When “60 Minutes” began preparing a report on the North Korean hack of Sony Pictures’ computers, the entertainment company asked FireEye to be its voice.
Sony brought in FireEye, a cyber security outfit, to clean up in the aftermath of the hack. To keep its 3,400 employees informed of the publicity boost, FireEye’s internal communication team emailed them about the upcoming program.
FireEye’s email was one of many that inform staffers in a company that acts as a cyber bulwark for governments and businesses around the world. It is important that employees read and act on information from FireEye, rather than deleting them unread.
“Stories like that, when you can tell them, are important for your employees to know,” says Tony Sapienza, FireEye’s head of internal and executive communication. “It motivates you and makes you feel good about what your company is doing, and it actually engages people in the work that they’re doing.”
Since March, FireEye has used software provider PoliteMail to track its emails, leading to a revamping of its communications calendar and better-read emails. The analytics afforded communicators greater influence in a company where numbers talk.
When Sapienza arrived in 2014, the company had effective executives and fascinating stories to tell—but its emails were “the Wild West,” Sapienza says. Many individuals sent messages, and there was no consistency across executive communications, he says.
Sapienza brought order to the situation, but he lacked vital metrics. This was a striking omission at a cyber security company that makes its living through analytics and intelligence.
“The one thing that had always been missing was any sort of analytics on email communication,” Sapienza says. “We had some anecdotal evidence that … people aren’t reading these kinds of emails. But there were no metrics that we had at our disposal that we could use.”
The new analytics from PoliteMail revealed who was opening, reading and engaging with the messages.
Here are a few of the lessons FireEye drew from the data:
1. Keep it short.
FireEye sends sales notes with information for customer-facing staffers in the field. In the past, these “notes” would run up to two pages, comprehensively covering a topic such as General Data Protection Regulation, a harmonized data protection law framework across the European Union.
“Now we can look back and see that people weren’t opening and weren’t spending the time on these documents,” Sapienza says.
When FireEye sent a GDPR sales note in May, the concise missive linked to further information. It was one of the most-read messages FireEye put out.
By shortening emails, the company saw the open rate rise to 67 percent from 57 percent. “Attention,” or the time spent on emails, moved from 68 percent to 91 percent for certain messages.
“More isn’t always better,” Sapienza says. “In fact, less is better. Less, and more focused, is definitely more effective.”
2. Use bite-sized information.
FireEye also split its monthly email into a twice-monthly schedule, shortening the amount of news that had to be crammed in. The company began using “bites of information,” directing employees through links to read more comprehensively on subjects of interest.
“People want shorter bites of information,” Sapienza says. “They want to be able to read it quickly, and if they want to move on, they can click through.”
Internal communicators also began using graphics, images and charts to draw people in. To make emails more personal, the sales email included a message from the head of sales.
Open rates increased by 10 percent, and attention rates (how much time is spent reading an email) shot up by 25 percent.
3. Send fewer emails.
Some internal groups at FireEye have a lot of information to share, and there was often a clamor to get emails out. Sapienza now has the data to prove that it’s counterproductive to push out too many emails.
“We put out three emails from one group over a four-day period in May,” Sapienza says, “and saw our lowest email performance—43 percent open rate, 55 percent attention.”
This was the lowest of all emails sent from this department. Metrics proved the point that hunches would not have.
The failure of the email overload brought additional attention to FireEye’s Internal Comms Tracker, which used to schedule messages. This allows those seeking to push information to coordinate.
“So they can say: ‘OK, this is a busy week. There’s a lot of information being shared with employees. Let me pick another time,’” Sapienza says.
The tracker has helped the communications department manage the timing and scheduling of information.
4. Target your messages.
Not everything is relevant to every employee. FireEye has three parts to its business:
- Intelligence analysis, or understanding “what the bad guys are doing, what tools they’re using”
- Incident response (as with Sony), in which FireEye determines what happened in an organization’s data breach and how to prevent it in the future
- Products that protect networks and platforms
“We’ve found that targeted emails going to specific groups perform up to 50 percent better than broadly focused, companywide emails,” Sapienza says.
5. Vary the formats.
In addition to keeping communications much shorter, FireEye boosted its use of other kinds of communications, such as video and audio.
“We’re mixing it up,” Sapienza says, “and we’re able to now see that some of those strategies are paying off with better open rates and better attention rates from the people who are opening the emails.”
Armed with the new metrics, internal comms has a stronger voice. During quarterly reviews, other departments have always had data to point to. External communications could discuss share of voice. The digital team offered numbers relating to traffic to the website. Others tracked lead generation.
Now, internal communicators have their own numbers to bolster their case.
“What it does,” Sapienza says, “is it gives communications professionals a much a stronger seat at the table, and much more resources to work with to actually engage in healthy conversations with the people we support.
This article is in partnership with PoliteMail.