In communication circles the thought of including birthdays, baby pictures and bowling scores in company newsletters is generally out of the question and even laughable. Yet, connecting with employees requires disseminating content that they will be interested in, say HR and communication experts; otherwise, the time, effort and expense required to produce these communications regularly are a wasted effort.
Jennifer Benz, CEO of Benz Communications, an HR benefits communication strategy firm based in San Francisco, said, “Company newsletters are most successful when they are about what matters to employees—not what matters to the company.” But organizations are not really interested in communicating “fluff” to the workforce, however compelling that fluff might be.
CEB Communications research has found that the most effective newsletters marry the content-delivery preferences of employees with the content goals of leaders to effectively influence worker behaviors. That, of course, is often easier said than done.
Strategy Drives Content
It starts with a strategy, explained Patti Johnson, CEO and founder of PeopleResults, a consulting firm based in Irving, Texas. “It sounds obvious, but you must have a clear objective of what you want employees to know and understand,” said Johnson. Begin with “a basic communications strategy and plan that defines your goals, the audiences you need to reach and the topics you want to share or have input on.”
CEB’s research points out that a one-size-fits-all solution is not likely to work. It discovered that most companies publish multiple distinct internal newsletters to cater to business- unit-specific needs. When creating newsletters, it’s important for HR or communication staff to work with business leaders to define their objectives, get their buy-in and ensure that content is outcome-oriented.
Consumption Drives Format
According to CEB, more organizations are turning to newsletters delivered electronically (e-newsletters), and many are indicating that they plan to make this switch. Still, 25 percent of survey respondents said they will provide both print and electronic versions to meet the needs of different employee segments—an important consideration.
“Employees should be able to consume their information in their own favorite way,” agreed Jody Ordioni, chief brand officer at Brandemix, an advertising, internal-communications and brand-consulting firm based in New York City. “That means digital—smartphone-enabled—for some, printed for others.”
While this variety of choices can provide opportunities to connect with different employee segments in different ways that are more aligned to their role and interests, Ordioni noted that “the growing options in communications formats, along with limited time constraints and increased workload, have made capturing attention the holy grail.”
She recommends that organizations take their lead from major news publications: “Streamline your articles—give synopses like ‘Top 3 Things You Should Know’ and add pictures to tell your story.
“We are living in a new age of 140 characters and 10-second videos,” she continued. “Tell me the things I need to know, and offer me a way to find out more about the stories I’m interested in.”
Benz agrees that popular publications can offer important insights. “To make them successful, make them actionable and treat them like consumer publications,” she said. “Would you want to read it instead of People magazine? Are you giving employees somewhere good to go for more information?”
“Today, concise, visually interesting and important are highly valued when employees are bombarded with information,” Johnson observed. “Some of my favorites are creative e-newsletters with the need-to-know information that includes links where you can get more information if you need it.”
Strive for Two-Way Communication
Despite the continued value of well-done newsletters—whether in print or electronic format—effective communication is not one-way communication. Newsletters, said Ordioni, should be considered “just one important piece of an overall communications strategy.”
CEB’s research indicates, in fact, that more organizations are considering employee feedback as a better measure of newsletter effectiveness than traditional readership surveys. Open or readership rates may be nice to track and provide good information, but more companies are relying on employee feedback as a better gauge. Gathering feedback on how workers prefer to consume information allows organizations to package content for maximum engagement. They CEB points out, though, that despite the value of these metrics, the most effective metric is one that measures desired employee action.
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience in employee communication, training and management issues.