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Learn How to Evolve Your Internal Communications Tech Stack: Do More with Less

A massive improvement of niched HR tech tools is key for enabling Internal Communications the efficiency it deserves. Choices abound, but we’ve learned that less is more. Read on to find out how to successfully manage the Internal Communications Tech Stack for your organization.

August 30, 2022 By Rocco Giuliano Share on Twitter! Share on Facebook! Share on LinkedIn!

Introduction

In the past 18 years, I’ve filled various roles within HR to learn the workings of SAP’s HR system inside out, and to see the evolution and the rising importance of internal communications in the company.  

I have also seen both how HR communications looked in the pre-digital climate and the evolution of processes and tools we’re using now. So, I know how and why things came to be, and what trials and failures took to have what we have now: a separate department of Internal Communications within HR, pioneering a company-wide network of specialist communicators, and a tool that facilitates it all, using our people data from Employee Central and SuccessFactors.  

The current HR tech environment is ever-expanding. Companies build tech stacks of products with specific features and functions that are, ideally, all well-connected and working smoothly together. 

Since enterprises are complex systems with unique needs, we ought to put enough thought into ensuring that our tools truly serve the companies’ goals. No matter how much we know about something, things will always be in flux. Without questioning our methods, reevaluating, and making adjustments based on data, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the times. 

One of the challenges of our times is to keep all the tools working well together so that our tools equally serve us, as creators, and the end-users, our employees. That means we’re doing our jobs as internal communicators well, and our tools enable the entire workforce to do so, too. 

What’s Internal Communications? 

Internal communications is everything you provide to inform your internal audience regarding the news in your company. We’re simultaneously communicating important information, while also aiming to be reliable and trustworthy to build trust with our workforce. Therefore, internal communication is also about consistently delivering essential information to all the employees with care, patience, and respect. 

How Can an Internal Communicator Make IC More Efficient? 

Today, the role of internal communication relies on the day-to-day use of communication tools that help to bring out the maximum potential out of the workforce. A part of the HR communicator’s job is to ensure that the tools they use can bring out the full potential of your workforce and serve the larger goals of your organization.  

The internal communication department is not something that exists for its own sake. It isn’t an offshoot of HR or some separated entity. It is not isolated from the organizational or leadership concern since it is the sole driver of the company’s purpose and its workforce and a bridge for connecting departments. 

Good internal communications lessens the effect of employees working at cross-purposes with one another. Different teams often have other objectives, but there’s always that higher objective that serves to align all parties involved. And we, internal communicators, are responsible for delivering that message. 

Improve Reading Rates by Personalizing your Internal Communications

Internal communicators need to create easily consumable messages, keeping the internal audience in mind.  

In our current internal communications strategy, every topic has its own channel, and we’re sending roundups, postcards, little post nuggets, saying ‘Hey have you heard about this and that’, and we started linking into that topic, instead of sending the whole text which nobody reads. Also, the branding, the tone of voice, and the layout should be consistent. 

We’ve realized that sending personalized, branded messages is more consumable. Imagine, for example, a salesperson somewhere out there on the road. For them, it’s easier to just click on a lovely animated postcard or a gif. By meeting the employees where they are, in their flow of work, instead of pushing these great walls of text, the reading rates have gone up. 

For us, it is key that we target the audience based on their needs. We’re using more data-driven communications in the last two years than ever before. Previously, we only used distribution lists based on simple data, such as “everybody in Germany” for the German employees. Now, we rely on all the HR data to help us close in on the audience with the information most relevant to them. That can mean using the employment status type and other types of data.

 

The Key to Improving IC: Less Tools, More Impact

What Tools Does a Company Need to Have Successful Internal Communications? 

Navigating the flourishing offer of HR tech tools currently on the market can be a daunting experience. At SAP, we’ve been lucky to have our engineers and already built HR solutions. That’s an excellent starting point. 

Not so long ago, most companies used to create a piece of communication in a Word file, copy it into Outlook, and start with the distribution list sending. The messages were far from personalized, and the mails started generically with ‘Dear colleague.’ At the time, this was fine if you were an Outlook recipient, but if you’re using Safari on a Mac or reading it on an iPhone, this won’t work.

The basic tech stack needed to succeed in the HR Communicator role depends on what your company uses as its central data collection point. At SAP, we already had the technical prerequisites for that, as all our employees’ data is collected in one system, the Employee Central. And together with SAP’s SuccessFactors, we have all the necessary info about every employee, so we can target employees based on their employee data and personalize our internal communications. 

Since introducing more targeted, personalized communication, the reading rates have increased. You save time by leveraging the data you keep in your HRIS as best as possible because you can reach your audience on the fly. When your messaging system is connected to the employees’ data, it’s usually a matter of seconds or minutes to find the right audience. Everything is instantly updated and synced with Nurture. Creating a distribution list usually takes hours if it’s done externally – maybe days. 

What are Some of the Features Your HR Tech Stack Should Satisfy?

When we talk about technology, a major requirement today is for everything to be mobile-friendly because someone is on the road and they have to consume this email on an iPhone or Samsung Android. 

Our communication needs to be fully user-friendly. It matters that readers can scroll through, that the images are in the proper position, and that everything loads quickly. 

Before, we have seen some tools that require communicators to have a tech background and familiarity with HTML. Nowadays, there are tools out there that keep the non-tech-savvy creators in mind. Creators can now cut back time on creating emails that work from the usability and visual point of view, too. 

Since all employees are used to social feeds like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or other platforms, they expect the same in the workplace. They want to be more connected than before. In the best case, they follow and interact with you on LinkedIn and are active in an internal social media channel.

Employee listening as grounds for shaping the HR tech experience 

We were able to build what we have today and know what we know now because we’ve relied on feedback. When we were still sending newsletters only, we’d get feedback such as: 

We are the biggest tech company in Germany; why am I getting a newsletter that’s not relevant to me“, or “I’m sitting here in the US; why am I getting Germany-related topics?” Somewhere out there on the road, a guy is saying, “I don’t have time to read all this stuff“.

Our learning curve was shaped by a feedback-rich company climate, in which employees’ opinions matter. For example, we have learned that we should reduce our communication by 50 %. Despite the initial disbelief at how that could be possible, we’ve successfully reduced it by 60%. 

When we started our internal communication department, we didn’t have the possibility to measure our communication as we have it today in the Comms Hub, which is our internal name for Nurture. Since we’ve started using Nurture, we have clear insights from reporting. We see how often our links were clicked – if we want to see that, how often our communication was opened, the clear differences between informational emails, organizational change, and salary-related emails. Now when using Nurture, we don’t need to gather communication feedback from different channels; we have listening inbuilt within the tool. We have that one channel where reporting is immediately accessible, and you know what works and what doesn’t. 

What is the impact of good internal communications on the workforce and organization? 

Since we started using targeted communications, the audience started giving positive feedback on it. When you are reaching 150,000 employees, consistently yielding high read-through rates, and only 5 employees are replying with feedback about the communication being not relevant to them, then you know you did a great job at reaching the target audience in a way that matters to them. Prior to personalization, we would get 300, 400, or 500 complaints. It’s a huge improvement!

Additionally, we track the success of HR Communications with a yearly employee survey, in which we ask for feedback about how they perceive internal communications. Also, there’s the reporting, analytics, and insight into what content performs well, showing us the reading vs. skimmed-through rate. 

When it comes to knowing whether my efforts as an internal communicator work, I have to refer to the Comms Hub, the Semos Cloud tool we use. In the Comms Hub, we have statistics. We sent around 6 million HR emails in the last 6 months, and we’ve opened up the tool for the other communication departments, too. In total, we’ve sent out around 12 million emails per year.

We were also able to report on the reading rate to see how our communication is perceived. We know the difference between a communication that starts with a ‘dear colleague’, and one that approaches personally. This is a great step forward, from not knowing who or what is being read, how links are clicked, and so on. We are now getting feedback on the communications, not just on the topics we talk about. We get positive feedback on the quality of our emails from employees. 

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Replacing 9 Disconnected Tools with 1

When we started, we had a 9 tool approach, and we used Word to create, we had Outlook for sending it out, we had a reporting tool that didn’t work very well, we used Excel to create mass mailings, and so on. Using 9 different tools was not very good; you can imagine how long the process was to send a piece of communication. Especially when it comes to crisis communication – something like the pandemic appears, and you need to reach all your audience tomorrow or today.  

Then we came together with our SAP partner Semos Cloud, and we created this communication tool which you are calling Nurture, and we are calling HR Comms Hub, which was an evolving process for us.  

We knew we needed a proper editor, so that everyone without HTML knowledge could use it to create communication. 

We needed an approval workflow for all communication, and we wanted to leverage our Employee Central data – to target our employees based on their data, and not distribution lists anymore. 

We also wanted a mobile experience, as well as the analytics and reports about how our communication is received. 

We rolled HR Comms Hub out internally for HR at first, it was a big project for us, and everyone was involved. Everyone was aware of which stage we were at, and how to make use of the Comms Hub, so there were no surprises when we rolled it out. 

But when we present the tool to new colleagues who use the Comms Hub, but who aren’t in HR, and I do that twice a week, it always wows them. If you show it to a communicator who didn’t use such tech before, and you show them the targeting, mobile version, direct preview (you don’t need to send it to yourself back and forth, which usually takes ages) – there’s usually a second of silence, and the next moment they say ‘wow, that’s amazing, this is what we’ve needed all this time‘. This is how HR Comms Hub is perceived, and it’s great to see that you can introduce this tool to others. 

Our HR Comms Hub is now open for everyone – we have about 900 communications globally. It’s gratifying to experience this wow moment when an internal communicator gets convinced by the HR Comms Hub.  

Conclusion

Nobody can say how internal communications will evolve in the future, but I have a few clues. If we only look at the last ten years – the IC has changed immensely. We’ve moved away from creating non-branded messages and sending completely generic ‘Dear employee’ emails to distribution lists, to now having branded layouts and personalized and targeted communication. 

The need for internal communication we see nowadays comes from the employees. They want to feel cared about, so we can anticipate further personalization of internal communications down the line to respond to their needs. 

Another trend I am noticing is moving away from emails to Teams, or other instant messaging providers, to bring the communication into the workflow of employees even more, reduce interruptions and make everything more seamless. Because personalization trumps all, we can expect that the upcoming trend will provide the employees with a choice to choose their preferred communication style. 

There will also be more AI anticipating our needs. For example, I’ll go into an office and get a welcome message on my mobile saying what’s for lunch, where my meeting is, and so on. 

And since people are increasingly eager to use social media within companies, companies are leveraging social media to create a sense of community among their workforce. We will see even more use of internal social media for networking and keeping the workforce connected and aligned. 

Key Takeaways for Internal Communicators

➽ BE OPEN AND CURIOUS – Internal communicators should be both interested in the technology, and in the art of creating successful communication. You should be able to write an interesting and easily readable email and also be tech curious enough to know how to choose the optimal tools.

➽ SIMPLIFY YOUR MESSAGING AND ADJUST YOUR TONE – We in HR tend to speak HR-ish. Not everyone outside of HR can understand these terms. Be open to colleagues unfamiliar with the specialized HR lingua, and provide a simple language with enough details for the topic to be covered sufficiently.

➽ KEEP AN EYE FOR ACCESSIBILITY – Think about the employees who can’t hear or read and create communication that uses simple language for easier orientation. Break information into nuggets featuring the most relevant information, and always consider what the reader needs. 

➽ INNOVATE, TARGET, PERSONALIZE – Segment the audience, personalize a message, target, and adjust the tone. 

➽ LISTEN TO EMPLOYEES – When your people shape processes and see that their opinion matters, their engagement rates spike. 

➽ EMBRACE CHANGE – after the many trials and errors that are naturally a part of piloting a new department, we’ve learned never to stop questioning. The only way to keep progressing is by having the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Companies must allow a psychologically safe environment for their employees to speak up.

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