A games retailer in the United Kingdom draws huge crowds whenever a new PlayStation or Xbox game is released.
Customers queue up in costumes representing characters from Harry Potter or whatever game is coming out. So the company asks employees to photograph the madness and share the results internally.
On one weekend employees provided 75 photos, videos, and other content, telling stories through their eyes, says All Things IC’s Rachel Miller, a British internal communications and social media strategist. It’s just one example of the earthquakes that have shaken internal digital content in recent years as employee content-not the bigwigs’ messaging-moves to the forefront.
“They’re not polished,” Miller says. “They’re rough around the edges, and that makes it even better because they’re authentic.”
In an age of videos and internal social sharing, creative communicators are thinking deeply about content and results, says Chuck Gose, vice president of solutions marketing and global practice leader for employee communications at RMG Networks.
Communicators, he says, have begun asking themselves, “What’s the value of this? What do we want to have happen as a result of sharing this? If we don’t think anything is going to happen at all, then should we share it?”
Here are some trends to watch in internal digital content:
1. Everyone is now a content creator
It’s not just the British games retailer that is drawing on employee content. IBM has crowdsourced matters such as a collaborative rewrite of the company values, says Ethan McCarty, director of social strategy and programs.
Then, using its IBM Connections internal collaborative software, the company appealed to staffers for stories that illustrate its values and practices. It gathered more than 1,000 “exceptional stories.” Leaders now tell one of these stories before every meeting, drawing inspiration from far beyond its Armonk, N.Y., headquarters.
“The content is not just coming from somebody sitting in an office in Armonk … It’s coming from thousands of IBMers all over the world,” McCarty says.
Employee-generated content doesn’t always dovetail with what the poobahs would push, but that’s all right. At Aviva Investors, an employee from the Luxembourg office shared a photo of the view from his window, Miller says. Colleagues across the world began sharing their office views, providing insights into how people around the globe work.
“It was this whole, really lovely, organic, natural connection of their community coming together saying, ‘This is my office. This is where I am. This is what I can see,'” Miller says.
2. Email gives way to social sharing
Corporate messages at GE are no longer emailed, but posted on an internal social network called Colab, says Alexandra Abrams, communications specialist at GE Capital Americas, the company’s 8,000-employee commercial financing businesses.
In place of email, GE is using timelier, weekly posts to Colab groups. The company built the internal collaboration software on a Cisco platform that enables employees to create “canvases” or groups.
“Each post to a canvas or group generates an email notification, but employees can now set their notification preferences to receive daily or weekly digests of all the groups they belong to,” Abrams says.
3. Curation for competitive intelligence
Organizations are trying to unearth fresh, relevant content for their audiences, says Michael Gerard, chief marketing officer for Curata, a content curation software firm. Though many use it externally, there are internal applications, such as competitive intelligence.
One large, government-affiliated organization has a competitive intelligence team that unearths information for its staff, Gerard says. The company enriches the content with its own analysis.
According to Gerard, this might be: “Such and such a person wrote a fantastic blog post specifically about one of our top competitors, XYZ. Here’s a quote from their post that’s in response to one of the questions that came up at our meetings last week. But check out these other sources for more sources for other information. And here’s a direct link to the post.”
4. Analytics drive social content curation
If you work for an organization as big as IBM, with 434,000 employees, you might never learn about the bulk of your colleagues’ most interesting research, thoughts, posts, and tweets. So Big Blue uses analytics and data visualization software to share expertise from hundreds of its best social media feeds, whether it’s the personal blog of a doctoral researcher or the IBM research division’s Twitter feed. This is done on the intranet, and for external audiences at IBM Voices.
“We’ve aggregated that, analyzed that, and used analytics to make sense of what is a vast repository of data that changes every second,” McCarty says.
5. Educate employees to activate content
Surely you’ve gotten a message from someone at work asking you to push a product or service on your personal social media channels. IBM doesn’t like to do it that way, says McCarty.
What IBM does is educate employees so they are competent to share company information as they see fit. IBM’s THINK Academy is a Massive Online Open Course that teaches hundreds of thousands of staffers about topics such as the cloud, social business, and analytics. It provides deep content for sales and technical people, and more general information for others.
McCarty explains: “Rather than saying, ‘Hey, IBMers, tweet this video. Or tweet this one tweet. Or blog about this topic,’ … we’re really providing a lot of value to IBMers through this education. And then they can go and talk with their professional contacts and their personal contacts in a more informed way.”
6. Digital signage: Beyond CNN
It used to be that organizations showed CNN or Bloomberg TV for people cooling their heels in reception areas and other places where employees and visitors congregate, says Adrian Cotterill, editor-in-chief of Daily DOOH, a blog about the digital signage industry. But these mingling areas have become a vital space for internal and external messaging.
“You get your employees walking in through the front door every morning,” Cotterill says. “But of course you also get your suppliers, your partners, your investors, your clients coming through the door as well.”
Content now includes brand information, stock prices and even the weather. PricewaterhouseCoopers, which built large screens into a reception area, uses such an approach, Cotterill says. (This YouTube video shows the result.)
GE began testing signage in 2012, placing screens in gyms, cafeterias, elevator lobbies, “and anywhere else an employee might linger,” Abrams says. GE corporate has recently networked all digital signs and can push content to any sign in the company worldwide.
As an industry trend, screens are increasingly being integrated into the walls and furniture, Cotterill says.
7. Measuring internal content
The rise in digital communications has “brought measuring and metrics to the forefront,” says GE’s Abrams. “Businesses are creating internal metrics reporting dashboards that mimic the sharing and live updating capabilities of Google Docs.”
It’s no longer enough just to publish newsletters or pump out emails. The final step, RMG’s Gose says, is to measure the results. This includes surveys, and simply seeking feedback from managers, employee focus groups, and team meetings.
When Gose used to be an internal communications manager at Rolls-Royce, he moved his office to a manufacturing space built in the 1940s.
“They were building engines there,” RMG’s Gose says, “but out there you could get a true sense of what’s important to people.”