everything I’ve learned about employee communications, I’ve learnt from the truly wonderful people I’ve worked with. So thank you!
Caoimhe Buckley is an international corporate affairs professional with twenty years experience in government and community relations, internal and external communications including traditional PR as well as digital media, employee engagement and marketing. She is currently the Chief Content & Communications Manager at AGL Energy.