This story is in partnership with PoliteMail.
Back before the financial crisis, Community Bank in Fort Worth, Texas, used to survey staff and conduct other forms of internal communications measurement.
These days, because of cost-cutting, it measures little beyond email open rates, says Lizz Larsen, director and vice president of marketing and communications.
The roadblocks that Community Bank faces in internal communications measurement are familiar across the industry, a new survey from PoliteMail and Ragan Communications reveals.
Some 68 percent of respondents said they do measure internal communications, but 56 percent expressed some degree of dissatisfaction with how their organizations do that.
Among the 776 self-identified communicators who took the survey, many are held back by a lack of money, tools, time, leadership priorities, manpower, and useful data on outcomes. From an inability to view email open rates to a lack of knowledge of what tools are available, frustration is high among communicators.
“When there’s less money, marketing and communication tend to be the places that get cut,” says Larsen, a survey respondent.
A lower priority for internal?
Some survey respondents reveal a sneaking envy of internal’s more flamboyant sisters in PR, marketing, and sales. Two-thirds of respondents said internal comms are given a lower priority than these other areas.
The survey also revealed the teeth-gnashing that data measurement engenders.
Of those communicators who say they are dissatisfied with the way they measure, 59 percent say that it’s because they don’t collect enough useful data during measurement, while 47 percent say they are only able to measure outputs, not outcomes. (Respondents were allowed to click more than one response.)
Thirty-four percent said they’re dissatisfied because they don’t like the tools available to them or they don’t get enough data, and 32 percent said their dissatisfaction stems from not knowing which tools to use. Thirty percent say they are dissatisfied because they don’t do anything with the data they do collect.
Most communicators measure less than half of their internal communications campaigns. They tend to believe that internal communications doesn’t get much respect from the bigwigs.
Of those respondents who do not measure internal communications, 56 percent said their biggest challenge was a lack of tools, followed by a lack of staffing (51 percent) and lack of time (47 percent). Forty-four percent said they don’t know what to measure, while 43 percent said they don’t know how to measure.
Dixon Hughes Goodman, an accounting firm with 30 offices in 11 states, is typical in that it measures at least some communications sent to its 1,800 employees. The CPA firm’s internal communications manager, Alice Grey Harrison, also expressed dissatisfaction.
The company tracks hits on the intranet and does follow-up surveys after major initiatives, Harrison says. The surveys ask employees which communication channels worked best for them and how they would like to be contacted in the future.
Peaks and valleys
Harrison is hoping a future SharePoint upgrade will help better measure the intranet. For now, she only can measure unique hits on the home page.
“I’m able to see on a weekly basis the peaks and valleys of when people are visiting the intranet,” Harrison says. “But I don’t actually get to track which stories may resonate with people. … I’m not even able to track what they’re visiting and how frequently.”
(Harrison does use surveys as well, relying on an outside vendor.)
Larsen, the Community Bank VP, praises the way her bank weathered tough times in 2009 due to its conservative lending practices. She still couldn’t fend off the measurement budget reductions—even though she is part of the leadership team.
Those internal surveys at Community Bank used to improve service both internally and externally, Larsen said. The company discovered that one branch was the subject of many complaints about not answering the phones. Upon learning this, management was able to deal with the problem.
“If you don’t measure it, you don’t know how to grow it if something you want more of, and you don’t know how to reduce it if it’s something you don’t want,” Larsen said.
For many, the future holds hope for greater uses of measurement. Nearly 60 percent said they plan to increase their measurement efforts in the next year, while another 15 percent said they would increase measurement within three years.
What to measure—and how?
Forty-four percent said they don’t know what to measure, while 43 percent said they don’t know how to measure.
A communications specialist at a casino said: “Since we gather measurements ourselves, I wish I had more training in that area. I think we could learn a lot from a company or team that specializes in measurements and compiling data.”
Dissatisfaction with tools
Tools also present a major problem for many taking the survey. Thirty-four percent said they’re dissatisfied because they don’t like the tools available to them or they don’t get enough data, and 32 percent said their dissatisfaction stems from not knowing which tools to use. Thirty percent say they are dissatisfied because the tools don’t do anything with the data they collect.
Tools “are too expensive, and don’t offer flexible enough options,” wrote one survey participant. “If we could just get a basic tool at a low price, that would be enough. It seems there are either beautiful tools with extensive features, or nothing.”
At a smaller organization, internal communications isn’t seen as the most pressing priority, says Darcie Reeson, communications manager at Children’s Hospital Association, a Kansas-based organization representing more than 220 hospitals.
The association has an internal newsletter in a blog format on SharePoint, and is getting a readership rate of 60-70 percent. Reeson has determined that employees want more concise content.
Outside of that, there are no tracking mechanisms. Reeson finds herself having to beg for attention from the IT department.
“It would be nice to have some help in defining what are the best tools to measure certain things, and then what does the information mean,” she says. “It’s not about, ‘Did they click through?’—Google analytics can tell us that—but, ‘What is the behavior?’ I want to know the behaviors, the psychology of what people are motivated and inspired by.”
Outcomes measurement needed
Many communicators would like evidence that they are making a difference. Sixty-two percent said the lack of outcomes measurement is one of the top weaknesses of their measuring tools.
“The things that we measure are insignificant,” a survey respondent said. “For example we measure if all our intranet pages have owners and backup, [and] we measure the quality of our news by word count.”
Many communicators long for better data on outcomes. Susan Spoto, a senior communications advisor at AARP, does internal communications for her group of about a third of the organization’s 2,000 employees. Most of the measurement for internal communications comes from subjective surveys with open-ended comments, she said in an interview.
Sure, Spoto can track open rates on newsletters, but because employees are expected to open them, it’s hard to use this data in meaningful ways. What she is hungry for is hard data about outcomes. She hears good things about the newsletter she produces but doesn’t have any way to gauge their effect other than comments, she said.
AARP is an outcome-driven organization, she says, but she has nothing to measure it outside of people volunteering, “Hey, you do a good job,” Spoto says.