Imagine you’ve just had this conversation;
“We need to post an urgent employee comms today. I’ll send you the brief”.
“Oh ok, no problem. I’ll work on it next.”
You smile on the outside but cringe on the inside. Your inner voice screams.
Where do I start?
Will it be any good?
Do people read these things?
Does anyone even care?
Where will we post it?
Creating Internal Communication often comes with the added pressure to ‘get it done as fast as possible’. It’s no surprise that employee messaging can come off as, dare we say it, ‘dull as dishwater’ - bland and too formal.
If you’re trying to foster the right culture, create stability, or uplift team spirits during times of change, then your best maneuver is engaging employee communication.
We’ve bundled up some best practice inspiration from diverse sources, including tips from both interior and user experience design - gems from online eyewear retailer, Warby Parker. Plus brilliance from the New York Times best selling author, Malcolm Gladwell. Along with a splash of our own thoughts on the subject. Let’s jump into examples of best practice for internally communicating with your teams.
To help prioritize, ask these 3 questions.
To communicate clearly, it helps to think about what you’d like your audiences to remember or do. These pieces of information are called key details or critical messages.
Think of key messages as takeaways (not the delicious good burger kind of takeaways), rather the takeaways that you want your team members to understand, remember, or act upon.
To think of what a key message is, simply ask yourself;
“What is it that I want people to share after they’ve read the communication?”
It should be easy to recall and repeat.
Just ask yourself these 3 simple questions to help draft your key employee communication messages;
Why am I sharing this key communication message? Or try to flip the question; what will happen if they don’t receive this message?
How will this communication make employees feel, and why should they care?
What next steps do I want the audience to take after seeing or listening to this?
Or, give this framework a try.
Performing this exercise can help you crystallize and prioritize the main points of your message.
Fill it in. Stick it up in front of you. It will help you become clear and focused.
As an example, we’ve filled out this key message framework for an employee campaign. To improve the way managers interview new hires, so we can increase diversity and inclusion performance.
My finished template could look something like this:
To assure and persuade, tell them ‘why’ first.
Picture yourself reading a key message on a significant change happening within your company. Often these messages start by talking about ‘what is happening.’
Before you get to the second paragraph, your gut reaction jumps in. Subconsciously you think this is either good or it sucks. If it sucks, you’ll switch off.
If you want your communication to influence. Swap your ‘what’ for your ‘why’ at the start. This method is beneficial for change, crisis, or corporate strategy communication. When you give your reasons for the decision first followed by what it means for your employees, it has two benefits:
1. Communicating the ‘why’ of your key message first helps to cancel out people’s doubts.
2. It also gives you the chance to engage with your audience on a more emotional level. We all love an underdog story about overcoming obstacles. The ‘Why’ in any story is about a struggle. People connect with a battle. Especially if they feel they can make a difference. So share the why followed by the what.
To prime audiences and emotions, use hero images.
Hero images instantly tell a story to your audience. The best images attract, persuade, and move users. Pairing your image with type gets attention fast and makes the perfect critical 'Call to Action' for your employee communication.
People interpret images faster than words, which is an essential factor for increased ‘scannability’.
Using hero images is just another expression of your brand’s voice.
To engage, think like a UX designer.
To engage employees with your message, you need to think like a user experience designer. UX designers use visual elements to show what is essential. You can use their tricks to engage your readers, so they pay attention, complete tasks, and achieve their goals more quickly.
Embrace negative space. Nope, it’s not a mindfulness thing.
User Experience designers embrace negative space. It’s the area of the layout that is left empty. These spaces give your readers a breathing space to scan over what’s essential. They give your copy and images visual clout. They focus your audience on the core elements of your message and reduce distraction.
Negative Space is the secret sauce to get your employee’s attention.
Break your message down into chunks of information.
We’re wired to categorize things. Make your Internal Communication into small bites. It’s not only easier to scan through, but it also improves the way we comprehend and remember information.
10, 9, 8. It turns out we love a number.
It turns out people like numbers. Nielsen Norman’s studies on eye-tracking tell us that numbers attract our attention and make our eyes stop and center on that piece of information. To get users’ attention, add data, or numbered lists.
To grab attention, use Interior Design’s color rule of 3.
This one from interior designers applies to internal communication. It’s the 60-30-10 rule to make your message visually appealing. Use 60% of a neutral color as your most dominant color. Use a secondary, complementary color that makes up 30% of your communication. Then add a pop of color, and that makes up only 10% of your communication. A pop of color hooks people in to stop, see, or act.
This interior design rule uses a 10% pop of colour to make your communication jump out.
Lemonade online insurance uses the 3 colour rule with light grey black and magenta
To delight, make it skimmable.
Giant walls of words are just a death blow to your employee engagement. Slabs of text are equivalent to facing a firing squad. It’s a punishment, it’s overwhelming, and people run the other away.
To be clear in case you skimmed over the last part.
Studies by Neilsen Norman tell us that busy humans are not fans of reading. We scan and skim read. Employee communication is far more satisfying for the audience if they can complete it with minimum effort. Stay away from the firing squad.
To be authentic, find your brand’s unique voice.
When communicating with employees, you want to be as authentic as you can. The secret to hearing the voice of your brand is to use your imagination. Pretend you could have a conversation with your brand. What words would it use?
Give this technique a try. Imagine meeting your brand for a fireside chat. What personality does your brand have? What would they wear? What would they talk about, and what words would your brand use? If you want to know more about this, you can’t go past Semrush’s post on creating a brand voice chart. It’s brilliant.
Your employee communication is just a projection of your brand’s personality. When writing your employee communication, write it in your brand’s voice. Be open, inviting, and conversational in your message.
Warby Parker is one of our favorite examples of loud brand voice. They are witty, fun, smart, yet practical.
When they described their brand personality to their writers and brand team, it went like this.
Employee voice from Warby Parker’s annual report.
To produce clear communication, write it for your eight-year-old self.
Malcolm Gladwell is a New York Times Bestselling Author, not just once, but five times. His masterclass in writing can apply to employee engagement and communication. Mr Gladwell’s pearls of wisdom include:
Write so that an eighth-grader could read it even if the topic is complex.
Use more short sentences. So when you use a long sentence. It stands out.
Read everything aloud. Does it make sense?
To build trust, use targeted communication.
If you try to engage with everyone using the same blanket communication, the results will be ordinary. Here’s the problem for one. People will switch off, and second, employees don’t have time to waste. If you want to reach and engage your employees, then tailor your communication. How do you do it?
Split your employees into smaller groups that have similar wants and needs. You can segment your employees using just about anything, like role, team, location, or expertise. Then design or modify bite-sized messages to resonate with that group. Targeted communication builds trust because it tells people you care. It says I want to engage with you as a valued individual.
To prove the value, measure.
If you want to prove the value of employee communication, you need what your audiences are consuming. But equally, you need to know if there is no engagement. That way, you can fine-tune your communication to get attention. Or you can send out follow up reminders or campaigns to boost awareness.
Employee Communication is not just about what gets a click. It’s equally important to be able to report on engagement. Did people share it? Did they like it? Did they comment on the post?
As an employee communicator, data is your superhero. It’s the reliable and undeniable proof that shows the value of your work to the executive team. Embrace reporting.
To get action, ask for it.
Your communication usually has a purpose besides informing people. Commonly, you want people to take action. It’s known as a ‘Call to Action’. The job of the CTA is to ask your audience to do something. That can be anything from:
Asking them to make better choices, big or small
Encouraging behaviors that move everyone closer to the company goals
Sign up for training
Filing in a form
Asking for feedback
Rather than focusing on what they need to do, focus on what they will gain in your CTA.
Examples of good CTA’s combine type and images to attract attention and provoke action.
Next time someone asks you to work on urgent employee communication, we hope you’ll be able to put these best practices to the test, even the ones you skim read.