Internal communications (IC) has become more and more important for organizations today. Yet there seems to be confusion as to who exactly is responsible for it. Sometimes it’s tacked onto HR’s duties, sometimes it becomes Marketing’s responsibility, and a few places have a dedicated IC department.
The problem is that communication is a two-way street, and because there often isn’t a clear strategy for IC, the efforts are ineffective, so the audience just doesn’t get involved. A well-planned digital signage strategy, however, can help clear up confusion and encourage employees to interact.
Creating a culture of constant communication and feedback can go a long way to helping encourage employee engagement. By addressing some of the most common IC problems with digital signs, you can overcome many of the barriers to getting people involved and communicating:
It’s impossible or difficult for people to interact.
If there’s no way for people to interact with IC messages, how can they feel involved? If the method is too cumbersome, people will simply not do it. With digital signage messages, there are many ways to encourage interaction:
- Include a QR code so people can use their mobile device right then and there to access a dedicated webpage with more details, sign up forms, etc.
- Include a short URL, preferably one easily remembered, so accessing that webpage can be done using a mobile device or a short time later when the person has returned to their desk
- Interactive screens and kiosks allow huge amounts of information to be “stacked” in a single location – people can see the communication and respond right then and there, just by tapping the screen
- If you need something filled out on paper, supply the necessary documents (survey, registration form, etc.) on a table next to or under the digital sign, as well as a box to put them in and something to write with
- Include a code word or phrase, or ask people to take a picture of the screen to use when they interact with the organization. For example, a message that says “Take a pic of this iced coffee and get one for half off at the café” is displayed, and people who show up at the café with that picture get the discount
- Use simple, clear instructions for communicating with managers or department heads about the message topic. For example, “Email HR today for a PDF about the updated benefits package” or “Ask Alena Jenkins about training opportunities”
There’s no clear incentive for interacting.
People tend to think, “What’s in it for me?” There needs to be a clear benefit for their participation. Some things have obvious benefits – certifications, discounts on things they already want, etc. – but other things might not seem obviously enticing (like a filling out survey questions).
Gamification is a great way to incentivize and motivate people into interacting, and being happy to do so. Make your communications campaign fun – a contest, game, scavenger hunt, etc. – with rewards or prizes that people want. If people who fill in the survey get something of value, there’s a good chance they’ll take the time to do it. You can build the hype by using a lottery, limiting awards to the first 50 people to respond, or give an extra prize to the department or team that has the most respondents.
At the very least, include information somewhere about why it’s important to the employee to respond. Even if there’s no prize for participation, people will get involved if they know they can impact the organization, their coworkers or their community.
There’s no culture of steady feedback and interaction.
The goal is to build a culture where people feel free to communicate and comment up the chain, instead of just a constant push of messaging from the top down. This means that there should always be some messages in the digital signage playlist that ask for comments or interaction.
Managers should also frequently be encouraging people to speak their minds and make suggestions. Something as simple as having an anonymous suggestions box in a common area (or an online version of the same thing using a dedicated webpage or intranet page) helps create an atmosphere of continuous communication and feedback.
But be careful of overkill. An organization that is constantly bombarding people with surveys, emails that need to be responded to, meetings and so on runs the risk of overloading people (as well as interfering with their actual jobs). On the other hand, a company that only asks for input and feedback once or twice a year looks like they’re just ticking boxes and don’t really care about what people think. The trick is to create a culture of low-to-medium level interaction and communication all the time.
People don’t feel like the organization cares.
Of course, if suggestions are never responded to, or people get the feeling that their supervisors really don’t care what they have to say, then participation will drop off. You can’t just pay lip service to inclusiveness – it has to be sincere and people need to see results. If you ask people to fill in a survey, post the results on digital signs, so everyone can see that their responses were at least read and correlated. And of course, keep everyone updated on action items that come from feedback.
Some of this is organizational culture. When there’s a certain amount of transparency, and the organization seems to be upholding their stated values and brand promises, then there’s a felling of openness and honesty that naturally encourages interaction.
Middle managers aren’t empowered.
The top-down, trickle-down theory of internal communications is based on flawed thinking. It takes too much time, and bottlenecks in information flow quickly appear. These result in either incorrect or incomplete information being passed down, and limited feedback from your audience.
Instead, train middle managers on the digital signage system to post messages about localized topics, and then collect the responses from their own teams. As they get to know the mindsets of the people they work next to and manage every day, they can think of better ways to reach out to them and encourage responses. Who would know those individuals better?
Think of it like a tree – the roots absorb moisture and nutrients, which are then sent up the tree to the benefit of the whole organism. Reverse the flow of information so it’s more bottom to top.
Communications aren’t S.M.A.R.T.
This is a business communications acronym that can guide your IC and digital signage efforts:
- SPECIFIC – know exactly who you want to communicate with, where, when and why
- MEASURABLE – how you will determine the communication is successful
- ATTAINABLE – what systems or methods are in place to ensure maximum responses
- RELEVANT – what makes responding worthwhile to the audience
- TIMELY – there’s a clear timeframe for the communication and response, and another clear timeframe for sharing the results (which can then be fed back into the cycle for another round of communication and response)
Communications aren’t comprehensive.
If it’s important for your people to know, then they should get it from the source. Too often, incomplete information results in water cooler chatter and rumors, which are often incomplete at best and inaccurate at worst. Information that is inefficiently or only partially communicated easily gets distorted.
Brevity is important with digital signage messages. So, if there’s a lot to get across, find ways to chunk it so it’s easy to understand and doesn’t feel burdensome to read through. On a digital sign, a few bullet points suffice, or you can play a series of messages with small, digestible pieces. Using imagery either in place of, or to reinforce, text is a great visual tool.
On a linked web or intranet page, divide the information up into discrete sections using headers, bulleted lists and other tricks to convey a lot of information in relatable portions. But don’t skip important details in order to be more appealing. If managers have to spend their time explaining the digital signage messages, then you’ve created more inefficiency.
Communications are sterile, or don’t match public-facing brand.
You have to remember that you are people communicating with people – corporate-speak and jargon may work just fine in managerial meetings, but when trying to encourage people to interact with internal communications, use language that your audience uses. (Use contractions and more commonplace vocabulary.)
One way to really breathe life into IC efforts is to create characters and storylines over multiple digital signage messages. Longtail campaigns get people invested in the communications as they unfold, and get people talking about it in their spare time as well.
Another issue is that sometimes there’s a mismatch between how the organization presents itself to the public and how it presents itself to its own people. A company known for high-quality graphics and videos work in advertising campaigns shouldn’t offer their own employees lower quality work. It makes it look like the organization doesn’t value them.
Communications aren’t localized or timely.
Showing a message on your digital signs in a Miami office for a survey that’s only being conducted in the Dayton office is pointless. This even holds true in different departments in the same building – why would people in the support center care about messages for the accounting department? Make sure you target the right people with the right communications. Otherwise, people will simply think your IC efforts are meaningless, or only occasionally relevant, and they’ll stop paying attention.
You also don’t want to give too much lead time on things, or leave stale messages in the playlist. If you’re trying to encourage people to do something, make sure your messages are shown in a timely fashion. Don’t advertise a meeting five weeks in advance, and don’t put a deadline on screens one day before it’s due. Make sure there’s enough time to get maximum exposure for your communications, and enough time for people to actually respond, but not so much time that it becomes background noise. And don’t let messages play on screens after they’ve expired – use daypart and calendar scheduling to make sure they drop off when appropriate.
Internal communications are strictly internal.
Making internal communications only available at work is a mistake (in fact, almost a quarter of all intranet activity currently takes place away from the office). People now live in a sort of cloud of information, and part of that cloud should be your own IC efforts. This is especially important as the workforce becomes more mobile and more people are working from home.
Your communications channels need to be secure, but they also need to be simple. Many organizations are using single sign-on credentials, so their people don’t have to remember yet another password or username. Some organizations even create dedicated mobile apps, so their people always have access to their communications, wherever they are.
Allowing people to access internal information in their own time, in their own way, also gives a more personalized feeling to the entire experience. They interact with where they work in the same way they interact with every other organization, so your IC efforts become part of the information fabric of their lives.
Digital signage can help.
Whether it’s a small company, a corporate hub, a university, a manufacturing plant, a government office or a medical facility doesn’t matter – every kind of organization needs effective internal communications for the people who work there.
If your organization currently has digital signage, then there’s already a team in place that creates and schedules content. Simply coordinating with them to get the right messages out to the right people at the right time can go a long way to getting people interested in, and responsive to, your internal communications.
If you’re thinking about buying a digital signage system, then here’s another benefit: a way to effectively engage people and encourage them to interact on a meaningful level. And if you start out already knowing the possible pitfalls, you can craft your digital signage strategy to address IC issues.