I always find it perplexing when I learn that otherwise successful companies are neglecting their internal communications. They either undervalue it, or they’ve never spent time putting together an internal communications plan. And that’s a big misstep.
This should go without saying, but internal comms (IC) is an important component of your organization’s health. It ensures your people are informed of company news and events, promotes feedback and engagement, and provides another channel for your people to express themselves. All of which is to say, when done right, IC helps emphasize your people’s values and your organizational culture.
But that’s easier said than done, right? So what’re companies with great internal communications doing differently? Using the right tools can make things simpler, of course, but even the best tools are useless without a proper internal communications plan. Here’s how you can put together one of your own.
Create an internal communications plan in 7 steps
1. Decide who owns internal communications
If your company has the luxury of an entire team devoted to IC, feel free to skip ahead!
For the rest of us, though, resources might be a bit more constrained. For some smaller organizations, deciding who handles IC is kind of like playing Tag. “Peter in Marketing is out of the office this week, so tag, you’re it Peggy in HR!” Clearly a situation like this can get confusing, fast. And that’s why deciding who handles IC, in every situation, should be Step 1 of your plan.
There are some good arguments out there about why HR departments are a good candidate to handle IC since it's generally in their wheelhouse. The same case can be made for the Marketing team. Either of these is a perfectly fine way to go, but I’m a believer in empowering people from different teams (the number will depend on your publishing schedule, which we’ll get to later). That way, you’ll have a nice mix of voices and perspectives from across your organization.
Plus, it also divides up the work between departments and makes IC an org-wide effort.
2. Figure out what you want to achieve
Ah yes, the ever-important why are we doing this?! But before you even ask this question, you might need to figure out what’s not currently working at your organization. Is there a communication breakdown? Maybe your people feel like company information is siloed and the only way they learn anything is through watercooler gossip. Maybe people feel disconnected from the company values and culture.
Once you’ve identified the reason you need to concentrate on IC, it’s time to think about what you actually want to achieve with your internal communications strategy.
The key here is to be as specific about your desired outcomes as possible. For example, are you trying to increase employee engagement? Great—why? Which teams are you trying to engage? How would increased engagement benefit collaboration across those specific teams? You get the idea.
This exercise might seem maddening at first, but it’s exactly the kind of brainstorming you’ll need to do before you move on to the next step.
3. Define your audience
With this step you’re just beginning to connect your why with your how. Or, in other words, you’re mapping out how exactly you’re going to achieve your desired outcomes. But before you get to that step, you’ll need to define your audience.
For example, which teams are you publishing to, and more importantly, what do they care about? What kind of content will engage them? What incentives do they have to engage with and contribute to internal communications? Simply put, with IC you need to know your audience.
There are a couple ways to go about collecting this information:
Demographics. This is a popular way of segmenting your audience based on the types of content and information you think they’ll engage with. It’s a perfectly adequate way of finding content that’ll appeal to your organization, especially if it’s on the larger side. Different teams are going to appreciate different types of content, so you'll have to take that into account. E.g.: Do you want to post data about how the company’s doing? Don in Creative simply won’t read spreadsheets (it’s even in his contract).
Ask them. You’re going to get a massive list of different answers, but this is a great way to gather ideas while also making your people a part of the process. This tactic is ideal for small to medium-sized organizations.
Once you’ve figured out who your people are and the kinds of content they value, it’s time to move on to the next step.
4. Now it’s time to think about internal communications tools
You’ve got your desired outcomes and your audience defined, but now you need the medium for your message: your internal communications tool. It’s important to carefully choose which tool to use to share org-wide news and events, mainly because it has to be a place your people check regularly.
Sending out emails en masse isn’t going to cut it in this day and age.
While you’re researching which communication tool is the best fit for your organization, here are a few things to consider:
Is it a go-to place for employees? Is this a tool they’ll not only use, but return to regularly? Internal communications shouldn’t ever feel forced or inconvenient.
Does it do more than internal comms? Collaboration, event planning, chat, activity streams, commenting on articles—the tool you choose should fulfill more than one purpose. Ideally it should function as an internal communication ecosystem.
Targeting. Can you target your internal comms to specific teams, groups, departments, and people? Your people will usually only read and engage with items that are relevant to them and their areas of interest. Segmenting should be built-in as this can drastically impact the success of your IC plan.
Looking for an internal communications tool?
5. Start putting together your internal communications calendar
The good news: you’re almost ready to start internally communicating! The bad news: you need to put some serious planning into what you’ll publish, when you’ll publish it, and how often you’ll publish!
As far as the content calendar goes, it’s important to be able to know well-beforehand what you’re going to publish on a given date. Planning out the year may seem like a daunting task, but it helps ensure that your communications cadence stays consistent throughout the rest of the year. Speaking of cadence, you’ll want to shoot for weekly posts as a rule of thumb. If your organization is larger, multiple posts per week may make sense.
“A whole year’s worth of content? I’m going to run out of ideas within a month!” I promise you won’t.
Think of the ideation stage as a natural extension of Step 3. It starts with jotting down the types of content your people will likely engage with, taking into account seasonality and events, and coming up with a list of relevant topics. To get you started, here’s a list of types of content you can publish to generate discussion. In short, you’ll want to include a variety of content from multiple authors across your organization, including leaders.
6. Interact, interact, interact
Once you’ve started enacting your IC plan, it’s important to remember that once a post goes live, it’s live. This means people are reading it, they’re formulating thoughts, maybe they’re writing a response or raising an issue you’ve overlooked. A big part of modern internal communications is responding to comments to keep the discussion going (if it warrants a discussion).
Think of engagement as an ongoing process, not simply just publishing a Christmas party event announcement and moving on to something else. Even if the type of communication doesn’t require feedback or an involved discussion, just having that functionality built in shows to people that internal communications is a two-way street.
Remember: great internal comms gives your people a voice, too.
7. Measure your results
Finally, the most important step of your internal communications plan is to track your results. Are people reading your posts? Are they liking and commenting on them? Are people more informed than they otherwise would be? Are they regularly using the internal communications tool?
Collecting data and monitoring IC metrics is a great way to learn what’s working and what isn’t. That’s why it’s imperative to assemble a weekly or monthly report to gather your findings, and then discuss with other stakeholders how you can further hone your internal communications plan.
The great thing about putting together an internal communications plan is that it’s always going to be in flux. Naturally, unexpected things will come up, and you’ll have to address them, which means your plan might change. But if you anticipate these in your plan, you're good to go.