I was trying to decide what to cover in my first ‘proper’ blog post… Internal communications and employee engagement are such wide topics, it’s really difficult to narrow it down. I finally decided to start my blog in the same place that I begin when thinking about internal communications… That is, with the people I seek to engage through those communications.
It’s really tempting to start our internal communications from a position of what we (or our organisation, client, product, or service) want from internal communications. It’s very easy to say “We have this great new product, it’s cost our company a great deal of money, so we need to tell our staff about it”. What’s more difficult, and, in my opinion, ultimately creates more effective and impactful communications, is the approach: “We have this great new product. What do our staff want or need to know about it? What do we want them to do or change in response to what we tell them?”
When I’m planning internal communications, I like to start with the audience, with the people I want to reach and engage. I try to put myself in their shoes and imagine how I’d receive the messages. What would my questions be if this was the first I was hearing about the product or initiative? Does it have any impact on my day-to-day work? How would I want to engage with my organisation on this? In short, what’s in it for me?
This approach can differ from that of our organisation or senior leadership – but, ultimately, we all want the same thing from internal communications: an engaged workforce who buy in to our company ethos and values, and strengthen our performance.
The advantage for internal communicators is that we, by and large, have a good chance of knowing who our audience is. We know how many people our company employs, we know whether they’re office-based, or remote workers, we know the proportion of them with easy access to communications and mobile technology. We should know how our people prefer to receive and engage with information.
For some people, this will mean receiving information face-to-face, others will favour reading about it in a newsletter or listening to a podcast. For others, an internal social network will appeal and give them the opportunity to engage online.
So, we need to do it all! Multiple approaches and communications will reinforce our key messages and reach as many staff as possible.
Finally, much as I like the term ‘audience’, it strikes me as an essentially passive role. I think there’s a risk that ‘audiences’ are seen as passive consumers of media and messages, rather than active receivers of a message who engage with and respond to the organisation. We want our colleagues to listen actively, to question and engage – and ultimately to have an enriched employee experience.
How do you refer to the audience for your internal communications messages? Stakeholders? Colleagues? Or is this a case of ‘what’s in a name’ and, as long as it’s working, does it matter how we refer to our audience?