Do you make decisions on communications projects based on how everyone feels about them—or do you use hard data?
Think about all the subjective opinions you field when you’ve just conducted an employee town hall or you’ve planned out a revamped newsletter.
“In communications, your content is often judged based on opinions and anecdotal feedback,” says Chris Close, former director of internal and external communications at the commercial real estate service firm JLL Americas.
Those opinions and anecdotes may be very much at odds with actual outcomes and results—which are, of course, the metrics by which content and conduits should be assessed.
To find out how modifications to internal communications emails changed behavior among the company’s 19,000 employees in the Americas, Close used the PoliteMail email measurement tool and employee surveys.
The metrics revealed an improved knowledge of company strategy.
By using solid data to cut through assumptions and opinions, Close has boosted readership of emails and newsletters and has streamlined workloads for his communications colleagues.
Here are four tips for your email measurement:
Map employee knowledge to newsletter readership
In recent years, through ongoing improvement of content, Close nearly doubled open rates of the JLL Americas weekly email newsletter, This Week at JLL, from 30 percent in 2011 to 57 percent today. That’s certainly good news, but the big question is whether the increase in newsletter readership has an impact on employees.
“I wanted to connect the increase in the open rate with our objectives,” he says—one of them being raising awareness of JLL’s corporate strategy.
After one of JLL’s employee town hall meetings, Close sent out a survey to attendees, asking how often they read the weekly JLL Americas newsletter, how well they knew the company business strategy, and how confident they were in their ability to help JLL reach its goals. Close found a clear link between frequent newsletter readership and knowledge and confidence in the strategy.
Specifically, employees who read the newsletter every week were nearly four times as likely to understand company strategy compared with employees who don’t read it, and those regular readers were nearly four times as confident that the company was on track to meet its goals.
“This tells us there’s value in what we’re doing with the newsletter, and that we should keep investing in it,” Close says.
Drive newsletter readership with mobile-friendly design
A closer look at email metrics also helped Close garner support for better mobile access to the weekly employee newsletter. Analysis showed that newsletter readership via mobile devices was on the rise-from about 3 percent in 2011 to about 12 percent in early 2014.
However, “the newsletter wasn’t especially mobile-friendly,” which was slowing gains in readership from the growing number of JLL Americas employees accessing content on their phones and tablets. Regular Outlook email doesn’t translate well to mobile email platforms, Close says, nor were JLL’s intranet pages programmed using responsive design techniques. “It was painful to read the newsletter on your phone,” he says.
Despite the difficulties, analytics showed a steady upswing in mobile newsletter readers. It made sense to invest in a better mobile experience.
“We figured out ways to ‘trick’ Outlook into being mobile-friendly,” with mobile-responsive email templates, Close says, “and we built mobile-responsive pages for our intranet.”
The payoff on these investments of time and money was rapid, according to ongoing email analysis: Mobile click-throughs are up to 16 percent and are rising steadily.
Use metrics to allocate resources
Email analysis has helped Close and his colleagues figure out where to invest time and money in email communications-and where to stop wasting time and money.
JLL America’s HR department was producing a twice-monthly newsletter called “People Connection”—a mix of profiles and news about JLL employees, along with alerts about benefit enrollment deadlines, vacation signups and other time-sensitive news.
When the HR team decided to pull the news alerts out of the newsletter so that employees could receive customized emails instead, the newsletter’s open rates and click-throughs fell off the cliff.
“People weren’t that interested in the content that was left,” Close says.
When he suggested that the HR team discontinue the weakened newsletter, they were hesitant: “People like to hang on to the content they’ve built. The newsletter’s stakeholders insisted that it was still a good information source.”
Only hard data could overcome the entrenched opinions about the failing newsletter, Close says. He showed the HR team that after the time-sensitive alerts were removed from People Connection, open rates dropped by 4 percent—and worse yet, click-throughs dropped by a whopping 40 percent, at a time when click-throughs with This Week in JLL rose by 20 percent.
Faced with clear evidence that the newsletter was losing readers, the HR team agreed to shelve it. Close agreed to add the remaining “people” content into the weekly newsletter so it would still get viewers.
Use design to boost open rates
Analysis of email open rates also helped JLL communicators save the time they were spending on designing internal newsletters.
“Lots of our people create communications for their local offices, and my boss and I thought they were spending too much time on design,” Close says. “The emails often looked overdesigned, without benefits to show for it.”
Close’s team created two basic templates for email newsletters, including This Week at JLL. Naturally, there was resistance. “Someone told us we should go back to the old template instead of using what they said was a ‘bleak and lifeless design,'” Close recalls, “but we didn’t think design was all that important to readership.”
Sure enough, when he used email metrics to examine email read times before and after use of the new template, “we had the highest readership ever with the new design,” Close says. “It’s all about the headlines in the newsletter, not the design.”
Having seen time and again the power of metrics to support sound business decisions, Close is a believer.
“When you leave decisions up to anecdotes, you’re at the whim of just a few people,” he says. “Whether someone likes what you’re doing or doesn’t like it is immaterial. What matters is if it gets employees to do what you need them to do.”
This article is in partnership with PoliteMail.