How to get your employees to generate content for you

Host photo contests. Provide digital templates for stories. Encourage curation. These are some smart ways to inspire your colleagues to help you report what’s happening at your organization.

You’re swamped. We understand.

Communicators are too busy with the day-to-day essentials to cover everything of interest that’s going on at their organization.

The good news is that employees engage better with content produced by their colleagues, anyway.

These dual realities have merged to create one of the liveliest trends in contemporary communication: employee-generated content. What once might have seemed a gimmick has transformed into a must-do for communicators who manage the internal messaging for organizations, both large and small.

Studies have shown that engaged employees perform better. One way to get them more involved is encouraging them to produce content, says Cathy Lucas, chief communications officer for Metropolitan State University of Denver.

“If we don’t effectively engage our employees and ensure that they’re in the know and that they’re good storytellers and that they feel engaged,” Lucas says, “they’re not going to be good brand champions for us.”

Here are some tips for gathering purposeful content from your staff.

[Free download: 10 ways to engage employees through smarter communication]

Repurpose departmental news for internal platforms.

For a time, MSU Denver had no formal email policy. Employees from various departments used to fire off emails about an event on campus or announcing something like they were getting rid of some office furniture, Lucas said.

As a part of launching a new brand journalism platform, the university also created an internal site called Early Bird—playing off its mascot, Rowdy the Roadrunner. The university has focused on stories that heavily engage its 2,200 employees, whether they’re classified as staff, faculty or administrators.

Communicators now ask individual departments to send snippets from their newsletters to the central office, which redistributes them in Early Bird. This could range from an event at the geography department to a pre-game happy hour hosted by the athletic department.

Lucas says, “We said, ‘Send them to us, and we’ll ensure that you have a platform.’ … We’ve been able to tap into those and develop other writers.”

Use employee profiles and articles.

SAS uses 10-question Q&A article templates for features on its staff. In the “On the Job” feature, participants fill out a digital form to write their title, relate what they do and describe interesting aspects of their work. Other templates tout people who take part in athletic events, such as an iron man competition. There’s also one for performers who sing opera, appear in a stage production or play in a band.

They allow communicators to reveal interesting news about employees without consuming the time of staff writers. The features are “very popular, because people know that this is the fun stuff,” says Becky Graebe, director of communications.

Celebrate holidays and events with photo galleries.

SAS often creates photo galleries around holidays and events that its employees host or attend, Graebe says. For example, if one of your experts speak an industry conference, encourage them to upload behind-the-scenes photos.

Cheryl Sansonetti, marketing director of Merkle Inc., adds, “Maybe there’s a Merkle person onstage, and so one of the colleagues who’s in the audience can capture a clip of them and upload it.”

Let people know you want Halloween photos or pictures from the community cleanup day or summer softball game. SAS creates photo galleries so that people can upload images from events such as Veterans Day. The company also asks staff to post a picture of a parent, child or relative they’re proud of.

It’s an easy win for the communication team.

“This is one way to get a few more stories out,” Graebe says.

Feature remote offices.

Photos don’t have to be event-oriented. For companies with a far-flung employee base, photo galleries can create a feeling of unity.

“It might be a beautiful sunset against the building, or it might be, ‘ Here’s our new break room in the Hong Kong office,'” Graebe says. “It allows us to see all the different corners of the world where SAS is working.”

Host contests.

In addition to event- and geography-based submission themes, SAS hosts photo and video contests that let staffers show off their skills, Graebe says. They upload photos to the intranet, and employees vote on their favorites, awarding each entry one to five stars. Winners receive framed copies of their submissions, and their contributions appear on the intranet and digital sign.

“It’s fun for them to show off what they do for a hobby,” Graebe says.

The content also provides SAS with tons of free, high-quality images to use in its marketing efforts, which is a money-saver.

Several current or recent categories include people; animals, critters and pets; nature landscapes; nature close-ups; hobbies and sports; and architecture and statuary. They draw hundreds of submissions.

Curate content.

Experts in your company know their respective fields well but are also probably watching for new developments. Why not harness that content? Merkle encourages employees to post articles, blog posts and other content internally, and then share them externally as well, Sansonetti says.

The company awards points to top contributors, who then can exchange them for gift cards quarterly. At the end of the year, they celebrate the biggest contributors—those who drive the most clicks and those considered “rising stars” for stepping up their contributions to a noteworthy degree.

“It’s building employees’ personal brand,” Sansonetti says. “Whenever you publish something to your social handle, you are hopefully publishing something you believe is true. And so you’re putting a voice and an opinion out there. We find that clients are checking our account manager handles; they’re looking at who’s working on their team and what those people have to say.”

Create a ‘board game.’

Well, The SAS Board Game isn’t really a tabletop pastime like Parcheesi or Monopoly, but rather a play on words. It’s a way of highlighting employee involvement in community organizations. Realizing that many of its staffers were volunteers on the boards of service groups, SAS created a blog-post feature that allows people to tout their good works.

Employees are tapped to write a paragraph about the organization they serve, what their role is, and why the activity is important to them. Their work isn’t published, however, until they nominate another employee to be featured next.

This keeps new nominees coming in, and it’s a way of producing feel-good content that employees love to read.

“We feel that everyone who serves on a board or is involved in a community organization brings something they’ve learned through that experience back to SAS,” Graebe says, “and our culture is better because of their involvement.”

This article is in partnership with Dynamic Signal.

@byworking

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