Mimi Garrity Denman’s email measurement woes are shared by nearly everybody she talks to in corporate communications.
“They would like to measure email,” says Garrity Denman, the director of employee communications at RMS, a catastrophe risk modeling company, “but they have a problem internally that prevents them from doing that.”
Email leads all other channels in importance to both communicators and employees. Yet because of roadblocks that range from technology to competing priorities, organizations are far more likely to measure intranets and websites, according to an Internet survey by PoliteMail and Ragan Communications.
The Internet survey polled 776 respondents from organizations of all sizes worldwide, with titles ranging from internal writer at a major publishing firm to external affairs executives.
Although 29 percent of respondents most often measure websites and 28 percent measure intranets most extensively, only 11 percent of communicators measure email extensively.
At RMS and other companies, security issues create roadblocks: Companies are reluctant to upload their entire email database to outside servers—despite the helpful data that email tracking would provide, Garrity Denman says.
“I would like to do it,” she says. “I have suggested that we do it, but it’s just not possible at my company.”
Ranking the channels
When asked to rank the importance of communications channels, survey respondents rated email first, followed by intranets, and then supervisor meetings. Asked which channels employees use most frequently, email again topped the list, followed by meetings and intranets.
More communicators in Europe and the Middle East said they can’t or won’t measure email (61 percent), than in the Americas (37 percent) and Asia Pacific (33 percent).
Among organizations of more than 100,000 employees, email topped the list of channels to measure, with nearly 100 percent saying it is important or very important to measure. Second place was a tie between intranet/Web and leadership or town hall meetings, each receiving a 96 percent show of hands.
Although manager meetings are the second-most-commonly used communications channel for employees, only 5 percent of communicators said they measure these meetings extensively.
The channels that communicators say they are least likely to measure or can’t measure are instant messaging or chat (84 percent) and digital signage (72 percent).
Making the case
At Ohio-based Standard Register, a document management and business communications company, email is the leading channel for internal communications, outpacing the intranet and town hall meetings. Its corporate communications director, Dale McMichael, is planning to begin measuring email.
At the 3,700-employee company, email is used for announcements, general awareness, and company updates, such as a new manufacturing plant in Indiana. McMichael has made a business case for streamlined processes and a new email measurement tool. This would help guide her messaging, she says.
“Are [employees] looking for more information or are they absolutely not interested in the content I’m providing on a particular topic?” she says. “It helps me craft the next version of the newsletter, so that the information is relevant to our audience.”
Why aren’t companies tracking more broadly? There is internal resistance in some organizations. Jonathan Rick of The Jonathan Rick Group, a Washington, D.C., digital communications firm, says a client of his compiles and distributes several daily email reports on news coverage and social media hits. They are highly valued but sometimes overlap.
When Rick’s firm tried to introduce a tracking mechanism to at least show the open and click-through rates, there was pushback.
“The current system worked, we were told, and it took a lot of time to get it where it was,” he says. “Moreover, the email was a source of pride and turf, and making even small changes required layers of approval.”
In another case, an email marketing service provided a company some eye-opening data, Rick says. People claimed to value the company’s emailed reports, but few were actually reading them, let alone clicking on their links. The data led the firm to shut down the report.
Other types of obstacles
Email is a high priority for both communicators and employees at Children’s Hospital Association, a Kansas-based organization representing more than 220 hospitals. But the organization can’t currently measure it, says Darcie Reeson, communications manager.
There are two reasons for this. First, Children’s doesn’t have an email marketing expert to say, “This is how we need to change the process and this is the correct way to create email marketing,” both internal and external, Reeson says.
Second, Children’s has been through a merger and doesn’t have a good tool because it is consolidating multiple websites. “We’ve been waiting for a program that unites the offices, so that there’s one consistent way of sending the emails,” she says.
At one global financial services company, the primary internal channel is email, according to a survey respondent who asked not to be identified. The company emails information such as a recent announcement on changes in senior management, or reminders about a virtual Q&A on Jive with a senior leader.
But the only measurement used is the number of people receiving the email.
“Lack of measurement of email feels to me like one of those throwback activities, e.g., ‘We do it this way because that’s the way we’ve always done it,'” she said in an email.
At Standard Register, McMichael sees internal communications—and its measurement—as part of a continuum.
“The focus right now is on communications with our customers,” she says. However, “if we can’t communicate effectively internally, we don’t have a place in helping our customers communicate effectively. So it becomes critical for me that we’ve got to be able to nail our internal communications.”