Editor’s note: We are re-running the top stories of 2021 as part of our year-end countdown.
After all these years of inbox animosity, and the declarations of its demise, email still reigns supreme.
That’s especially true in the realm of internal communication. Despite all the concerns about “click fatigue” and “email overload” during the ongoing pandemic, email engagement remains sky-high. Data shows it’s rising, even. However, it takes a savvy, strategic approach to cut through the noise.
To help you find greater email success in 2021, we connected with Christina Roach, digital content officer for the city of Dallas, to glean guidance on how to reach employees through this vital messaging medium. (She’ll also be speaking at Ragan’s upcoming Internal Communications and Culture Next Practices Conference, so mark your calendars accordingly.)
Busy colleagues don’t want to be bothered with clunky, heavy messaging right now (or ever, to be honest). Roach offers three ingredients that will ensure your emails go down nice and smooth:
Make it snackable.
“Don’t spend all your time writing long messages that employees will likely only skim through,” she says. Make your messages snappy, concise and “snackable.”
Instead of sending cumbersome chunks of text, Roach suggests “transforming your message into a visually interesting infographic that will be more digestible and eye-catching.”
Don’t be afraid to try something new.
Roach says it’s important to offer up different flavors of content. Try using video, for instance.
“There are people in your organization far more influential and charismatic than a well-written email,” she says. The trick is finding them and turning them loose.
Don’t stress about video production or editing. “You don’t need Super Bowl commercial-level production value. Small imperfections add authenticity,” Roach says.
Solicit ideas from the audience.
Coming up with creative ideas all by your lonesome quickly gets old. It’s bad strategy, too.
“Employees have lots of great ideas to share, and they know exactly what they like,” Roach says, adding: “Check in with them and see what ideas you can implement to improve your internal comms.”
Pitfalls to avoid
There are many ways to go about email the wrong way. Roach shares three particularly detrimental mistakes that will crush your credibility (and open rates):
Gather candid feedback.
It’s important to gather ideas from your colleagues, but it’s perhaps even more vital to get honest takes on how your emails are resonating. Or not.
“Don’t just quantitatively measure how you’re doing with surveys, but also qualitatively evaluate how you’re doing by conducting focus groups, holding virtual ‘coffee n’ chats,’ one-on-one interviews or opening discussion forums,” Roach recommends. Such an approach takes more time, but “the insights you’ll gain from your efforts are well worth the investment.”
Lighten up a bit.
Nobody wants to read that stilted, jargon-choked robo-email. Roach says, “This is not the Queen’s royal ball or an episode of ‘Suits.’ Employees want to read content that is interesting and relatable.”
Before hitting “send,” Roach says to ask yourself, “Would I stop my day to read this?”
Avoid information overload.
Don’t send an egregious number of emails. And make sure the ones you do send get right to the point.
Roach likens excessive email to the famous “I Love Lucy” chocolate scene, when Lucy and Ethel quickly become overwhelmed by the speedy conveyor belt. Roach breaks it down:
“Even at a slow speed, the two did not get every piece, and as the speed and volume increased, they missed even more. Unlike chocolate, emails are probably not as enticing, and we certainly can’t eat them when there are too many. If we overload employees with information, it is likely that they will become disinterested or confused.”
Tracking success in 2021—and beyond
Roach says that email click-throughs are a standby metric internal comms pros typically lean on. However, gauging clicks should be just part of your bag of tracking tricks. Roach says:
“Gaining clicks and views is definitely a win, but are people actually reading and engaging with your content? Look at how much time is spent reading a newsletter or viewing your intranet pages. Are employees taking time to read the content or passively skimming?”
The same concept applies to video performance as well. “Are you capturing their attention for more than the first 10 seconds? Taking a deeper look into how your messages are performing will help you identify areas of improvement for future communication,” Roach says.
Whatever type of content you end up producing, be mindful of your audience’s time and learning preferences. Roach foresees a heavy shift toward visual communications to accommodate shrinking attention spans. With programs such as Canva and oodles of DIY video editing software at your fingertips, this is a change that communicators should embrace without fear or hesitation.
“I think the shift to video communication and infographics will be imperative if we want to keep employees engaged,” Roach says. She adds that the formal, stiff style of communication businesses have defaulted to in the past no longer cuts the messaging mustard. “People no longer want a cleaned up, perfectly wrapped message from the CEO. They want the rugged truth delivered in a way they can relate to,” she says.
She also predicts the demise of the dreaded “all-staff email.” Roach says communicators must put more energy into personalization and segmentation to grab employees’ attention moving forward. This sort of individual attention will improve your read rates and also cut down on irrelevant clutter.
Action and honesty, not platitudes
In the wake of 2020’s many crises—and with the pandemic still very much in full swing—it’s important to use email as a forum for communicating action points, results and emotional candor. If you want your email to be more than a chore, you must go beyond dispensing bland business information that ignores the reality of what employees are experiencing in their lives outside of work.
Roach shares an example from General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra, who sent out a powerful internal memo after the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Roach says, “Messages like these are so important, especially for Black employees who must often bear these traumatic events in silence and need to feel supported by their employers.”
Roach cites how Barra went beyond the empty platitudes and social media displays of solidarity many companies felt compelled to make last year. In her note, Barra listed concrete commitments to action, which included the creation of an Inclusion Advisory Board that she would chair.
“Her letter elevates the message from just fluff to something that is substantive,” Roach says, adding that, “Acknowledgement is great, but action reigns supreme.”
Get more messaging guidance from Christina Roach and other comms experts at our power-packed Internal Communications and Culture Next Practices Conference.