It’s time to stop measuring ‘internal communications’

Instead of counting impressions, clicks or content consumption, focus on driving behaviors that lead to substantive business results.


Internal communications metrics might be doing you more harm than good.

Let’s stop measuring “internal communications” for two reasons:

  • First, internal communications is probably not actually “internal.”
  • Second, you’re wasting your time if you’re measuring the “communications” instead of the desired behavioral changes.

I’ve been on a crusade to clarify the difference between “internal communications” and “employee activation.” It starts with measuring observable behaviors instead of tracking the consumption of the content. In the end, employee communications is not about counting impressions.

At Bloomberg, we no longer use the term “internal communications.” We call our team “employee communications.” It might even be more accurate to call it “employee engagement”—or “employee activation”—because we are not in the business of “internal” or “communications.” We are not in the business of storytelling. We are not even in the business of generating awareness.

We want to be in the business of driving behaviors that lead to business outcomes. Specifically, we are on the hook for improving sales, increasing productivity, opening the doors for our recruiters and building employee retention. We even help protect the firm by changing behaviors around security.

Awareness is just one arrow in our quiver; it’s not a business outcome.

So, where are we as a profession, and what should we measure? The following four areas are worth consideration:

1. Strategy and vision

There is no function better positioned to help senior leaders align the company with a shared sense of purpose, mission and future than employee communications. This is especially true if you think of “communications” much more broadly than just multimedia or written content.

What does your architecture say about your company’s vision? What do the snacks served in your office say about your strategy? What rituals serve as guideposts for employee behaviors?

Communicators should play an integral role in shaping strategy and long-term vision.

2. Marketing mix

In recent years, a cottage industry of software providers has cropped up with solutions for soliciting your employees to share company content with their personal social networks. There’s value in that, but employees are also the ones interacting with your current customers.

What digital mechanisms have you considered for compelling your employees to behave differently around customers? What does your employee mobile app do to remind them to be their best self—and to come equipped with the knowledge they need to build even greater value for your customers?

3. Reputation

There’s a great case study about when Slack’s servers went down a couple years ago. Slack’s leaders had anticipated that this could happen, so they empowered their employees to respond to comments through the company’s official Twitter handle.

When the inevitable outage came, Slack’s main Twitter handle replied to every single complaint (and compliment) thanks to this ingenious crowdsourced demonstration of trust. How would you measure that value with traditional metrics such as page views and downloads?

4. Recruiting

A handful of companies have managed to get their employees to open their personal networks to company recruiters, but most firms just use the old referral bonus. This approach turns a potentially positive network expansion into a limited transaction.

We’ve found at Bloomberg that working back from the business problem—in this case, the open position—and then putting the employees in the center of the story has been effective. Our YouTube channel has dozens of videos highlighting current employees in roles we’d like to fill—these are the employees most likely to know wonderful, similarly skilled people. Each video has a link to apply for a job, and the employees featured in these videos are happy to share them.

If we accept this fundamental reframing of the function formerly known as internal communications, then the way we measure our impact should also change.

Measurement that matters

Primarily, we must stop using “awareness” as a key performance indicator. Awareness is not an outcome. Its impact on behavior is dubious, and it’s difficult to measure. In addition, we must stop measuring after the fact and trying to reverse-engineer business impact.

The measurement process starts with an active collaboration with business leaders and a clear understanding of business goals—and, most important, a definition of observable behaviors that will drive results.

Consider metrics that measure improvement, or any data that reveal efficiency or uncover the efficacy of certain tactics.

  • For example, the number of blog posts over time is an indication of productivity, but they are not measurements of business outcomes.
  • Open rates on email newsletters are a great improvement metric, but even if everyone in the company opened the newsletter, you could still go out of business. However, if no one opens the newsletter, then at least you know you should probably stop sending it out.

Also, focus on metrics that measure tangible business outcomes. Why should executives accept measurements of activity as proxies for value?

Consider:

  • Volume does not equal change—email opens, story clicks and impressions are important, but they are insufficient.
  • We must be able to define reasonable action that communications can take to contribute to observable behavioral change.
  • For example, if you produce a widely read article about a new sales technique—which leads to the adoption of the technique and a subsequent increase in sales—you’ve achieved something significant.

It’s crucial to collect these metrics in a way that does not impede productivity. If measurement is baked in at the beginning, it’s easier. Enable automation whenever possible.

Be aware, there will be resistance. Employee communications pros are not used to this kind of scrutiny. We’re not used to being on the hook for revenue generation, but we should embrace the role of consultant and/or strategic advisor. The alternative is being measured on volume of activity alone, which leads to an endless cycle of doing more with less.

Tying your performance more directly to business outcomes makes the function more strategic. It encourages additional investment, rather than incessant belt-tightening. It keeps you relevant—and employed.

Ethan McCarty is the global head of employee and innovation communications for Bloomberg LP. A version of this post first appeared on the Institute for Public Relations’ blog.

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