Listen up! Here’s what employees want to read in their newsletters

Bells and whistles don’t trump concise, clever, and valuable content, internal communications experts say. Oh, and apparently people like photos, too.

This is the first article in a three-part content series on engaging employees via email. This series, in partnership with PoliteMail, offers tips and multiple ways to improve your internal email communication.

Want to make your employee newsletter bigger and better? Perhaps you should reconsider the “bigger” part.

“Employees will read publications more often if they are shorter and to the point,” says Rob Drasin of employee engagement consulting firm Trident Communications.

Of course, brevity isn’t all there is to creating newsletters that employees genuinely want to read. It also takes compelling content that means something to them.

“Measuring email engagement involves a combination of time spent on the message, as well as interactions with links and content,” says Michael DesRochers of Outlook analytics firm PoliteMail Software. asked three internal communications managers what they have found to be the most effective newsletter content strategies, as well as tips for communicators looking to make their newsletters draw a little more attention.

Download a free white paper filled with four case studies on how to measure and improve internal communications.

The big draws

Chris Close, director of internal and executive communications at real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, says “softer” content is the kind that tends to draw employee eyeballs to his newsletter. Content that’s all business doesn’t get as much attention, he’s discovered using the email measurement tool PoliteMail.

“We see the most success with content that meets the ‘what’s in it for me’ standard, as well as with content that is a unique story or drives a discussion on an issue that people are interested in,” he says.

For example, Rick Lynch, communications manager at ITT Exelis, says the highest click-through rate he ever measured was for an employee discount. Another big draw, Lynch says, is the inclusion of photos.

“Photos catch the eye and hook people into a caption or short article, and if they want details they can click a longer article or video,” he says. “I try to use large action photos that show unusual equipment, activities, backgrounds, travel, etc. that make readers want to flip through the pages.”

Brad Langford, manager of business operations for Cisco’s Service Platforms Group, who is also a PoliteMail user, says clear calls to action and event invitations grab his employees best.

Drasin says stories that prominently feature other employees’ good works are a great way to attract attention.

“Employees want to hear success stories and want to hear about philanthropic activities that their colleagues undertake, both under the corporate banner as well as independently,” he says.

A little living vicariously through co-workers is good, too, says Lynch.

“Photos showing employees and managers in interesting parts of the world, either for business or vacation, attract attention,” he says.

Charts and other graphics

Langford says charts don’t seem to do much for his employees.

“Text works best,” he says. “Provide a little bit, with a URL to read more.”

However, Close says he has had some success with a series of infographics as well as podcasts regarding benefit enrollment. His infographics in particular have generated a lot of employee comments.

“What we’ve found, however, is that it’s less about the format and more about the content and whether it’s something people want to engage with,” he says. “Think about the employee first and why they would read the article or engage with it, and if you have a good answer, you’ll probably generate a lot of clicks.”

Drasin says charts can do a lot for employees looking to get as much information as possible in a compressed amount of time.

“Employees have little available time and have learned to rely on visuals to tell a story quickly,” he says.

However, he also stresses that information has to be valuable. It can’t just be pictures for the sake of pictures.

Specifics for success

Langford, Drasin, Lynch, and Close offered these tips for communicators hoping to increase their newsletter readership:

  • Avoid boring photos. Lynch says he has to rely on employees to send in pictures, so he asks them to send in action shots with compelling backgrounds. “Photos should show people out in the work environment doing something or talking with their team. Desks, podiums, and walls just aren’t very interesting,” he says.
  • Encourage engagement. “In the headlines for our infographics, we ask people to ‘weigh in’ or ‘join the conversation,'” Close says. “Most of our stories also include a ‘Talk back!’ section where we try to prompt discussion.”
  • Stick to one subject. Langford says emails that focus on a single topic are more widely read than long, multi-subject newsletters.
  • Avoid focusing exclusively on dry business content. “People are scanners, so include content that will draw them in,” Close says. “Once in, they’re more likely to click on your story.” Close adds that PoliteMail data show no real correlation between story order and number of clicks.
  • Keep it brief. “Employees don’t have the time to read longer stories and are interrupted so they often can’t finish them,” Drasin says. Communicators can make up for shorter emails by sending more of them, he suggests.

Download a free white paper filled with four case studies on how to measure and improve internal communications.

PoliteMail Software provides internal email metrics and analytics tools for Microsoft Outlook and Exchange to help corporations measure and improve their employee and partner communications.

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