This is the fourth article in a four-part content series on internal email measurement. This series, in partnership with PoliteMail, offers tips and multiple ways to improve your internal email communications.
Call it the Pinterest effect, or a result of Facebook's gearing itself increasingly toward images and video, but a Ragan Communications poll of nearly 200 readers on LinkedIn found that almost half, 48 percent, said video and images do the best job of engaging employees.
About a quarter, 26 percent, said it was employee-generated blogs and articles that garner the most attention, while 13 percent replied that polls and surveys get the most engagement from employees. Only 7 percent said articles from the communication staff do the best job. Another 7 percent replied "other," and many of those respondents explained via comments that they find face-to-face interaction the best way to communicate.
It's not a scientific poll, but the numbers certainly bear out that visuals make a huge difference when it comes to keeping employees interested.
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"Photos and videos get the most engagement everywhere," says Shel Holtz of Holtz Communications +Technology. Likewise, Sean Williams of Communication Ammo says the world made the shift to valuing video, images, and graphics long before corporate communications did.
So how to put them to use?
Sarah Evans, chief evangelist for Tracky, says she tends to use images as seasoning.
"Behind the scenes, we typically attach a funny animated GIF or Internet meme when we have news to share," she says. "It's totally embraced by our team and makes communication 'less boring,' even when it is."
Rick Lynch, communications manager at Excelis Systems, says his newsletter is about 90 percent photos, mostly from employees, and his next step is to embed videos that employees narrate.
"I have to keep in mind that this is a general employee publication distributed to a very broad audience ranging from firefighters to logistical experts to network engineers, so I've always been suspicious of long text," he says.
Lynch says he's gotten good feedback since he started adding more images to his newsletter; if employees want to dive deeper into text, they always can turn to the intranet. He says it's sometimes hard to get employees to snap photos in and around their offices, but as Facebook becomes more photo-centric and Instagram takes off, it may get easier.
[Related: How to create great visual content on a shoestring budget]
What about text?
Though images and videos may be more immediately appealing, some employees still want words, Wiliams says.
"Facts and data, persuasive information, are good for technically minded people like finance folks, IT, etc," he says. "For the rank-and-file worker, it depends on the nature of their work and the connection of our material to their work."
What it all comes down to, Williams says, is that employees simply don't want to deal with BS and corporate propaganda that executives try to pass off as engaging content.
"Communication that engages considers the receiver rather than only the sender," he says. "The thought that anyone is breathlessly awaiting the latest monthly letter from the president is nonsense."
Evans adds that it also helps if communications come from engaging people.
"The people on your team account for the largest percentage of interest in your message," she says.
Employee voices, breaking barriers
User-generated content is what Lynch believes is the future of internal communications, and communicators will take on the role of facilitators and coaches. He also says the divide between external communications and internal communications is on its way out.
"Companies like IBM and Ford are finding ways to channel internal and external communications across boundaries," he says. "I think that's smart, and as I increase the use of video, I'll likely use YouTube to make them available to both employees and external audiences, such as potential employees."
Sometimes, certain types of employees just need face-to-face interaction. At real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, communicators used email analytics tool PoliteMail to find that its property managers weren't really opening corporate emails. As a result, a company leader went on a "roadshow" tour to meet and talk with them face to face.
Scott Simmerman of Performance Management, where cartoons play a huge role in communications, says the key for employees isn't just grabbing their attention with bells and whistles. It's a matter of ensuring they aren't unengaged-that is, they feel ownership of their work.
"Ownership is critical to acceptance and commitment," he says. "Nobody ever washes a rental car."
PoliteMail Software provides corporate communications teams with email measurement, metrics, and management tools for Microsoft Outlook and Exchange. For more information, please visit PoliteMail.com.