Thoughts on internal communications

by Jeremy Hodge on January 30, 2013

My first gig in the corporate world was working as an intern on IBM’s intranet editorial team. Even though much of my work since then has been focused on external matters, internal communications is still something I’m passionate about.

The internal communications function is essentially an information service for employees to help them do their jobs better. This information may be delivered through a simple newsletter or a video blog posted on the intranet. Yet more and more internal communications practitioners are facilitating and curating information – helping employees to create their own content and engage with one another through social media.

There are some things that will always be a part of internal communications, including executive messages and corporate policy. But, there are many other needs employees have that aren’t being addressed that could help them do their jobs better. We as communications professionals need to understand what those needs are and develop useful, usable content to help. Whether this involves guiding employees through HR policy or sharing tools to help them collaborate with one another, we need to listen to employees; taking a top-down approach won’t work.

On the external side, those who create web content or manage social media platforms and online communities are always listening to their users. Content and experiences are developed around social listening, user research, personas, keyword research and metrics that indicate a user’s ability to find information and their satisfaction with it. This notion of outside-in marketing is becoming more widely practiced on the external side, since it is understood that we need to pull our clients and prospects into our experiences.

This same practice needs to be applied when communicating with employees. Employees don’t have to read your newsletter; they can ignore the tweets you want them to send; and they can even look for company information outside the intranet. We need to empathize with them, much in the same way that we do with clients and other external constituents.

If this outside-in approach is taken with employee communications, and communications practitioners are striving to understand their users, they can go beyond just solving problems with content. Instead they can become true agents of empathy for the organization, providing insights to human resources and the IT department to help redesign and solve problems with processes, policy and the overall employee experience. There is an opportunity for internal communicators to be agents of empathy, helping to redesign organizations to make employees happier and more productive – ultimately improving a company’s bottom line.

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