6 ways to measure—and boost—internal communications

Before you invest thousands in fancy tools, make sure you know what you want to benchmark, Katie Paine tells her audience at Ragan’s Corporate Communicators Conference.

Suppose you’re in internal communications, and your boss pulls you aside and says, “Congratulations, you’re really kicking butt.”

Or, more alarmingly, “We’re really getting our butt kicked.”

Don’t simply bask in the glow or rush out to update your résumé. The proper response is to stop and ask, “Excuse me; what is kicking butt?” Katie Paine of KD Paine & Partners said Monday.

If you haven’t defined success—or you have targeted so many goals it’s impossible to say whether you’re succeeding at any one of them—then you need to refocus, she said at Ragan’s Corporate Communicators Conference.

Paine offered pointers to help communicators succeed—and measure their success.

Here are a few:

Measure what matters.

Also known as “the kick-butt index,” your key performance indicators must be chosen carefully to reflect the goals of the organization, Paine said. If you’ve got 47 indicators, “you’re not going to get anything done,” she said.

Companies must clearly define their expectations, she said. This means that before you invest in pricy software, analyze what you want to achieve. Among other things, “define the R in ROI” by deciding the return on investment you expect. Companies need to benchmark against others—possibly against partners if you’re in internal comms—and determine the target audience.

“You need to define all these things very clearly first, because otherwise it doesn’t matter what tool you use,” she said.

Paine has consulted with companies that spend tens of thousands of dollars on a tool, then hire her to help in defining these matters. She has to tell them: “Guess what. The tool you just spent $70,000 on doesn’t measure what you need to measure.”

Ask what it all means.

When you gather data, ask yourself, “So what?” Paine said. “You have to get to the bottom of what this means.”

Find the people in your organization who understand data and how to analyze it, she urged. Be specific about how you reach targets according to relevant categories such as geography, title, responsibility, and brand.

“If there’s a big spike in Asia, what’s going on there?” she said. “Or if there’s a huge drop-off in engagement in people over 50, what’s going on there?”

Study the failures first.

Failures will teach you more than successes, she said. Communicators are overwhelmed and need to set priorities. An analysis of why ideas flopped will help you to identify and veto any future clunkers.

Pick the right tools.

If you want to increase creativity or collaboration, use an internal tool such as Yammer or SalesForce, Paine said. If you want to see how well your messages and themes are filtered through a company, conduct a sentiment analysis.

Paine did a study for one company that learned that its messaging wasn’t exactly a hot topic at the water cooler.

“The percentage of emails that went out that contain a key message was actually about 2 percent,” she said.

By contrast, Westinghouse boosted its success in messaging by creating a game modeled after “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” testing employees every time they get together. This boosted knowledge in the areas the company was pushing.

Build relationships.

In monitoring Web activity, communicators once measured impressions, Paine said. But she added, “Impressions are the equivalent of men looking at women at a construction site. There’s no relationship there.”

Nowadays companies want to build relationships. This starts with something as simple as “likes,” Paine said. The next level involves visitors, shares, Twitter followers, retweets, and comments, and the highest is use of your hashtags, the contribution of content, and the presence of messages.

Employees are increasingly fluent in this new landscape, she said. Some 5,000 staffers at Dell have been certified and trained on its social media budget, and a new generation of “digital natives” hop about among various programs and social media platforms an average of 27 times per hour.

But this isn’t something to fear. Socially connected employees tend to be more creative, she said. They get things done and are more collaborative.

Craft your message around what interests employees.

Subjects that draw high employee engagement tend to be those that get people talking apart from work. Sports, sharing news, promotions, events, the Oscars, and the Super Bowl are prime areas to hook them.

“If they’ve got a connection to them, they’re going to talk about them anyway,” Paine said.

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