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BEST PRACTICE: Internal comms get interactive

Internal comms is difficult to get right, which means that many companies take the osmosis approach and in some cases avoid it altogether. But avoid at your peril!
Rightly so, businesses are prepared to make serious investments in developing their brand and maintaining their reputation. This is never more important than in a downturn. For people to really be a company's biggest asset, they have to actively buy into its culture and become part of the brand. However, they won't do it on their own. Evidence shows that an engaged workforce that is properly informed about its company's direction and the roles of individuals within it, is a far more productive one.
The traditional internal comms toolkit includes techniques such as email bulletins, newsletters, face-to-face briefings, weekly meetings, away days and intranets. The more dedicated internal comms campaigns weave in more creative tactics - such as job swaps and comment boxes - but employees really need to see ongoing value and a genuine interest from employers for them to have any real impact.
Just as you tailor external comms to reach different markets, you have to develop an internal comms strategy that will really resonate with employees and work to enhance the culture of the business.

Generation Y versus baby boomers
The relatively new issue of effectively targeting both baby boomers and generation Ys is also one that needs careful consideration.
They have very different communication wants and needs, so bridging the divide in terms of internal message dissemination and interaction between the two groups in the workplace is vital.
Generation Ys are not just technology savvy, they are dependent on it, while employers need to get baby boomers switched on to the ‘brave new world' of digital. Intranets don't go far enough to tackle this issue. In most cases they are under-promoted and underused, largely because they offer a one-way conversation and fail to engage staff.
Also, technology has moved on considerably since they were introduced and they can't keep up. Generation Ys are used to the dynamic, fast-paced world of interactive, user-generated social media network sites, which make the standard intranet look antiquated and dull.
The obvious solution is to take the social media network site platform and turn it into an internal comms tool that is engaging for generation Ys and accessible for baby boomers (not forgetting everyone in between).
The key is to design this new generation of intranet to have a social media feel that reflects similar sites that staff use out of work, like Facebook and MySpace.
A social network in an internal business context needs to provide a fun environment that focuses on the lighter aspects of work. It should act as a creative outlet for staff to express ideas and connect with colleagues on a social level.
The user-generated content should strike a balance between work topics and general notice board subjects. This creates an open forum where staff can contribute ideas and share information related to their roles and departments, encouraging interaction and helping to break down any boundaries that might exist between different areas of a business.

Network learning
Executed properly, the internal social network will go beyond just building relationships and sharing knowledge. It gets employees using and learning, where necessary, about the latest web tools that have become such an important part of business life.
It should include features like forums and blogs, user profiles, links to online resources, RSS feeds, an events board and a photo and video gallery, as well as other applications. Because content is user generated, staff need to get quickly immersed, so a high impact launch is essential.
Creating a graphic identity for the site and producing illustrator avatars for each member of staff in advance of the site going live is a great way to create a buzz.
Once launched, staff should be invited to join the new site and create a profile which, together with their avatars, will give them an online identity that they can build on over time. To kick-start activity, the site needs to be launched with starter topics for forums and blogs to get users engaged in debate, as well as fun applications. Then it's up to staff to keep momentum going and generate content.
That said, ongoing promotion and initiatives launched on the site should be incorporated into the ongoing internal comms campaign to keep the concept fresh and maintain a focus for staff development.
New media has revolutionised external communication and used properly, it can do the same for internal comms. With the majority of internal comms strategies in need of a boost, companies can't afford to ignore the benefits of using it to improve employee relations and build an enviable internal culture. It'll pay dividends and without it businesses are missing a trick.
sam.dorney@iasb2b.com