Tips on how to create engaging content that connects employees

Lindsey Grizzelle and Kirby Killough of USAA find compelling employee stories that elevate the intranet.

Intranets overstuffed with irrelevant information don’t engage employees. It’s much like that overflowing kitchen junk drawer, where you never can easily find what you need.

To help cut through the clutter, the USAA communications team begins with their employees and their stories. Lindsey Grizzelle, the senior communications manager, and Kirby Killough, the communications manager, create creative content for the company’s intranet, Connect, that effectively engages its 38,000 employees worldwide.

“Every day, when employees sit down at their desk, a feature story appears at the top of the page,” said Grizzelle.

Ahead of their session at Ragan’s upcoming Employee Communications and Culture Conference, we spoke with Grizzelle and Killough to learn what secret sauce from the junk drawer best engages employees.

Collaborate across teams — and organize.

The intranet is an important touchpoint for employees and serves as their digital message board. It’s where they learn about upcoming activities, receive company-wide announcements, and is a portal to accessing onboarding documents. When adding new elements or changing the intranet, it’s imperative communicators collaborate across company departments so important information remains accessible.

On USAA’s intranet, employees can find editorial calendars, cultural and military observances, business priorities, employee feature stories and HR news updates. It’s a central hub where they can find nearly everything they need because it’s organized well.

“Departments and teams also can create pages [on the intranet] where we can send employees to get certain information about certain information as well,” said Grizzelle.

She also noted that the employee communications team has been working with their IT team to improve the “search” functionality to improve employees’ ability to find information quickly and easily.

To keep communication lines open, USAA has a bi-weekly meeting, as well as a Slack channel dedicated solely for the intranet. “[The Slack channel includes] all the messaging, your key messages, the creative assets, anything you might need to communicate from your leader or department. I also follow up with an email [containing those assets],” Grizzelle said.

There’s also the message master, or a repository, where communicators can share assets and confirm information connected to each initiative’s communications plan. “[We] use a variety of ways to connect,” said Grizzelle.

Personalize dry topics.

Killough and Grizzelle recognize when an employee has a good story and often times this happens when employees want to praise each other.

“No matter what topics someone might come to us with, [we ask], ‘What’s the employee angle?’” Grizzelle said. “Our employees love to celebrate each other.”

[RELATED: Join us in Chicago for our Employee Communications & Culture Conference]

For example, recently the company’s intranet sparked an employee discussion around life insurance. It all began with a general article explaining what life insurance is. The topic soon evolved into something greater in the comments when an employee shared his story about becoming a widower and single father. He outlined how his wife’s life insurance policy supported him financially and allowed him to focus more on his daughter and his healing after his wife died.

Grizzelle and her team seized the opportunity to have the employee share his story with a larger audience by featuring him and his family on the company’s intranet. The story not only resonated with employees who may have experienced a life-altering event, but as a bonus, it generated some interest among employees for similar USAA life insurance policies.

The story was met with an outpouring of support with 219 comments when the usual average is 30, the senior communications manager said.

“We find a lot of success in creating engaging content,” said Grizzelle. “[We] put the human face on things that would otherwise be boring.”

Encourage employees to tell their own stories.

There’s no shortage of personal stories at USAA, Grizzelle said, but there’s an art to knowing where to look and who is willing to share. The team leverages the places where employees are already telling stories, like in the intranet comments or Slack conversations on company-wide channels.

“It’s nice to let the employee tell their story in their own words,” Killough said. “A lot of people aren’t writers, so sometimes it takes some polishing and rearranging. But everyone tells their own story best.”

Grizzelle encourages employees to tell their own stories by having them think about telling a story to their grandma.

Sometimes the content can get complex because of the industry they’re in, where USAA offers banking and insurance, says Killough, and some terms are jargon-y. The team has found a way to simplify articles with a “jargon buster box,” which defines words that everyone might not know.

Sharing employee stories can build company culture and even foster a sense of community. Stories help build connections and create a shared sense of purpose that benefits both employees and the organization as Killough and Grizzelle have demonstrated.

“The more you tell employee stories,” said Grizzelle, “the more employees will want to share their story.”

Join Lindsey Grizzelle and Kirby Killough at Ragan’s Employee Communications and Culture Conference on April 25-27. The pair will speak alongside communications leaders from Kraft Heinz, US Bank, Motorola, Shutterfly and more.

Isis Simpson-Mersha is a conference producer/ reporter for Ragan. Follow her on LinkedIn.

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