5 Internal communications myths holding back your success
We’ve all encountered certain ‘accepted truth’s or perceived wisdoms regarding entrenched internal communications practices. They can range from the seemingly plausible (you can’t measure internal comms success) to the truly obscure (did you know the best time to send out comms is 2.10pm on a Tuesday?).
In recent years, many of these have been opposed and, to some extent, debunked. But even now, some stubborn beliefs remain – and they could be damaging your internal communications success. How, as an internal communicator, can you rebuke these and use the lessons learned to the benefit of your practice and organization in general?
Here, we explode 5 of the top myths that could be holding you back.
Myth #1: Internal comms is the responsibility of the internal comms department
Perhaps the most common (and damaging) myth we come across time and again is the general observation that communications, and internal communications specifically, is the sole responsibility of the marketing or communications department.
If this is the case in your business, it shouldn’t be. In fact, Rachel Miller of All Things IC recently observed that internal communications (and its associated tools) does not (and should not) “belong” to any singular team or department. It is directly affiliated with overarching business goals: “everything you do as a communicator needs to align with the objectives of your company”.
Successful internal communication draws on the input, experiences, and expertise of different departments and individuals across the business. It is the responsibility of senior management to shape and drive top-down communication; it is the responsibility of shop floor employees to engage, respond, feedback and direct bottom-up communication. Doing so keeps your organization innovating, evolving, and growing. In fact, internal communications is one area where the ‘too many cooks’ mantra doesn’t apply.
This maxim can be applied not only to internal directives, but external communication too. The two have symbiotic relationship, and thanks to the global power (and accessibility) of social media, boundaries between the two are increasingly blurred. Simply put, internal messages that would have historically stayed within an organization are more likely than ever to be shared publicly.
What does this mean for you?
When drawing up your messaging, internal and external communications must be properly aligned-internal comms can no longer be relegated to the red-headed step-child of the two. Together, they combine to shape and communicate the overall corporate brand and message. Think about how an internal campaign or message could be construed externally, and consider how customers may respond if (or when) those messages are made public: something UK supermarket chain Sainsburys knows all-too-well, after an internal ’50p challenge’ campaign was posted to Twitter, causing unknown damage to the retail giant’s brand and reputation.
The end objective of communication remains the same, regardless of whether it’s internal or external: communicating the right message, to the right person, at the right time. Just don’t risk your business by locking that responsibility into a silo.
Myth #2: Internal comms and employee engagement are the same thing
Many regard internal comms and employee engagement as being interchangeable. As the biggest business buzzphrase of the past 5 years, employee engagement has understandably risen to the top of the priority list for communicators, leading to the perception that they are one and the same. If we’re communicating with employees and they’re communicating back, they must be engaged – right?
This is simply not the case. Jane Revell of Headlines UK actually collated a number of myths sourced directly from communications practitioners across Britain, and when exploring the idea a bit deeper, concluded that “internal communications is just one of the functions that helps to enable employee engagement”. Of course, it plays a vital role within employee engagement as an entity, however, it is ultimately one component of a phenomenon which has many other contributing factors.
It’s a sentiment backed by Gallup and their extensive research into the topic, which led to the creation of their infamous ‘Q:’ 12 questions that identify the many different elements that make for engaged employees. Communication plays a vital role – but engaged employees are also influenced by factors such as internal relationships, training and development, and management. This makes employee engagement a responsibility and area of focus for every department.
However, underpinning the wider issue of employee engagement and involvement is the notion of workforce participation, be this in the figurative sense of promoting your company ethos, or literal factors such as actively using the company intranet. Internal communication is the main driver to facilitate this.
To establish a two-way conversation and increase employee participation, you need the right tools. Rather than broadcasting information through one-way channels in an institutionalized manner (risking the inevitable switch-off of bored employees), look to channels and modes of communication that can provide an opportunity to engage with the business and other members of staff. Pave the way for your staff to start contributing directly.
A “blog-first”approach may be the answer. Our research shows blogs promote engagement, as employees are:
This circle of positivity encourages feedback, which not only contributes healthily to employee morale and engagement but also facilitates content production. So, while internal communications isn’t ‘the same’ as employee engagement, it has a vital role to play in driving it.
Myth #3: Employees will only engage within working hours
Here, we look to that far-reaching myth of the ‘best time to post’. A long-standing internal comms myth is that employees will not engage with business communications outside their standard working hours – so there’s absolutely no point doing anything outside the 9 – 5.
Historically, this was of course the case. Pre-cloud technologies and the global domination of smart phones, social media and instant messaging, employees could only access business applications and information from the confines of the physical office.
Technology has now broken down those barriers, creating an ‘always-on’ culture in which staff can access their emails on the go, log into the company intranet app, check the HR policy or chat with colleagues, all from their smartphone-and on their own time. In fact, Interact usage data shows 23% of intranet activity now occurs outside of core business hours and that’s a trend set to continue.
So, what does debunking this myth mean for your internal comms plan?
Again, things can be tied back to engagement- it’s a question of how to get your employees to share their knowledge and experiences in their own time, and specifically on company platforms such as your company intranet, rather than a third-party channel such as WhatsApp.
The answer lies in looking at the accessibility and UX of your chosen tools and channels. Make them readily available and easy-to-use, and you’ll replicate what makes social tools hugely successful in the consumer sector. A cloud-based intranet that is optimized for multiple devices – or even has its own app – allows staff, remote and office-based alike, to use the platform as equals and removes the barriers to workforce collaboration.
Align your internal content plan to publish or push out communication across different times of day; you may benefit from staggered, delayed or repeat promotion of important messages in order to maximize visibility and tap into those ‘out of hours’ viewers. This is also a major consideration for globalized organizations that may have workers accessing platforms from different timezones.
Don’t leave employee contributions unacknowledged; lead from the front in internal comms by engaging with employee content, such as liking, commenting or sharing. By adopting a corporate culture which encourages employee participation and adopts their ideas, you can build an ethos of continuous improvement and best practice sharing amongst your staff – regardless of where they are, or what time they’re interacting with your business.
Myth #4: Social media is detrimental to your communications goals
One common, prevalent idea is that the increasing prominence of social media causes a lack of control when it comes to internal communications output. If it’s out of our immediate jurisdiction, aren’t we setting ourselves at risk? What if employees are sharing information that shouldn’t go external, to the detriment of our reputation or brand? What if they’re taking to public platforms to resolve what should be private disputes?
The truth is, someone saying something bad isn’t your biggest worry.
The reality is that social media provides opportunity for greater collaboration, interaction and involvement of all employees whatever their job role, location or status. It can play a powerful role in creating employee brand advocates for your business, to both consumers and the recruitment market. In our blog on employer branding, we show how big names such as Deloitte, Adobe and Salesforce have harnessed the power of social media to create and communicate a shared culture that not only connects globally dispersed employees around a common identity, but also showcases the organization to prospective candidates.
(The power of employees as brand advocates is often underestimated. Source:Brandwatch, ‘Want social media advocates? Start with your employees’)
It’s also a channel that is familiar and easy to use, even for employees with limited technical knowledge or expertise – making for bigger levels of uptake and engagement. There’s one thing anyone in internal comms will testify to – there is no ‘holy grail’ or ‘one size fits all’ channel for communication; casting a wider net to include different types, social media included, is more likely to lead to employee buy-in and engagement.
If your senior management team is fully “onboard” with social media as a communications avenue, then this can become a key strand to your internal communications strategy. It offers a powerful additional channel for more junior employees to engage with management, contributing to a heightened sense of company culture and the facilitation of wider business understanding.
Myth #5: Internal video does not require the same quality as external media
One increasingly prominent communications tool is the use of video. There is a school of thought which suggests that internal video does not have to be of the same quality as external material. If it’s ‘only’ internal, and ‘only’ for employees, and therefore not directly correlated to a tangible return on investment such as new business or revenue, then it isn’t worth the effort. Right?
This should simply not be the case. While there isn’t the necessity to commit the same levels of time or financial resource to internal projects, good planning and production is not necessarily time-consuming. Given the value of internal communication to your business and the potential negative impact of poorly produced content when viewed or shared by employees – now is not the time to be whipping out the iPhone for a shaky recording of this year’s Annual Review speech by the CEO.
(Nationwide were awarded recognition at the CIPR Inside #Insidestory awards in February of this year for ‘Best use of video’ with this quirky yet informative effort to communicate a change in pensions to employees.)
There is heavy research to suggest that video as a medium is far more likely to gain views and attention than traditional text-based communications. When it comes to social media, consumers are 39% more likely to share content, and 56% more inclined to “like” it when it’s delivered via the medium of video. With strong narrative and well-constructed key messages, you can not only instil passion for your organization within your workforce, but also create video that your teams want to watch and share.