This is the third 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.
For some corporate editors, it can sometimes feel as though creating content happens in a vacuum. They think they know what the audience wants, but how can they really be sure?
That's basically where the team at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia found itself before it began using a Microsoft Outlook plugin called PoliteMail to measure open rates and clicks on links within email newsletters.
What internal communications strategist Abby Bronstein wound up discovering was that some employees were waiting up to three weeks to open messages, which meant employees would probably want content that would still be relevant weeks after the message was sent. Breaking news wouldn't mean much to them. Likewise, employees who work outside the main campus were interested in totally different topics and events.
You've got to get feedback to know what your employees want. That's the key to creating a newsletter that employees can really dig into, communicators and experts say.
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Let the audience come to you
You could ask your employee audience to tell you what they want to see more of. At software company SAS, where news has mostly moved away from email to its intranet, employees are asked to subscribe to RSS feeds of the news updates that are relevant to them.
"This not only allows more timely information sharing, but ensures the content is available on demand via search," says Internal Communications Manager Becky Graebe. "Content providers can find out how many subscribers they have and what regions or divisions those subscribers are coming from."
What those communicators have discovered is that stories about people tend to have more readers, get more comments, and acquire more "likes," she says. Stories with photos tend to be more popular. Graebe even knows when most readers access company information: from 9 to 10 a.m.
Shel Holtz of Holtz Communications + Technology points to another company, PepsiCo, that does something very similar, though via email. The company's PEPLine email newsletter, which goes to employees daily, includes share buttons so employees can post articles to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
"They are able to track how many of those stories get shared and glean insights from which stories are being shared most often," he says.
[Related: The secrets to great internal email subject lines]
Measuring behavior and attitudes
Holtz says how you measure what's working depends on the software you use.
"A basic listserv won't give you much data, but the more sophisticated you get with the email distribution package, the more granular you can get with the data produced about open rates, click-throughs, etc.," he says.
Ryan Williams, president of TWI Surveys, says data such as open rates and click-throughs, which track behavior, are important. But it's also useful to look at attitudes.
"To support interest and satisfaction of employees we conduct periodic readership surveys, provide comment boxes, and enable employees to rate content," he says.
Beyond that, Williams suggests, just talk to your employees.
"It is in the informal conversations that you will better understand why they feel the way they do," he says. "The qualitative feedback, in combination with the quantitative, provides a solid context to set strategy and implement an effective mix of stories, news, and resources."
Sarah Jo Wood of Evolving Advisors offers a few ways for leaders to get those conversations going. You could have a webcast, she suggests, or you could conduct a survey in which you offer a prize such as a free gift card.
Home and hospice care provider Amedisys using PoliteMail to gather data regarding who's reading what, and what employees find most relevant.
Since their company began using PoliteMail, Meghan Parrish, director of corporate communications at Amedisys, and her team have noticed clear patterns of employees' engagement with the various emails they receive. For example, HR information and notifications about upcoming events are the most widely read messages.
"We've also seen that different roles respond very differently to email," Parrish says. "While someone in our corporate office may read email right away, our nurses in the field check in periodically, because they are focused on seeing patients and not tethered to a computer."
The data that communicators have collected have spurred significant changes, too, Parrish says. Specifically, the information prompted them to cut out a version of the newsletter that employees were largely ignoring.
Knowing the system
Williams says one of the things his organization does to help companies with email communications is to set up email accounts for managers. What comes in serves as a good gauge for what should come out.
"Managers typically get the largest volume of email, and we want to know how much, from whom, and the quality of the content," he says.
Monitoring that one account gives consultants a good idea of how many messages have attachments or links to a given intranet.
"We will also get a better understanding about how operations may be impacting the internal communication programing with their email communication," Williams says.
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.