When determining what methods of internal communication to use for your business, it is important to understand all of the various methods of communication available and the benefits and drawbacks that come with them.
There are two main categories of communication methods: structured and unstructured. The chart below outlines the basic differences between the two as well as some of the most popular means of communication that fall within each category.
|Structured Methods||Unstructured Methods|
The essential differences between some methods will be how you use them. For example, an app on which only executive members could post messages for all users to see, and they did so regularly, would qualify as a structured method. However, an internal app that allowed all workers to communicate with each other any time or even within certain groups at certain hours would be unstructured. Social media can even be structured if post and comment abilities are restricted. Websites and intranets can be unstructured if any worker is allowed to make changes and contributions.
Unstructured methods can certainly be useful when appropriately managed. Email is indispensable for personal communications in many businesses, and it is helpful for distributing emergency messages that cannot wait for a more structured timeline. But employees often do not read entire emails, especially if they receive a lot of internal communications this way. As backward as that seems, the more emails they receive from their employer, the less likely they are to get the full message. Email overload causes workers to scan the “from” and subject lines to determine whether each email is important enough to open. If it is, they probably still read only until they have determined whether an action is necessary on their part of if the message can be safely ignored. For these reasons, email doesn’t work well as a main method of internal communication.
Microblogs, social media, discussion boards, and comments sections on websites or blogs all work in similar ways. They allow users to post what they like, whenever they like for the viewing of anyone else within the network. This is great in that it can get many people in the company involved in discussions, promoting involvement and friendship. Executives and management can, of course, make posts, too, so announcements and news can be distributed where employees are likely to see them. Then, people can react and make comments directly to those main posts. If those comments are inappropriate, management must choose whether to allocate resources to moderate the comments or to let them remain uninhibited. Either way, they may foster criticism from other workers. Another negative is that sometimes there will be hardly any interaction or posts from employees, so unless management maintains a steady stream of posts, those internal communication lines can fall embarrassingly silent.
Structured methods help control the chaos that comes from having only unstructured communication channels. Rather than using only one type or the other, use a structured method or two in conjunction with an unstructured one for the most effective internal communication. In a planned newsletter, blog, or even a regularly scheduled video message, your leadership team can curate the perspective that you want to convey. You can work together to create and edit it, ensure that you are producing only trustworthy, accurate information, and use it to propel the company toward your stated goals and mission.
Some of the difficulties of methods such as newsletters and blogs are that they must be updated according to a schedule and that only a few people shoulder the responsibility for those updates. However, as you can see here, there are plenty of ways to fill a company newsletter when you are pressed for compelling topics. In addition, you can still take advantage of the best part of unstructured communication methods within structured communication by inviting employees to make their own submissions to the publication. You gain even more advantages because you control the timeline and have the opportunity to edit or choose not to publish their content. You can even give them specific topics on which to write if you so desire?
Internal Newsletter Benefits
Although specific members of your leadership team may want to produce a blog or podcast, an internal employee newsletter created by multiple members of the team and directed at the whole of the business is a good idea for most companies. Such a publication — especially an e-newsletter — can include links to executive blogs and podcasts in addition to company news and employee contributions. If done properly, it becomes a sort of gathering place around which everyone in the company can come together with trust. They know when to expect it, and they know what to expect from it. Let’s take a look at some of the other positive qualities a regular newsletter brings to the workplace:
- Increase employee engagement — Staying informed is important for being involved. Sure, some of the other communication methods above can provide information just as well. But knowing exactly when to expect a newsletter means employees can set aside time during their busy working hours to read it rather than seeing a social media notification or one of thirty emails for the day and choosing to ignore it until later, only to forget about it amidst all of their other responsibilities. Newsletters become routine, and if you include interactive elements, they stay an engaging element of that routine.
- Decrease email volume — Not only does this mean that employees receive fewer emails, but it also means that managers get to send fewer emails. Only those messages that must be sent before the date of the next newsletter need be emailed, so managers can simply make a list of what to include in the newsletter as their information accumulates. As this happens, finding content to fill their newsletter becomes easier, and employees enjoy a shorter list of daily messages to delete (probably without reading).
- Build trust — Transparency between executives and their employees is the foundation for a successful company. Because of their longer-form nature, newsletters naturally foster more trust than social media. Print is usually perceived as more trustworthy than video or audio, especially in younger generations. If you use your newsletter for honest and open communication, it can be a source of transparency and trust. Share your company’s mistakes with your employees when you experience bumps in the road. Let them ask questions and use your newsletter to answer them openly.
- Improve company culture — Newsletters have a way of making their readers feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. This is good for your company when you are trying to build a sense of culture and community between your employees. Company culture is the invisible force in your workplace that determines everyone’s attitudes and behaviors toward their jobs and each other. You can use a newsletter to reinforce positive attitudes and steer everyone toward the same goals. They’re also good for connecting people in multiple departments, preventing rumors, and breaking down cliques. For more on how newsletters can improve company culture.
- Relay important information in an interesting format — Of course, the most basic function of a newsletter is spreading news. When you print, post, or email all your stories in one place on a regular schedule, you can make sure you tell them in the most interesting way possible. Take time to find images and quality layouts that work for your newsletter. Use games, quizzes, and other interactive elements to draw in readers. When employees can count on fun designs and content, they will much prefer a newsletter to countless email announcements.
- Provide external talking points — When your employees are more engaged and know what is going on with the company, they will be more willing to help out with external marketing among their own friends and family. Your newsletter is the perfect way to provide them with appropriate ways to do this that fit with your company’s image. Remind them of dos and don’ts and any specific strategies for convincing potential customers that you are a better choice than your competitors. If you have older, relevant documents that are good for a second or third look, include links or information on how to find them.
- Create an archive for communications content — Because you publish newsletters on a regular basis and generally do so in a consistent manner, you create a built-in archive for your internal communications content. Especially if it’s digital, you have an accessible, searchable filing system ready to go from the outset. This is a lot harder to get out of social media, and anything you do with audio or visual content would have to be transcribed (or at least very well tagged) before it’s easy to search.
- Share safety reminders and other policy information — Since your newsletter will already have your employees’ attention better than some other forms of communication, you can use it for those little necessary updates and reminders about staying safe in the workplace. Create an incentive for viewing and responding to something in these tidbits so that you know employees have seen them.
- Increase wellness knowledge — Along the same lines as safety reminders, you can use a newsletter to provide wellness tips to your workers that they will actually read. While that doesn’t always mean they will follow them, you can at least plant in their minds the idea that they could make a few small life changes to keep themselves much healthier. What this does for your business is help reduce trips to the doctor on your company’s insurance plan and maintain the best focus and productivity possible among your employees.
- Spread joy and de-stress — It’s difficult to post an interactive crossword puzzle on social media or send random emails containing pictures of workers’ families and pets. But putting these things in a newsletter is easy and sends the message that having a little downtime at work is just as important as all the official information alongside which this content is printed.
- Celebrate company and employee achievements — People perform better when they know they are appreciated. Showcasing workers’ accomplishments and team achievements in the company newsletter is a great benefit of this form of internal communication. Much like the idea behind games and family pictures, including announcements about successful projects, promotions, new hires, and retirements with more serious information like company policy and business changes will show employees that what they do is just as important as what the company does as a whole.
- Collect feedback and metrics — One of the best ways to collect information from your employees is through newsletter surveys. Once they are already reading the newsletter, they are more likely to take the time to answer the few questions you have for them than to click an email or even a social media link. You may also be able to keep track of online readership automatically with a digital newsletter, so you will know with very little effort how popular your publication is and which articles or elements are garnering the most attention.
A final reason for including newsletters in your internal communication strategy is that employees want them. Newsletters, especially digital newsletters, are workers’ preferred source for internal communications. That should lead to higher readership, so why not give them what they want?