How to Create an Internal Communication Strategy
Creating an internal communication strategy that achieves both your communication and business objectives can be challenging. But it’s very important that we learn these strategy best practices so we are better at reaching and personalizing content for an increasingly diverse and dispersed workforce.
Introduction to Internal Communication Strategies
All eyes are on internal communication teams right now. The COVID-19 pandemic was a wide-spread enough crisis to show companies worldwide the importance of internal comms and a good internal communication strategy.
66% of communicators say their influence increased at their company as a result of the pandemic. But now, they need to continue to create a strategy that maintains that seat at the table even when not in crisis-mode. So, we’ll review everything you need to know to create an internal comms strategy.
Step 1: Conduct an Internal Communication Strategy Audit
One of the most important foundations of all great internal comms strategies is an audit. This practice is important whenever you start a new role and need to get a baseline for how communication has been sent in the past. But it is also valuable to conduct an internal communication audit every year as part of the next year planning and budgeting process.
The reason an audit is so important is because it helps you keep track of your key audiences, communication channels, objectives, and messages. And conducting an audit makes it easier to see where there might be gaps in your current communication strategy or opportunities.
For example, an audit may help you identify:
- Core employee audiences you are unable to reach.
- Channels of communication that are no longer serving your audience or company’s needs.
- New types of communication you may want to send (e.g. culture-building and other nice-to-know topics).
- Your strongest and weakest channels for each audience.
Step 2: Create & Use An Editorial Calendar
Another fundamental tool for communicators is a good editorial calendar (also called a content calendar).
Internal communicators are incredibly busy and often are tasked with sending urgent messages that are last-minute and not planned (e.g. outages, product recalls, weather closures). Because of the unpredictable nature of some workplace communications, it’s important to have a way to keep your planned and strategic messages organized. That’s where editorial calendars come in handy!
A great editorial calendar:
- Maps out every step in the publication process from ideation to creation and publication.
- Helps track the success of campaigns in one document.
- Includes the status of every campaign and piece of content to keep track of your progress and help with project management.
- Tracks the primary stakeholders and points of contact on each message to streamline approvals.
Step 3: Meet With Communication Stakeholders Regularly
Armed with an editorial calendar and your audit results, you will be ready to set up a regular stakeholder meeting. The purpose of this monthly (or even twice monthly) meeting is to align key departments on internal communication campaigns, deliverables, and timing.
Having this meeting has many benefits for you:
- Keeping stakeholders informed on the status of the projects you are working on.
- Holding everyone accountable for approving communications in a timely manner.
- Getting out of fire drill mode so you can be more strategic and less last-minute in planning communication.
But there are additional benefits to your business for having this regular meeting with all stakeholders rather than just meeting each department individually. When you gather all teams together to discuss your internal communications strategy, you are able to avoid competing priorities and overwhelming your employee audiences with changes. This is because you stop talking about initiatives and campaigns in silos and create a more transparent communication culture.
Step 4: Get to Know Your Employee Segments
Good strategies are rooted in business objectives and the same is true for internal communications. Ultimately, every message communicators send should be trying to get employees to do, say, think, or feel something specific.
Here is an example of what this might look like at your company:
- DO: Your open enrollment comms goal might be to have employees take a specific action for benefits enrollment.
- SAY: The HR teams recruitment campaign might have the goal to have employees say positive things about the company on social media and become employee advocates.
- THINK: You changed your company values and want them to be embedded in how employees go about their day and think about their work.
- FEEL: You just went through a merger and acquisition and want your newly acquired employees to feel welcomed.
But in order to get employees to take the actions you want, you have to understand them. What motivates them? What challenges do they have? How do they want to be communicated to? And so on.
To learn this, there are a few tactics you can use in your communication strategy: surveys and focus groups.
Surveys come in many forms. You can send regular pulse surveys in your employee app or newsletter or you can send long, complex annual employee engagement surveys. And there are many different types and lengths of surveys in between.
Whatever you decide is right for your audiences, try to stick to a regular cadence. And always share the survey results and your action plan. Employees experience survey fatigue when they constantly take surveys and see nothing done with their feedback.
Employee Focus Groups
Another more qualitative way to learn about your audience is to start conducting focus groups. These can be a great way to get more detailed information about how changes might affect your employees. But focus groups are especially great at helping to come up with solutions to common problems.
This is invaluable for your internal communication strategy because it helps you adapt that plan to employees’ specific needs.
Step 5: Create a Content Strategy That Aligns With Business Objectives
Once you’ve done your research, you can start to create the content itself. And the content is really the meat of your internal comms strategy.
To really see results, we recommend:
- Experimenting With Content Mediums. Have you tested sending certain messages as videos or podcasts rather than print? Have you tried breaking up your digital newsletter into individual communications app posts? Sometimes, it’s not the actual words that need to be improved but how they are delivered that makes the biggest impact on engagement.
- Asking For Employee Feedback. Your employees are the best people to ask if messages are too long or short, if they have the right level of detail, and if they receive too much or too little communication.
- Getting a Fresh Set of Eyes to Review. When we get into a habit, it can be hard to see where we can improve. Asking another employee to look at an employee app post title or a video script can help with the editing process.
- Borrowing Marketing Strategies. Marketers are experts in content. So look at your content with the perspective of a marketing manager. Is the copy interesting? Are you using the right visuals? Are you achieving your goals?
Step 6: Measure the Impact of Your Internal Communication Strategy
The last pillar of a great strategy is consistent measurement. If you don’t measure the effectiveness of internal communication, it will be difficult to improve.
Here are some measurement best practices to follow:
- Make your comms goals SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound).
- Learn about the goals of each key stakeholder you work with to make sure that is part of your internal communications plan.
- Check your channel metrics regularly so you can pivot if engagements seem lower than you estimated.
- Be ready to change tact if the data doesn’t support your theories or what you think is a great idea. It’s okay to try and fail so long as you pivot!
- Share your results with leadership regularly to get the proper credit you deserve when you meet important business goals.
Then once you’ve measured, take those results to continue updating your internal communication strategy. No strategy should remain static, so make sure you’re continuously optimizing yours.