Snackable content: How doughnuts proved a newsletter’s effectiveness

As staffers rushed for the free treats in a conference room, a PR agency studied how its news spreads internally. Enjoy: It’s National Doughnut Day.

It’s National Doughnut Day, and what better time to discuss the waistline fortifiers so beloved in American workplaces?

So let us consider the case of Walker Sands, a Chicago PR agency that used doughnuts as a lure to test how its employee newsletter was being read and shared.

Walker Sands recently emailed staff members to let them know they could grab a ring of the sugary fried dough in a conference room, the company reports in a Doughnut Day-themed study.

“Every week we send out an employee newsletter, and it contains a lot of important and semi-important information, and we just wanted to see if anybody was reading it,” company president Mike Santoro said in an interview.

The announcement drew 40 of Walker Sands’ 65 employees. (The rest were presumably trampled in the stampede to the conference room.) When they showed up, they were welcomed not only with the free treats, but by a colleague with a clipboard who asked, “How did you hear of the doughnuts?” Santoro says.

Heard it through the grapevine

Within 90 minutes of the 9 a.m. email, 40 of the 44 eligible employees (or 91 percent) were aware of the doughnuts. Fifty-three percent had learned about the confections from the newsletter, while the rest were tipped off by a colleague.

Of the 19 who got the news from a friend, 12 heard it from the person sitting right next to them, Walker Sands reports. Most people only told one other person. Only two told two others, and no one had told three or more people.

(Unanswered is whether those who spread the word so sparingly wanted to hog the pastries.)

Crunching the doughnut data, Walker Sands mapped how the information spread throughout the office. The good news was that the newsletter edged out word-of-mouth as the primary channel.

“We were actually surprised so many people learned the information from the newsletter,” Santoro says. “We expected maybe a couple people would read the news and then tell everybody, ‘Hey, there’s doughnuts in the conference room. Let’s go get them!'”

Takeaways? Allowing for the small sample size, Santoro offers a few. For starters, internal communicators will be delighted to learn that company newsletters effectively share news.

“Whether directly from the newsletter, or by hearing from a friend, the information was effectively spread,” the study says.

Telephone game?

Communicators should keep messages succinct to make sure they aren’t distorted by the rumor mill, the study shows.

“Because roughly half of your employees could first hear about your message from an employee rather than reading it in the newsletter, you must get the point across clearly and succinctly to avoid confusion,” Walker Sands reports. “If you are announcing highly sharable information such as an acquisition, bonus plan or high-level personnel change through your internal newsletter, leave as little room for interpretation and speculation as possible.”

That said, there might be exaggerated fears of cumulative distortions, as in a game of Telephone, when a message whispered from one person to another changes through multiple renditions.

“Most people tell one or two people,” Santoro says.

Interestingly, the news spread more slowly for out-of-office employees. Those in New York, San Francisco and remote parts of the Chicago office were left out of the loop.

“This underscores the need to follow up with people who happen to be working remotely or are based in a satellite office, to ensure that they received the necessary information,” the report states.

@ByWorking

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