Category Archives: Strategic Communication

2019 Communication Trends

Digital migration trends and challenges.

Digital Migration

In 2019, organizational communication continues its march towards all things digital. Companies are investing heavily in applications and platforms that facilitate HR functions, benefits administration, education, training, performance measurements and more. Likewise, employees are increasingly comfortable and eager to engage with technologies that offer the same types of experiences they have in the marketplace and in their personal communication.

As this digital migration continues, communicators are increasingly aware of the gap between the utopian promises of new technologies and the unadvertised challenges created when they are implemented into real working situations. For the savvy, embracing new technologies also includes creating communication strategies that work for their specific internal audiences. This article briefly considers trending technologies and some of the accompanying challenges.

Trending Now

Personalization of data is increasing rapidly across the employee experience. Employees used to create their own benefits profile against standardized offerings, or call into a center to get help. Now they logon to dashboards populated with real time specifics about their compensation, medical, retirement, PTO, performance, etc.

Enterprise Social Media (ESM) differs from employees’ other social media primarily because it is more intentional. Companies are using private social media platforms (usually built on the company intranet or a vendor app) to distribute information and foster conversations that promote collaboration, wellness, knowledge communities, company culture and more.

Knowledge Sharing across organizations is one of the most important trends in ESM. Wikis, blogs, forums, How To videos, and collaboration tools are all ways to share and preserve important organizational expertise, knowledge and memory.

Mobile computing has reached a tipping point. With nearly 80% of Americans owning smart phones[1], employers can expect that their people have access via mobile applications to benefits, job-related apps, collaboration tools, internal information networks, etc.

Wearable devices are being used by companies to help address several key situations. First, many companies offer wearable fitness trackers and connected applications as part of their wellness programs. Second, employees in physical jobs wear devices that monitor the safety and efficiency of their movements. Finally, wearable technology is being used in training and to push performance in professions ranging from package delivery to neurosurgery.

Video continues to rise in popularity as production costs fall. Platforms like YouTube, and the small screens on mobile devices, have made users more comfortable with lower production values and short-format video. The door is open for more organizations and leaders to use video to replace, or supplement, communication that was traditionally done in meetings or print.

Analytics are applied to reams of data available on every aspect of our work in digital communications. For example, we can measure the efficacy of an open enrollment video by knowing if it is watched to completion. This data tells us to make the video shorter, or more dynamic. ESM conversations are tracked and managed to foster an intended activity. Efficiency data is available for online activity and work-related apps. Making sense of all the data is becoming a key job for internal communicators, who must understand how the raw numbers translate into informative stories for leaders and other stakeholders.

Bumps in the Road

Both employers and employees want the benefits promised by new technologies—efficiency, accessibility and customization. However, the road is not without its potholes. Embracing trends in digital migration requires communicators to stretch as they integrate technical expertise into their communication toolkit.

Confusion can challenge the successful implementation of new technology. Converting existing human-reliant processes into digital transactions is rarely a seamless exercise. There are often gaps between the way things are done and the new app. Creating communication to guide a digital migration requires a familiarity with what exists and what is being built, along with a level of technical expertise. Creating a collaborative environment between vendors and stakeholders often hinges on great change communication.

Impatience often follows work-related technologies that are usually far more complicated, and carry higher stakes than consumer products. Billions have been spent on Apple’s iTunes to make buying a song simple and easy. The same is not true of the custom application designed to measure employee productivity. Unfortunately, employees will judge your technology based on usability gold standards found in their consumer experience.

Frustration arises when new technologies are introduced without the necessary human support. User-centered design techniques that help communicators understand the employee experience can help create the support communications necessary to a transition.

Meeting the Future

As technology continues to transform our work lives, the role of the organizational communicator is expanding. Anticipating the promises and the challenges of digital migration prepares us to add value to our organization as we help ensure the employee experience is successful and rewarding.

 

[1]Pew Research Center. Mobile Fact Sheet. 2018. http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/

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A Defence of Communication

Can Communication Really Drive Change?

Can a memo from an executive about wellness encourage an employee to improve his body mass index . . . or even figure out what a body mass index is? Can a PowerPoint presentation do anything more than baffle us with bullet points; will anyone walk out of the room energized, motivated or different? People in my profession believe so, or at least hope so.

In truth, all communication gets some kind of reaction. That reaction might be a raised eyebrow, an apathetic “whatever,” a click of the delete button or a trip to the recycle bin. But can it get the reaction the sender intends? According to Percy Bysshe Shelley (yes, that one), well-written messages can do that and much more.

In his “Defence of Poetry,” Shelley argued that poetry (a particularly well-crafted form of communication) has the power to advance civilization. Language and poetry, he believed, demonstrate man’s aspiration toward order and our appreciation of beauty. This order and beauty spread when audiences consume poems and internalize their messages. Because of this effect, Shelley credited poetry for helping lift Europe out of the Dark Ages.

“And the world would have fallen into utter anarchy and darkness, but that there were found poets among the authors of the Christian and chivalric systems of manners and religion, who created forms of opinion and action never before conceived; which, copied into the imaginations of men, became as generals to the bewildered armies of their thoughts.”

The ordered thoughts of poetry “became as generals” within the minds of confused, disorganized Europeans. It’s tough to argue whether the poetry incited order or if general improvements in society gave rise to an artistic flourish, but haven’t you ever had a song stuck in your head? Have you ever had an image you couldn’t unsee? Has a phrase from a book, a line from a poem or a friend’s curious metaphor ever made you see something a little differently? Meme theory suggests that certain basic ideas spread like viruses; that we have ideas the same way we have colds or fevers. They infect us, affect us and eventually pass on to others we come in contact with.

Communication (rather, well-crafted words, sounds and images) can change people and people can change themselves, others and even the world.

The memo you’re writing, the poster you’re creating or the email you’re drafting is much more than a temporarily uncrumpled sheet of paper; it’s an idea about to form in someone’s mind. It’s a seed of change. It’s a freshly promoted general standing before an eager, albeit bewildered, army.

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Ideas Influencing Employee Communication

I often hear clients say: “We want to do something new and different!” or ask “What is new and exciting in employee communication?” While the forms of communication haven’t changed in recent years—print, web, mobile—the approaches we use to maximize these media have.

Generational Overlapping

Audience segmentation by role is nothing new (i.e., HR, leaders, managers, employees), but adapting communications to engage diverse generations is becoming an area of focus. This is where media mix comes into play. For example, baby boomers prefer print and face-to-face communication that is open and detailed. Digitally-native Millennials prefer electronic communication that is meaningful, brief and visual, with the option to get more detail. Surprisingly, Millennials love face-to-face interactions for complex or important subject matter. Sandwiched between the two is Generation X—technically very competent and preferring email or electronic communication with higher levels of complexity.

One way to address diverse generational audiences is through media mix and tone.

Example:

A U.S.-based engineering and manufacturing company has employees ranging from the age of early 20s (millennials) to mid 60s (baby boomers), with an average age of 42 (generation x). For an initiative such as retirement readiness, this overlapping mix of communications will best reach this broad audience:

  • Posters or full-sized banners with stand and a 30 second commercial spot (plays on local kiosks/monitors and website) to generate awareness
  • Postcard mailed to homes to engage spouses
  • Interactive guide with a downloadable/printable PDF
  • Microsite with layered information (page content, PDFs, videos, links), including testimonials (diverse ages and job functions) and a short game or quiz
  • Employee meetings organized similar to a health fair, including a short presentation and various vendor/financial planning experts

The trick to success is to match media to audience preference, even if you repeat yourself using varied forms. The important idea is to reach your audience in the from it prefers.

Sensory Immersion

Sensory immersion creates engaging experiences that heighten awareness and increase engagement. Sight, smell, taste, touch and sound are common in marketing and in the gaming industry but also can play a part in any communication. This approach is particularly compelling for Millennials, who are always hungry for new meaningful and entertaining experiences.

Brilliant images, like those below, when attached to compelling headlines will hook your audience. They can be paired with other sensory inputs or merely suggest the types of experiences your audience finds compelling.

  • Sight—Given our age of rapid technology, such as email, smart phones, the Internet and social media, sight can be challenging to engage and maintain. We have become accustomed to tuning things out due to oversaturation, so there needs to be a visual hook and strong sense of hierarchy. This can be achieved with unique typography, provocative imagery (especially macro imagery) and/or use of solid geometric shapes with bold color. Evoking the sense of sight can tie in nicely with communications that focus on the future.
  • Smell— Did you know that we can recall 10,000 unique smells! While we can’t reasonably infuse scents into most employee communications, we can certainly suggest them through imagery in a way that triggers recollection of a smell, and the feeling(s) associated with that memory. For example, the aroma of a steaming hot beverage on a cold morning that also warms your hands, or the smell of roasting marshmallows over a fire as you prepare to indulge in s’mores. Stirring up these memories can come in handy when communicating healthy behavior, such as eating delicious and healthy food, engaging in yard work in the spring or taking a relaxing vacation at the beach.
  • Taste—As with smell, taste is something we can suggest through imagery that can trigger a memory and feeling to make a more personal connection with the audience.
  • Touch—Print appeals to the tactile sense, including various weights of paper and textures that can enhance or support a communication. Embossing/debossing and coatings such as varnishes also can elicit the sense of touch. It is more challenging to engage touch electronically, but we certainly experience it with gaming and phones (vibration) and here again, we can use macro photography to tap into the sense of touch. For example, drawing people in with the feeling of holding a sparkler, the rough texture of new money or the gentle softness of a fluffy pillow to rest your head on.
  • Sound—We can use sound to enhance a video or influence the mood of a website or interactive environment. See what Volkswagen did with sound that resulted in a 66% increase in taking the stairs that were positioned next to an escalator: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lXh2n0aPyw. Today we can’t cost efficiently integrate sound into a print employee communication, but we can suggest it in a way that can trigger a memory so it comes to life in our minds.
Infographics

Infographics blend information and visuals in a minimalistic way to help people comprehend content. This approach oftentimes is used to convey complex concepts, processes and/or to visually break up dense content. After all, 65% of people are visual learners!

 

Long Format Websites

With over 80% of the U.S. mobile market using smartphones, we have had to start thinking more about the user experience on an array of devices—computers, tablets and phones. This means thinking more about adaptability of the communication (look and functionality).

Example:

For a long while web page design has been focused above the fold to eliminate scrolling. Now, those same web pages have a different experience on smartphones, meaning lots of scrolling— there’s no way to avoid it with a small device. As a result, design has begun moving toward long format or scrolling pages.

Designers are finding advantages to this, such as creating a fluid and creative storytelling experience (this dovetails nicely with sensory immersion and appealing to millennials). It also promotes interaction, has greater user consistency from one device to another and it opens the door for training or other game-like experiences.

Face-to-Face

Rapid technology has enabled organizations of all sizes to work effectively with communication that is fast and electronic. Conversely, the explosion of easy digital communication, is also creating a desire for face-to-face interactions for significant situations, such as organizational transformation, annual benefit enrollment and retirement readiness.

Certainly this won’t be the only touch point with employees for a large communication initiative, so the content should be high-level and offer additional resources for greater detail. PowerPoints or similar tools can be used to guide the conversion and should be used to tell a story that provides meaning to employees. In other words, avoid “death by PowerPoint” or reading the slides word for word. The face-to-face interaction is more about humanizing the message and providing employees with the opportunity to listen and ask questions. The high-level presentation should be fluid so it can be distributed/posted and make sense to the end user. Here’s an example of a creative and fluid PowerPoint that tells the story of how Google works: http://www.slideshare.net/ericschmidt/how-google-works-final-1#20.

Innovate to Engage

There are many creative approaches that can both attract the attention of a diverse workforce and align with budgetary needs. Next time you communicate an initiative to your employees, instead of printing the same old letter-sized booklet or emailing a PDF, consider:

  • Addressing various generational media preferences
  • Increasing engagement through sensory immersion
  • Maximizing comprehension by matching images to content with infographics
  • Building fluidity and story-telling into mobile and desktop web design
  • Meeting face-to-face to increase impact
References

http://www.generations.com/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/11/millennials-surpass-gen-xers-as-the-largest-generation-in-u-s-labor-force/

Kara Pernice (2016), Top 10 Intranet Trends of 2016, Nielsen Norman Group

https://www.comscore.com/Insights/Rankings/comScore-Reports-January-2016-US-Smartphone-Subscriber-Market-Share

Natalia Lumby (2016), Sensory printing: engaging all of the senses, Graphic Arts Magazine

PewResearch (May 2015)

 

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Push Employee Engagement

 

It’s very likely your employees have a company issued, or benefits-related, smart phone app—a small transactional program that expedites HR record-keeping, benefits administration, wellness programs and more.

A well-made app can drastically simplify important functions with the added benefit of mobile accessibility. Most apps have the ability to send push notifications—an important communication feature that can be used to increase employee contact and engagement.

Push notifications enable interactive communication directly with employees by sending actionable messages to their phones.

 

A push notification message is “pushed” out from a central server to an application. It differs from SMS text messages because the push notification contains a message plus the ability to act directly within the app.

 

For example, your company and its healthcare partners are sponsoring an onsite screening next month. Send a text and you tell everyone about the event. Send a push notification and you tell everyone about the event, plus the employees can—with a swipe—automatically sign-up for a screening, watch a video, or ask a question.

Push notifications are widely used in marketing and social media because they are proven to increase responses and other engagement with products, services and social networks. They work because they are simple, immediate and actionable.

As part of an internal communications strategy, push notifications can add the following benefits:

  • Signal when information has elevated value
  • Facilitate important transactions
  • Reward engagement through badges and leveling
  • Distribute relevant content
  • Track responses to increase engagement

Push notifications are powerful tools, but they can also become invasive and annoying when overused. It is important to carefully plan how your organization will use push notifications. When creating a strategy, make certain they align with your company’s internal branding and message frequencies. You want employees to see them as useful assists and valuable sources of information, so be mindful of how a push notification might interrupt their lives and make sure the message is worthwhile.

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