Large organizations face challenges when communicating with employees across multiple subsidiaries, locations and foreign offices.
Email remains the most popular means of reaching employees in most organizations. Yet major companies are complicated ecosystems, and getting busy employees to pay attention and read email remains a challenge for many.
Where better to look for an example of global and cross-cultural communications than a travel company such as Expedia Group?
“The challenge [with email communication] is being a good enough broadcaster to share the knowledge that you want employees to know, while also being respectful of different geographical locations, different cultures, as well as different business entities that may do things differently,” says Bobby Morrison, IT manager for communication and engagement.
“At the core, it has always been email,” he says. “It’s definitely not going anywhere. But with all the new solutions that are coming up in the market, let’s find ways to leverage email and make sure that it’s used in the best possible way.”
Here are lessons Expedia draws from its experience using PoliteMail analytics:
1. Target your audiences—and understand your business.
Not every corporate message is essential for every employee. If you consistently bombard your entire workforce, your staff will lose interest.
You can segment your audience in ways that make sense for your organization: by business unit, job function or region.
“The point is, instead of always sending things out to the entire company, whatever size that company is,” Morrison says, “targeting your message will always increase readership.”
Understanding the differences among internal audiences, and crafting content specific to each, will help avoid confusion and improve understanding.
Morrison’s team communicates with call center agents differently from general employees. The company supports partners Hotwire.com and Hotels.com, whose primary focus is bringing new hoteliers into the network.
When Expedia communicates about an application, Morrison says, “we need to understand what their business does [with it] to be able to better socialize the benefits of that technology product.’”
2. Make it easy for employees to ask questions.
Particularly when communicating about technology, it’s important to be clear. In every email, Expedia IT offers links enabling employees to get support, pose questions or offer feedback.
The email can link to internal knowledge articles, surveys or other information sources. It also offers a way for individuals to fire questions at subject matter experts.
3. Develop a shared communications calendar for all business units.
Coordinate and schedule your messages for all departments and business units on a common calendar.
A shared calendar will make this visible to communications teams, helping them to organize, coordinate and schedule all these communications.
At Expedia, Morrison says, a shared communications calendar enables his department to see when there is scheduling overlap between, say, an email sent to the entire workforce today and one planned for Hotwire tomorrow.
Communicators can decide whether to combine those emails. They might instead add, in the second missive, “Hey, you may have seen something about this yesterday, but here’s something specifically for you at Hotwire.”
To help improve readership, email metrics data will show you what times of day and days of the week draw the highest attention. At Expedia, staffers are still getting up to speed on Monday, and most workforces can’t help having an eye on the weekend when Friday rolls around. That makes Tuesdays through Thursdays the best days for messaging.
4. Analyze your data.
Without accurate email analytics data, it’s difficult to understand how your messaging is being consumed or how to increase engagement.
“You’ll be surprised at how much it tells you, not only about your audience, but how you can improve,” Morrison says.
For example, if you’re getting only a 20 percent read rate with those super-long messages you blast companywide, chances are you should shorten your message—and perhaps more narrowly target your audience, he adds.
By keeping an eye on your metrics and tracking what works, you will come up with ways to skyrocket your engagement.
5. Understand the cultures you are reaching.
Expedia Group is a multinational company with employees in Australia, India, Portugal, Norway, and the U.S., as well as other countries, Morrison says. Yet Expedia communicates in English only.
That said, in special circumstances it partners with localization teams to offer translated messages. The French, for instance, are particular about their messaging, Morrison says, and local teams sometimes translate messages for Francophones.
Culture matters, as well, Morrison says. Grab an approved piece of stock art from your corporate archive—say, an innocent shot of two employees walking down a hall in Norway—and you might inadvertently offend someone in a conservative country where modesty norms differ.
He also watches for Americanisms that don’t translate: “If this goes without a hitch,” “knock on wood,” etc.
“When we communicate, we don’t typically use any colloquialisms that could be misunderstood,” Morrison says.
6. Use images.
Send short, directed messages that contain visuals, and your attention and read rates will shoot up, Morrison says.
For example, when Expedia was promoting the use of Slack internally, emails included a banner with logos from both organizations, along with a sunny color range. When employees opened the email, they saw pictures of happy people using Slack. The email delivered a message before recipients read a word.
7. Help employees filter and organize their email.
Expedia IT discovered that by sending all messages from one central mailbox and in a variety of different formats, overall readership was less than desired.
“We were below the technology company benchmark,” Morrison says, “so we set goals to increase our numbers.”
Messages always fit into four different categories. To help employees identify them, IT began sending them from four email addresses, which were distinguished by distinct graphical banners and logos of different colors, Morrison says.
The team devised standardized layouts with shorter and better-organized content sections. These changes helped set employee expectations and increased readership and engagement.
This article is in partnership with PoliteMail.