The Employee Experience: Developing Messaging & Content Strategy for Internal Communications (Part 3 of 6)

December 28, 2015by Gregg ApirianContent StrategyInternal Communications

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In Part 1: Architecting the Employee Experience, we discussed the importance of the employee experience. For Part 2: Understand Your Internal Communications Audience, we focused on how to segment your internal audience and use data-driven methodologies to measure success. For the third part of this series, we’re going to discuss the most vital components to a communication strategy. Message points and content strategy are essential ingredients to inform, engage or activate your employees.

Storytelling Takes Many Forms

Storytelling is all around us: a great novel, a blockbuster movie, a friend talking about a funny situation, even a video game that teleports you to another world. Stories can be long, they can be short, they make you laugh, cry, or reflect on who you are and who you want to be. The only real rule for great storytelling is that it must be engaging. Great stories open our minds and take us to places that expand our perspectives. That’s why it’s imperative for you and your company’s success that you think like a storyteller, or seek creative professionals who are.

Message Points & Hierarchy

While some storytellers may create with no plan in mind, it’s important that you have one. Your story must address business objectives, inform, have a clear purpose of message, and activate your employees in the manner you had hoped. This doesn’t happen by accident. This happens through planning and flawless execution.

The first step for effective storytelling is for you to define the key message points you want to communicate.

  • Why are you reaching out to the employees?
  • What must they know?
  • What do you want them to do with this knowledge?
  • How do you want them to feel about it?

Keep the message points short and focused. The next step is to take these key message points and arrange them in a hierarchy that not only makes sense but builds. You’re creating a story structure, and the best stories have a beginning, climax, and resolution. Put your message points in an order that is logical and leads from point to point.

And remember, a single message rarely sinks in or drives employee activation from the start. Just like your favorite TV show, it may take a few episodes to get into the story. Communicating something meaningful takes time.

Theme Development for Employee Communications

  • How do you want the campaign to feel?
  • What is the tone?
  • What is the language?
  • What emotion are you trying to evoke or behavior are you trying to empower?
  • What are your brand or stock images, fonts, graphics, videos, and ad banners supposed to visually communicate?

Answers to these important questions can be guided by developing a theme for your internal communications. “A new beginning” “A future of opportunities” “We put customers first”, a theme can be many things, but at its core, it enriches, reinforces, and drives the message points home. The theme behaves as the through-line that connects all the messaging and communication channels/vehicles (e-mails, video, Intranet, posters, and meetings) into a cohesive experience. A relevant and well-supported theme enables your audience to engage with the message and imagine themselves in the ‘story.’

Use the theme (and segmentation of your internal audiences) to shape the tone and language of the copy, and the direction of the visuals, so that they work harmoniously together to tell your story. Together, they’ll help you deliver a much more targeted message.

Whether working with internal resources or with an internal communications agency, it’s important to remember that effective creative develops over time. The creative process is about collaborating, trial and error, clear feedback and refinement—taking an idea or concept, and polishing it to shine.

Calls To Action

A call-to-action (CTA) is comprised of words that urge the reader, listener or viewer of a message to take an immediate action, such as “Explore Open Positions,” “Share Your Feedback Here”, or (for digital use) “Click Here.” A message sent without a clear CTA should be considered incomplete and ineffective because the message recipient doesn’t know what to do with this information. Think about the purpose of your communication and the action you want the employee or candidate to take or the emotion you want them to feel and use CTA tactics to convert your audience from seeing or hearing a message into action.

Papers on the magnetic whiteboard

Content Strategy

There isn’t a one size fits all content strategy. Each initiative has different requirements, and the content strategy must be dynamic to meet those requirements. A content strategy is really as simple as a process to define what content is required for a purpose. Once you have defined your communication strategy, channels, tactics, and vehicles, you can map content to those tactics and vehicles. This starts with an inventory of what source content you already have, which is then mapped to what you need. A gap analysis will identify and define what content is needed and how you will get your hands on it or create it. Then create your content plan based on the outcome of this exercise by using a spreadsheet that you can call a Content Matrix. The matrix will clearly detail everywhere you need content, down to content headlines, body copy, images, image captions, videos, voiceover, and more.

An Editorial Calendar is An Important Tool for Guiding Your Communications

The best stories build excitement and tension as they progress. Your content strategy isn’t complete without defining the timing by which you will deliver your content or communications. An editorial calendar is an important tool for guiding when you communicate with employees, and it is often updated based on feedback or insights received as you communicate with your audiences. Employee engagement is all about delivering your messages through the right channel, at the right time, with the right content.

The editorial calendar helps you manage the ‘beats’ of your story so that each piece of content is maximized to its greatest effect, and together, they create interest and momentum toward the story’s conclusion.

Measuring the Effectiveness of Your Content and Internal Communications

Data is your friend. How many employees opened the e-mail? How long did they watch the video? How many employees read the latest issue of our employee magazine? Introducing a measurement strategy into your content strategy should be a requirement. To do this, you will need to connect the dots between your audience segments, channels, tactics, and vehicles. The business of communications requires insights, trial and error and ultimately is a practice of learning and refinement. Rarely are you going to hit it out of the park on your first go. By introducing a measurement strategy to understand what works and what doesn’t, your communications have the greatest chance of achieving your business objective.

The Art of Storytelling

In a company setting, the art of storytelling is all about balancing the message with an engaging thematic concept that can be delivered in creative and exciting ways. Combined with a strategic delivery that incorporates pacing and the right use of communication channels, you are doing more than just relaying information: you are orchestrating an experience. And whether the messaging is for employees or new candidates moving through the recruitment process, by implementing the strategies outlined in this article you will see results and have a plan to optimize your communications.

Stay tuned for the 4th part of this series: Examples of Effective Employee Experiences

Gregg Apirian

As the Managing Director of Vignette, Gregg is responsible for agency-wide vision and strategy, operations and finance, business development and engagement management. With nearly 20 years in entrepreneurial and executive-level roles, Gregg has been an instrumental leader at many distinguished agencies. Prior to Vignette Gregg was EVP, Digital Marketing at Trailer Park, EVP at Schematic (now POSSIBLE), and began his agency career as co-founder and CEO of BLITZ. Over the years Gregg’s leadership and combined experience drove growth, profitability and delivery of innovative and effective solutions for brands like GE, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Target, Verizon, OWN, Sony Pictures, NBCUniversal, Johnson & Johnson, HSN, Ann Taylor & LOFT, Nike, and Reebok.