GUEST POST: Colin Bovet, Enplug
Whether you’re the Head of Culture at a tech startup or a manager at a Fortune 500 company, you should care deeply about how to communicate with your team. The study and practice of communication within companies is called internal communications, and it is crucial to boosting employee engagement.
One study concluded that good internal communications drives 25% higher employee productivity, unlocking trillions in value1.
Still not convinced how much communications matters? Check out this post from last year that shows seven surprising stats that indicate the far-reaching effects of good internal communications.
Beyond in-person discussions and meetings, there are many ways to foster employee communications. This guide gives an overview of the options, then focuses on the value of using digital signage as a channel for your internal communications.
Part 1: What is an Internal Communications Plan and Why Should I Care?
An internal communications plan is simply a playbook that the team can use to organize their strategies, objectives, and metrics.
The internal communications landscape is changing quickly in response to two major trends:
- Employees’ relationships with work and workplace. There’s already been much discussion around trends like working from home, unlimited time off, and creative office spaces. While these trends are still contested (vis. Yahoo banning working from home), they are reflective of a shift in how employees relate to their employer. Companies are getting more specialized and outsourcing more, while employees are more mobile, adaptable, and productive2.
- Changing technology allows people to connect in new ways. Whether it’s Facebook, Salesforce Chatter, Periscope, Slack, or YikYak, employees are in near-constant digital communication with each other. Savvy organizations communicate in ways that are already natural for their employees. The rise of internal social media usage (now at over 50%3) parallels the rise of social media as a whole.
Managers should look for new channels to meet their communications objectives in this changing and increasingly saturated environment. The good news is that there are high-quality resources available to help. At my company, Enplug, we’ve used the Internal Communications Strategy Guide at AllThingsIC 4 to influence our own strategy. We also created a free Internal Communications Planning Template based on this guide, which you can use to organize your own communications strategy.
Part 2: Internal Communications Channels by Popularity
One of the most interesting components of internal communications is the evolving landscape of ways, or channels, through which organizations can communicate. Below, we’ve included a high-level overview of some primary channels, with their corresponding usage percentages5.
- Email (99%): The preferred choice for organizations of all sizes, 98% of internal communications teams use email 6 for critical information. However, this channel can easily become over-saturated with too many messages, resulting in lower engagement rates.
- Face-to-Face Meetings (96%): It goes without saying that in-person communication is vital to organizations of all sizes.
- Intranet (90%): While this term may conjure images of outdated, clunky interfaces (run a quick Google Image search to test this), an intranet is a crucial tool for sharing information and resources. It can be anything from an enterprise tool like SAP to some shared files in Google Drive. However, intranet usage is at an all-time low: less than 13% of employees use theirs daily, and a third never use their intranets at all 7.
- Social Media (85%): A 2014 study found that 85% of corporations are using social media in their internal communications. The top channels are (unsurprisingly) LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. 8 Companies use social media to foster real-time, authentic, and open conversations that may involve both internal employees and external customers.
- Office Displays (80%): The content showing on the walls in your offices is all part of your communication strategy for employees. Organizations use posters and flyers (like the excellent ones from StartupVitamins) to communicate with their teams. Within this channel, digital signage is also rapidly gaining adoption for use within offices. In fact, half of communications pros use digital signage in their offices9. More on this in the next section!
- Internal Messaging: Many companies use tools like Salesforce Chatter or Yammer for chat-based communication. At Enplug, our team uses Slack for much of our informal and collaborative team communication. Slack allows teams to create channels for specific purposes and type messages in a chat format. It’s a powerful way to ask for feedback on new designs, alert the office when lunch is ready, and share successes.
Part 3: Benefits of Adding Digital Signage to your Internal Communications Plan
According to a recent study, 50% of communications pros use digital signage as a channel in their organizations10. We decided to tap into the expertise of internal communications consultants and practitioners to understand the reasons behind this growing trend.
Shel Holtz has spent 40 years as a corporate communications author, consultant, and speaker. He shared his insights on why digital signage should be an essential part of communications strategy.
“For a variety of reasons, internal communicators tend to shrug off digital signage. In most cases, some department other than communications acquired the system and it may not be configured well for employee communication purposes. Those that are handed digital signage responsibility undertake it reluctantly; it’s usually at the bottom of the tactic list.
Used strategically, though, digital signage can be unbelievably powerful. There are organizations using it to reinforce culture and values, to create awareness of local events, to get news out in a hurry, and even to drive traffic to the intranet.1
Communicators would do well to pay more attention to digital signage and get acquainted with some of its newer capabilities (like data visualization). A “not-invented-here” attitude will hold you back from what could be a game-changer in your organization, especially (but not exclusively) if you have employees who don’t spend their days sitting at desks.”
Below, we explore some primary benefits of using digital signage in your internal communications plan.
1. Create a customer-centric team
Instead of simply telling your employees that the customer matters, subtly reinforce this message by showing your team what your customers are saying in real-time. This method is particularly effective for B2C companies. Sphero, a smart toy company, uses our Instagram Wall to show customers’ latest photos from around the world on screens in their offices (case study here).
2. Encourage employees to communicate with you
Historically, digital signage was a one-way channel for managers to communicate information downward to their employees. Today, there are several technologies that IC managers can use to foster two-way communication with their team.
- Internal Social Media: Fully 50% of employees post about their employer on social media11. While this may be cause for concern, it’s also an opportunity to engage employees, strengthen your internal brand, and keep a pulse on how employees feel.
- One way to leverage internal social media is by encouraging employees to share to a custom hashtag that’s displayed in break rooms or cafeterias. At Enplug, we tag our weekend adventures, culinary creations, and travel photos on Instagram using #enplugkitchen, and the posts are featured on a screen in our cafeteria.
- Another option is to ask employees to share using a private Instagram account, closed Facebook group, or dedicated private channels like Yammer, Chatter, and Cotap (more details from Shel Holtz’s blog).
- Internal Polling: Sites like PollEverywhere make it simple to set up SMS-powered employee polls. Examples might include corporate training, voting on the next team event, or voting on which feature to build next. Display the live poll results with digital signage to increase participation and interest.
3. Boost employee engagement using transparency
You don’t have to be as radically transparent as Buffer with your team’s key information to know the importance of sharing key data with your employees. Freely sharing important numbers across your company helps boost transparency, which is vital for employee engagement.
Iain Adams, former Head of Internal Communications at Airbus, told us that “today’s employee is hungry for information and content that increases their sense of belonging and loyalty to their company.”
In fact, recent research ranked transparency as the single most important factor in engagement12. There are many services that can help you pull together your important metrics like Geckoboard or Klipfolio.
4. Recognize top performers
While many companies turn to raises and bonuses to recognize top performers, a McKinsey study found that praise and commendation from managers is the single, most-effective way to foster top performance13. Digital signage gives managers a simple way to recognize their top performers in a format the whole team can see. You can display performance dashboards in your offices or create and upload custom graphics for major achievements to displays in your offices. You may also want to recognize employee milestones like anniversaries.
Grace Spalding, an internal communications coordinator with CustomInk, creates slides each month to highlight the names of everyone with an anniversary that month. She adds a photo for employees celebrating double digits on the team. Grace told us that the Inker-versary program is “our most popular and successful program… It creates a wonderful sense of community when teams are distributed across multiple states.”
5. Keep your team on the pulse of the industry and competitors
You may have Google Alerts set up for every mention of your company and industry, but your sales, support, or operations teams? Not so much. Yet a high-level overview of your industry and competitor news is important knowledge for all your employees. Display relevant RSS news feeds on screens throughout your offices so employees can see the most important updates at a glance.
6. Connect with offline employees
Some of your team may be in front of their computers all day, which makes it simple to communicate using email, intranet, or messaging. But what if your workforce includes manufacturing or warehousing? You might find it harder to reach these employees using a channel that requires them to use a computer or mobile device. Instead, you can share announcements, reinforce safety messages, and recognize employees using highly visible wall-mounted displays or projectors.
While digital signage is sometimes overlooked in internal communications, with the right strategy and technology it can be a powerful way to reach employees. Combine one-way content like announcements and news with organic dialogue like social media and polling for maximum effect.
I hope you found this guide valuable. Please share your comments, if you have experience using digital signage in your communications!
Special thanks to Shel Holtz, Grace Spalding, and Iain Adams for their contributions to this article.
Several photos in this article are from HubSpot’s FreeStockPhotos project.
- McKinsey 2012. The Social Economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies
- RAND 2004. The Future at Work — Trends and Implications
- Towers Watson 2013. Just Over Half of Employers Using Social Media Tools for Internal Communication
- AllThingsIC Internal Communications Strategy Guide
- MarketingProfs 2010. Email, Intranet Top Tools for Engaging Employees
- Newsweaver Report 2014: How Internal Communication uses email
- Prescient Digital Media 2013. Social Intranet Study Report
- Incite Group, 2014. How social media is now used in corporations, and Smart Insights, 2015. How is social media used for corporate communications?
- Weber Shandwick 2012: Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism.pdf
- Gatehouse State of the Sector 2015
- Weber Shandwick: Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism
- TinyPulse Employee Engagement Survey
- McKinsey Motivating people: Getting beyond money