No longer the ugly duckling

Seven ways strategy, data and engagement have turned internal communicators into strategists.


As strategists, communicators have to learn to say no while helping turn boring messages into creative content, said Stacie Barrett, director of internal communication at Domino’s.

Move over, PR and marketing. Employee communications is no longer the ugly duckling of the industry, as shown by these seven takeaways from Ragan’s internal communications conference at Facebook. Why seven? As Kristin Graham of Amazon Web Services told the audience, our short-term memories can only retain seven items (give or take 2).

1. Do you want fries with that?

If you want to stop taking orders and be a communication strategist, you need to learn to say no. After all, you’re the communications expert, responsible for creating appealing content, and you have the right to determine which stories deserve to be told. As Stacie Barrett from Domino’s told the audience, “If everything is important, then nothing is important.” Work with your stakeholders to help them turn company strategy and initiatives into good storytelling. Remember, if you’re not interested in the content, chances are your audience won’t be, either.

2. The proof is in the data.

So there you are, writing compelling content though good storytelling and communicating with the heart. But is it working? The only way to tell is through measurement. Data is an important superpower for communicators, allowing you to determine what’s working, what’s not, what needs to be improved and what needs to stop. And solid data helps you make an argument for more creative communications.

3. Change the channel.

Sixty-six percent of employees are disengaged in the United States and 16.5 percent are actively disengaged. Connecting to the hearts of employee is a huge comms challenge, but one that also can reap the greatest rewards. Intranets, e-newsletters, print publications, mobile and internal social media are all great ways to inform and connect with employees, but make sure you’re sending the right content to the right people through the right channels.

4. Turn insight to action.

Feedback is a gift and your audience wants to participate. Your organization is always changing, and communications needs to ride that wave. Through feedback we can improve and grow. Learn how to seek opinions, receive feedback (and actually accept it… gulp!), and then adjust your strategy accordingly. So, once you receive feedback, embrace it, learn from it and grow.  Jessica Kimball from Mattel urged us to empower employees to drive change and to work with managers, not just C-Suite executives, to roll out actions that result from employee surveys and other feedback.  

5. Call on your tribe.

Engagement is one of the biggest challenges for internal communicators. Duke University’s Leanora Minai believes that communicators can improve engagement by learning more about their audiences and what matters most to them. Before reading any internal communication, employees will likely ask, “Why do I care? How does it affect me?” If you can answer these questions, you’re more likely to engage the audience. If you know your people, they will come. They are your tribe, hear them roar!

6. Talk culture to me.

Your company culture is created from its mission and values, and it drives the behavior of your employees. Bad culture is one of the three top reasons employees quit their companies, according to Scott Dobroski of Glassdoor.  Company culture and values are the No. 1 reason people stay in their jobs, he said, and culture is six times more effective than a $10,000 raise. Use employees as advocates and ambassadors to promote your culture, and always be authentic.

7. Once upon a time …

Bring storytelling back to our jobs. Keep the goals of your organization as a priority but tell powerful stories to achieve them.  Your audience wants to know the “why”: why are we doing what we are doing and why does it matter to me? Put on your reporter’s hat, gather the facts, then use humans and emotions to tell the stories behind those facts.

Team Fab Five: Lauren Peterson, Brook Sherman-Schmieg, Sholanda Norman, Sharron Wyatt, Jenilee Szymanski, Jaime Horman 

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