Internal Communications Campaigns: How to Create Great Internal Comms Plans
Creating effective internal communications campaigns is an art and a science. We’re sharing all our tips and tricks for getting it right—and optimizing it for mobile employees.
What Are Internal Communications Campaigns?
Planning internal communications campaigns is an important strategic part of an internal communicator’s role. Because internal comms pros are strategists, we can make a huge impact on our organizations. How we communicate changes and initiatives sets our teams up for success and, ultimately, helps our company’s achieve their goals.
An internal communications campaign is a series of messages shared with your target audience to achieve a specific objective. This includes a few different types of message:
- A contextual message where you introduce the change/topic to your target audience. This message likely has the goal of raising awareness and priming the audience to receive more updates on the topic.
- A series of nurture messages. These are messages that continue to build on one another and drive your employees towards your end goal. Because communication campaigns go hand-in-hand with change management, think of these messages as building knowledge, practice, and, ultimately, behavior change.
- A reinforcement message (or two) to reiterate the change and ensure ongoing compliance.
How Do I Set Internal Communication Objectives?
No matter what business unit you are in, setting objectives helps you create clear campaigns with defined end-points. We suggest not setting goals in a vacuum. Carefully consider how your department (e.g. HR or Internal Comms) can set objectives that ladder up to business outcomes and help all stakeholders meet their goals.
There are a few buzzwords that internal communicators care about, such as employee engagement and employee experience. But setting your objectives as an internal communications department has to go deeper than that.
Just saying you want to “improve employee engagement” is difficult to do. What does engagement mean to you? What does that look like at your organization? Why is it important to your business? What’s the ROI of investing in engagement? And how are you going to measure it?
Of course, engagement is important. But you have to answer these questions to get specific about your goals and how you might achieve them.
And then, you need to set the objectives for each campaign that you work on. These should still align with your department and business objectives, but can be specific to your campaign. Later on in this guide we will walk through the example of open enrollment and how you might set objectives for that campaign.
How Do I Create A Great Internal Comms Strategy?
Creating a great content strategy comes down to three things:
- Starting early. We recommend having a monthly stakeholder meeting to talk about all the programs taking place at your company. Use this meeting to start getting ahead on communication so you get out of sharing campaigns at the last minute.
- Staying organized. We think using an editorial calendar—whether it’s a paid service or a simple spreadsheet—is a must for creating successful campaigns. Using a system to stay organized and keep track of deadlines, approvals, and goals is the best way to avoid being overwhelmed and hit deadlines and key milestones.
- Finding communication champions. An internal comms team needs comms champions to help campaigns perform well and make changes stick. Internal communications teams are usually pretty small, so having additional people at many levels of the organization to reinforce and share messages and report back to you with feedback is a huge help. These champions may include:
- The stakeholders you work with
- Field managers
- Senior leaders
- Highly engaged frontline workers
How Do I Create Great Internal Communications Content?
Writing content that engages employees and gets them to take action can be difficult. But there are many things you can test to hone your craft and create content that works for your specific audience.
The most important thing to remember is that not all content will work for every internal audience you communicate with. And what works for one company might not work for another. The secret really is to try new things and measure the impact to learn what works and what doesn’t.
- Content Titles. Titles and captions are really important for getting people to click on a message. There are a variety of strategies you can try, from creating urgency to using clear calls to action.
- Content Thumbnails and Images. Are you using the right images to draw your teams in? Are your graphics too similar? Playing around with thumbnail images on posts can make a big difference. Just think about your experience scrolling through social media feeds and learn from what makes you stop scrolling.
- Content Type/Medium. Some messages might be better suited to be a video or podcast than text-based. Or it’s possible that you need to share messages in a variety of ways to get it to stick with all your employee segments. But in general, people like visuals and learn better when they are used. So, even experiment with adding more graphics and pictures to PDFs and text-based messages.
- Channels. Are you using the right channels for your content? It’s possible the videos you create will perform better on your app and intranet then via email. So don’t give up on a new type of content until you’ve tested it on all available platforms.
- Who Delivers the Message. Do all messages come from the internal comms team or do you have subject matter experts on each initiative sharing why changes are happening. Sometimes, just changing who a message comes from can add credibility to the communication and even engagement.
- Time of Day. Are you just sending your messages at the wrong time? There’s only one way to find out! Testing when you send messages is a great way to potentially increase engagement. It’s possible that you’ve been sending your newsletter to third shift when they are still sleeping…missing a big chunk of your target audience.
How Often Should I Communicate?
The best cadence for an internal communication campaign can depend on a variety of factors:
- How large is your organization and how many different segments are being impacted? The more groups you have to communicate to, the more often you might need to share updates. This is because the changes are likely to be inherently more complex with groups impacted in different ways.
- How complex is the change or initiative? The more complex a change is might necessitate more communications to be shared, more frequently.
- What is your current cadence for day-to-day communications? It’s possible a new campaign will neatly fit into your weekly internal communications cadence. But if you usually communicate less frequently, you may want to consider additional off-cadence messages for complex or long-lasting impacts.
- Are your employees getting too many messages? If your employees are experiencing communication overload, adding more frequent messages to the mix might not be the right solution. You may even need to consider delaying certain initiatives to avoid overwhelming your frontline teams. By delaying certain projects, you can reduce the volume of messages being sent and perhaps even the frequency.
What Are Internal Communications Campaign Best Practices?
The best campaigns require strategic thinking. It’s not enough to just send out a series of messages and call that a campaign. You have to think about what each message is supposed to accomplish.
We like to think of this as 360-degree messaging. Understand the communication from all angles to craft campaigns that are easier for employees to consume, remember, and act upon.
- What is happening?
- Who is impacted?
- Why are you doing it?
- Why is it happening?
- Where is it happening? (if it impacts specific locations/systems)
- How will it impact employees?
To create the right cadence of messages, we should draw upon change management best practices. We really like the stages of the Prosci ADKAR method for this to craft messages with different goals to ultimately have changes be accepted by employees and engrained in daily operations. The stages of ADKAR are:
- Awareness. The first messages in your campaign should just be letting employees know about what’s going on.
- Desire. The next messages should be around driving desire to embrace the change. This is where you share the WIIFM (“what’s in it for me?”).
- Knowledge. Then your campaign should work on teaching employees what they need to do or know.
- Ability. Campaigns then need to have employees attempt the change with tips, FAQs, and support messages helping to put that knowledge you just shared into action.
- Reinforcement. Finally, your campaign needs to have a reinforcement plan. Not just in the days and weeks following a change or initiative, but the long term reinforcement. If you launch new values, for example, you want to have a plan for how you will reinforce the values on an ongoing, yearly basis.
How Do You Measure Internal Communications Campaign Success?
Everything comes back to those objectives that you set at the very beginning. What you measure is going to be based on what your goals are.
Here are a few places to start measuring:
- Number of content opens on a piece of content (compared to the average).
- If you can, break this down by group. Your average opens among field managers might be higher than among hourly employees, so be sure you’re looking by group and cumulatively on content that targets everyone.
- Look at both the highest performing content and the content that isn’t performing well.
- Length of time spent reading, viewing, or listening. Platforms like email or most intranets might not show you this, but if you can track it, this is a great indicator of engagement.
- Visits to each channel per week. For instance, how many mobile app opens per week or how many employee intranet visits per week.
- Number of clicks / engagements with content.
- What content receives the most likes? The most comments?
- What content are people saving / downloading?
As your internal communications campaigns are implemented, it is helpful to track opens, engagements (likes/comments), and time spent on these messages. But these are vanity metrics if you don’t tie them back to a larger goal.
For instance, if your open rate is higher on your latest campaign than your average open rate, that’s a great sign. Maybe that means the messages’ titles/captions/thumbnails were more enticing and engaging.
But just having a higher open rate doesn’t mean anything unless you can tie that back to action. What matters is: did your employees do what you asked?
Internal Communications Campaign Example
Here is an example of how you can apply our tips to an open enrollment communication campaign.
STEP ONE: Talk with HR several months before open enrollment begins to understand their objectives.
- Do they hope that more people will enroll in a certain plan this year?
- To reduce the number of people who try to enroll late?
- To reduce the number of individual inquiries their team receives about their options?
For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume that HR’s primary objective is to reduce the number of questions they receive to the open enrollment hotline because it forces their team to work overtime.
STEP TWO: Determine how these objectives will support larger business goals.
Based on HR’s goal, suggested results to share with your leadership team could be time saved, money saved, and positive feedback from employees. To do this:
- Track the overtime hours the benefits team has during open enrollment. Use this number to compare to this year as a result of the campaign.
- Count the number of open enrollment communications you shared last year and what they were. Review metrics such as open rates and questions asked. Do a quick audit of this and see where the gaps are. What employees got the message? Did you have comprehensive FAQs? Was there a chance to ask questions earlier in the process or through self-service? Did you start too late? Use this information to compare with your content strategy this year.
- Analyze what enrollment numbers were like in previous years and use this as a benchmark.
- Prepare a survey to share after enrollment ends.
Content, Cadence, and Champions
STEP THREE: Plan out the campaign messages with the HR and/or Benefits team and determine the cadence.
HR / Benefits will know the facts and information to share, so it’s good to partner with them. But remember: you are the communications expert. So, own the strategy and tell HR what you need. For an open enrollment campaign, we recommend:
- Multiple Reminders
- Rallying cries from local leaders
- Enrollment Instructions
- Video Tutorials
- Highlighting Changes
- Pre and post-open enrollment surveys
STEP FOUR: Set a cadence.
It’s best to start early with the basics (like what’s changed, key dates, and where to find information). We recommend peppering this information into your regular comms to get ahead of the questions that might flood your team in the last weeks of open enrollment.
Because enrollment is usually open for a decent amount of time, start a weekly cadence the week before open enrollment starts and through the enrollment period. This is where you’ll share the rallying cries and where employees can find resources.
Once the campaign is over, don’t stop yet! Continue your weekly cadence. The week after OE ends, include a message notifying employees that enrollment has closed and welcome employee feedback with the survey. Then share the results of the survey and plans for how you’ll improve next year.
STEP FIVE: Find your communication champions.
HR/Benefits can help you champion this campaign. Find a senior leader, maybe your Chief Human Resources Officer, to share a rallying cry during your campaign. In addition, find field-based employees to provide insights into bottlenecks. They might have a better sense of the questions they get and what confuses them. If you don’t have a focus group of field based employees yet, pull one together and make them an advisory board.
STEP SIX: Ensure your campaign follows change management best practices by using the Prosci ADKAR method:
- Awareness: Let your employees know open enrollment is happening, why it’s important, and how they can enroll.
- Desire: Partner with managers and leaders to spot any barriers, questions, or roadblocks to meeting your open enrollment goals. And make sure you create space for questions and give employees the support they need.
- Knowledge: Survey your employees in advance to assess any gaps in knowledge. What are the recurring questions about open enrollment? What are the challenges? And then create resources to help fill in these gaps.
- Ability: Have regular touch points throughout the open enrollment process to ensure that employees are using the tools, taking the appropriate action, and understanding why it matters. This is another point where you’ll want to partner with managers and leaders across the organization.
- Reinforcement: This is an ongoing process. Ideally, you want employees to enroll and take certain actions on an ongoing basis. So, it’s important to reinforce OE messages, continue to survey and share results, and track the data to measure success and shortcomings.
STEP SEVEN: Measure as you go and at the end of your internal communications campaigns.
- Check the open rates on the open enrollment messages weekly. How do they compare to last year? What messages are doing really well? Who is opening these messages? Based on who is opening your content, what groups might need to receive a message again? What content is getting more likes and positive comments, and why? What content didn’t seem necessary? What messages did best?
- Compare results against HR’s objectives. Was there a difference in the quantity of questions they received? Did more people register sooner? Was there a decrease in the amount of overtime spent addressing questions?
- Compare results against business objectives. Did more people enroll? How much money and/or time did you save?
STEP EIGHT: Do something with your results.
Don’t spend all that time measuring and not share with leadership what you accomplished. This step is all about highlighting your strategic process and improvement plan. You should highlight how you are contributing to the bottom line of the company by working towards business objectives with each of your internal communications campaigns.