Webinar Q&A: Creating and implementing a successful internal communications strategy

December 13, 2017by Gregg ApirianLeadership and StrategyInternal Communications

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Recently, and in partnership with our friends at Poppulo, our Managing Director, Gregg Apirian and Creative Director, Mike Lepis co-authored a much-needed whitepaper to help internal communications and HR practitioners create an internal communications strategy for their organizations. Additionally, on November 30, 2017, Poppulo hosted a webinar with a large audience of over a thousand attendees. If you missed it, you still watch the webinar here. Gregg & Mike presented Vignette’s approach outlined in the whitepaper to develop a clear, step-by-step path to help leaders, internal communicators, and HR practitioners develop and deploy an effective IC strategy.

At the end of the webinar, we received many great questions from those who attended. Unable to address them all during the webinar, we decided to follow up by addressing the balance of the questions here in this article.

Q: Would love to see a few examples of what a vision could look like.
A: To clear up any confusion, Step 1 (Vision) of our recommended strategic framework is not suggesting you create a vision statement, but rather imagine what a future state of your internal communications could look like. A vision should include an ideal state of how IC can drive the business, connect with and activate employees, and include broad strokes of what it will take to get there.

For example, your vision can include:

  • a segmentation of your employee audience so you can create targeted content
  • development of your employer brand narrative (think about what the narrative would be about)
  • employee-centric style guide to establish and govern the employer brand
  • recommendations of channels and vehicles to use (not just what is available to you but instead what you think employees want and need
  • a measurement plan to enables you and your team(s) to understand how your content and communications are performing so you know what to keep doing or do differently.

There is no template or single format for this. This is all about you having ideas in your head and putting those ideas down on paper so you can begin to align with others and flush out this vision, so it has a strong foundation to be considered.

Q: Why is the IC vision not simply a re-purposing of the Company’s vision.
A: Per the above answer, the IC vision isn’t a vision statement. It is the first step in your process to define a future state of your internal communications strategy.

Q: I understand what an employer brand is, but I missed the bit where you explained its import in defining an IC strategy?
A: When an employer brand is created and documented correctly, that narrative helps you understand what value may mean to your employees. Just as your consumer-facing brand, you cannot control your employer brand but you can influence it. When you document and steer the employer brand, you can begin to create a positive brand perception. No matter what your IC strategy turns into, your employer brand will be a key tool in guiding the tone of voice. Copy tone and the visual style for how you design the vehicles and experiences for employees act as a north star to align your organization, so every employee feels the brand potential. You have the opportunity to become a storyteller to help you create that positive perception of what it’s like to work for your company. Without this you can’t easily connect with your employees on the emotional level they are expecting.

Q: Are you still optimistic about IC getting a seat at the top table? It seems we’ve been on the cusp of recognition for years, but I think we are as far away from true recognition as we ever were. What do you think?
A: Having a seat at the top table is possible, but it requires focus and determination. Here are some scenarios we have seen to help get IC the voice it deserves within organizations:

  1. Your leadership teams believes in the power of IC and is driving the conversation at your company. If they are not believers, it is your job to convince them.
  2. You are a leader who knows how to transform your leadership into believers. Don’t rely on your leaders to invite you if they haven’t already. Be the leader that you are and make this happen by using data-driven approaches to helping them see the opportunity.
  3. Perhaps you are the wrong person to be sitting at the table, and your organization needs someone more capable of convincing leadership. Our industry and most companies biggest issue is leadership support and participation (or lack thereof). Ask yourself why companies like Airbnb or GE have been able to accomplish this? There are many articles written about how they all became employee-centric cultures with titles like Chief Employee Experience Officers or CHROs having seats at the table.

Q: Should your entire company be considered your branding department? If so, how do you suggest shaping the organization culture versus personal brand when everyone in an organization is a communicator to some extent?
A: Have you ever heard of the saying” Too many cooks in the kitchen?” No matter how small or large your company is, you can’t have everyone managing the brand, but you can have everyone using the brand. Branding shouldn’t be subjective. It only takes a few people to do the research and create the brand, but where you can gain an advantage in this type of culture if getting all employees feedback on your work as there is nothing better than a brand that has been co-created and validated by all or most of your employees. If employees are given the chance to understand the branding more deeply, and opt-in to support it, they will be properly equipped to activate it.

Consistency and standards are very important in developing a brand. Without them, it will be a mess even if you have a strong consumer-facing brand. A brand style guide is required if you have one person developing communications or if you have 100 people. You need to ensure everyone to be on the same page in communicating in a consistent brand identity and voice.

Q: Two questions on the framework items. First, what is the difference between channels and vehicles? Second, can you provide an example or categories for a content calendar?
A: The whitepaper provides this answer too. A channel is how you reach your audience, and the vehicle is the content/material the audience consumes. For example, if digital is the channel, the Intranet or Intranet page and the video on that page would be the vehicle. If we used print as an example, print would be the channel, and a poster or printed coaching guide would be the vehicle.

Categories for your content calendar need to be unique to your business. Start with the operational or functional content categories that support your business such as benefits, operations, facilities, IT–the functional parts of communication that are part of the employee experience at your workplace. Then expand to cultural categories such as leadership communications, employee recognition, employee events, community involvement. Prioritize your content types, align them to appropriate channels, and then map their cadence to have maximum impact for employees.

Q: My question is what if there is a major change coming, but you cannot share with your talent, and it is important to research possible needs… How do you create a research strategy without compromising confidential information?
A: This is a tough scenario; however keep in mind that you don’t have to be 100% specific when doing research. Employees don’t need to know about your initiative or based on this example what the change is yet at this point in time. But you do need to know the best ways to reach them and drive them to take the necessary action you are asking of them. If you look to research to understand your audience and their preferences/nuances, then you will understand them enough to know how to reach and activate them and perhaps change their behaviors into new habits.

Q: Surely these days we should be enabling employees to do more of the content creation, giving them the tools and guidelines to follow?
A: This is an ideal future state, but not something that would work for every organization. We recommend that you have a central group of owners in the form of a “newsroom team” that owns the content strategy and you use employees strategically to start or fuel conversations and stories.

Q: Dumb question? Why is SEO important in IC?
A: Our world is growing more and more digital every day. Amazon just announced Alexa for business. The more digital your business, the more SEO’s importance grows. If you are using digital technologies, then your content should include specific keywords that you know your audience searches for, making it much easier for employees and/or job seekers to find what they are looking for. We often hear that ‘search’ is the most disappointing function on company intranets. To better serve your employees think with a ‘search’ mentality and embrace keyword strategies, optimized content, and the appropriate technology behind the content to power their experience when dealing with a large amount of information they need to access.

Additionally, since most of your recruitment marketing will be external, and you need to use mostly digital strategies to find and attract talent, you will find yourself needing an SEO strategy to achieve your objectives. Content feeds the SEO engine and keywords guide your content to be found. The days of “if you build it they will come” and marketing to a single audience are both over.

Q: Why do you start with the vision first? Before digging into the research?
A: Everything starts with a vision. If you don’t have a vision, what is your research based on? The point of research is to validate or evolve your vision into a strategy. If you start with research before having a future state vision, what are you measuring your findings against? Many IC practitioners use the term “audit” to understand where you currently are vs. where you should be with IC. The findings of an audit aren’t as useful without a future state vision to compare and contrast too. But if you have a vision, then it becomes more clear what you are looking for your research to deliver and how to use the insights that come out of your research that you can apply to your vision to validate or change according to what you learned.

Q: How does an internal communications practitioner become a strategist?
A: This is not an overnight transformation. Becoming a strategist requires training and experience. The more you work with Strategists, the more you understand how they work (methods they use) and what they create and deliver. There are many resources out there like General Assembly, Lynda.com and others that offer paid training (online and facilitated) to help you transform your skills. Being a Strategist means being data-driven first and foremost. If you don’t work with data today and/or know how to find insights or create action plans for those insights, this is your starting place. We would also argue it is probably easier to learn to become a strategist in an agency environment being that most companies hire agencies or consulting firms to develop their strategies.

In our opinion, there are few IC Strategists out there right now, and the demand for them is high. We highly encourage all of you to make this transformation and gain this skillset, as, in the near future, those without it will find it harder to keep their jobs than those with this skill.

What if I have more questions?

We hope you all found the whitepaper and webinar helpful, as well as this additional clarification and insights from this ongoing dialogue around how to create the ultimate internal communications strategy. At Vignette, we have worked with many companies over the years, which has helped us understand that every company and situation is unique. That said, using the strategic methodology we have outlined through the use of the four pillars can help anyone create the best fit internal communications strategy for your organization.

We know this comes easier for some of you than others and that is why we exist—to help individuals or groups of internal communications and HR practitioners get there. Best of luck to all of you and please don’t be a stranger. We are all experimenting and learning what works and what doesn’t work. Reach out, share ideas with us and others to help you find what enables you to reach what you and your organization define as a successful and effective employee experience.

Happy New Year,

Gregg & Mike

 

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.