What is your internal comms (IC) channel strategy like?
Need some help?
If so, this latest episode of the Candid Comms podcast is for you.
- What a channels strategy is
- The role of internal communication channels
- The three things you need to know
- How to make informed decisions
- What you need to be mindful of when planning your content
- How to review your internal communication channels
- Why you need to focus on accessibility.
Do let me know what you think of this episode and don’t forget to rate, review and follow, so other Comms pros can benefit too.
You’ll leave with one thing to know (actually three from this episode), one thing to do, and one thing to think about.
Want to know more about internal communication channels? Listen to season one, episode eight: How to plan your IC channels.
Transcript of this week’s episode
You’re listening to the Candid Comms podcast with Rachel Miller. Join me every week for practical advice and inspirational ideas to help you focus on all things internal communication related.
Hello, and welcome to the show. How good is your internal communication channels strategy? Did you freak out? How are you feeling if I’d asked you to show me your internal comms channels strategy? What would you say? Would it be top of mind? Would it be not a problem or do you need a little bit of help with it? Don’t worry, whatever your situation is I’ve got you covered. Through this episode, you and I are going to work through your internal comms channel strategy together, and you will leave with one thing to know, actually it’s more than one this week, but bear with me. One thing to do and one thing to think about. Are you ready? You going to want a notebook. Let’s get started.
How good is your internal comms channel strategy? Be honest with me. If I asked you to show it to me, what would your first instinct be? Would it be great, no problem, here it is Rachel, super confident? Or would it be, don’t judge me. I’m not sure if it’s good enough, but let me show you what it is and oh, it’s something I’ve been meaning to think about. Which one resonates with you? I’m curious. Let’s think about what an internal comms strategy actually is. This is what we need to know. The reason to have a channel strategy is very simply to get the thinking out of your head and into a document. So when you are talking about the way internal communication does or doesn’t happen inside your organisation, it’s a really good idea for it just to live in our heads, but to live elsewhere where other people can see it and they can action it. And you turn your thoughts into reality.
Now, a channel strategy could be one page. It could be at a glance, here are all of our channels, this is the thinking behind them, this is what good looks like and we are good to go. Or it could be really in depth and it could be packed with screenshots and measurement and metrics and resource planning and budgets. Before you dive into creating a channel’s strategy, think about the intention. So what you need to know is why are you creating a channel strategy? I found throughout my internal comms career, having a channel strategy to hand is very useful. Particularly if I’ve been trying to get extra budget when I was working in house or extra resources, because showing our working, showing our thinking out loud helps people understand where we are coming from. So a good channel strategy for me has to be based on three particular things. It needs to be reflective of the business priorities.
So it needs to help me understand at first glance, if I’m looking at a good channel strategy, I need to be able to see what’s important to the business and therefore, how are we meeting those demands and those requirements through our internal communication. I know you’ll have heard me say this if you’d listened to any episode of the Candid Comms podcast before, you’ve probably heard me talk about the purpose of internal communication but I’m going to repeat it here. The purpose of internal communication isn’t telling people what to do, particularly through channels. It is to create a shared understanding and a shared meaning. Only then, can our employees align themselves with our company’s purpose and objectives. So that’s it in a nutshell, that’s what we are here to do. So when I’m looking at a channel strategy, I need to be able to see how, whatever channels you’ve got. Whether you’ve got a one or if you’ve got 27 and I’ve seen organisations with that number and even one with more actually, which was quite terrifying. But that’s a story for another day.
Why do those channels exist? What are you here to do as a function? You’re here to create a shared understanding and meaning of who we are, how we work, how we show up in the world as an organisation. And therefore, your channels should be supporting that business strategy, those business priorities. That’s super critical. So your channel strategy needs to mirror the business strategy. It needs to make sense. It needs to look at, we are a frontline organisation, for example, where maybe your retail organisation. So you have multiple shops in multiple countries and therefore, what your channel strategy needs to do is making sure that your employees have credible, accurate, reliable information at the right time to help them do their jobs. You also need to make sure you have good effective two-way channels in place. So this is moving from monologue to dialogue. So you’re not communicating at employees, but for them and with them. You are hearing their voices and amplifying their views.
Well, at least you should be. That’s the mindsets that we need to have. The second part of what we need to know is we need to know our people. So if we know our people, our frontline workers, they are retail workers, for example, and we also have head office functions. And I don’t like the phrase support functions, but lots of organisations use that name. So they are, we’ll go with it. They are supporting the frontline workers, supporting the retail environment through things like finance and IT and legal and you know the drill. So these are our people. So when you are creating your channel strategy, you need to have real clarity in terms of who are we with inside our organisation? Where are the conversations happening? Where are the pockets of conversation throughout the organisation? Who is responsible for internal communication, who is keeping an eye on it, who is setting standards?
All of these things need to be thought about when you’re pulling together a channel strategy. In particular, you need to be mindful of, if you have retail workers who maybe don’t have devices on a shop floor, maybe have digital screens behind the scenes, maybe in their rest areas and maybe they don’t have a certain place where they go, or maybe they don’t go to the same location every single week, whatever that reality is, you need to know that. Because that’s how you plan and you plan effectively. One of the wonderful things about working in internal communication, if you work in various organisations, you will encounter different work environments that constantly challenge you as an internal communicator. It’s one of the reasons I love being an internal comms consultant, trainer and mentor is I get exposed to so many different scenarios and so many different opportunities when it comes to looking at organisations, being invited to discover and uncover the way internal communication or doesn’t happen. Particularly through audits, for example.
Where you see firsthand, we’ve got these types of people doing these types of jobs in this type of environment. Therefore, how do we need to communicate? How do we make sure that they have the right information at the right time? That’s a key one to consider, comms friends, in a timely way to help them do their job and how do we make sure that we listen back. The third part of what you need to know. I’m a little bit controversial on this one, but I’m going to share it with you is personas. And the reason I’m hesitating over sharing it with you is because sometimes they work brilliantly inside organisations. So particularly if you are doing a tech rollout, for example. Knowing who your people are and knowing, say you are moving from Google to Microsoft 365, as an example. You should know how people currently communicate, how people currently use the tech that you have.
So if you are planning a channel strategy for this particular change, so you are changing the IT, you’re changing the experience your people have in terms of how they communicate using technology. Then a persona could be really helpful. And this is creating an understanding of I’m this sort of worker doing this sort of work and my requirements for the IT are X. And then in future, we are going to be doing Y. And you map it out in terms of this is currently what I do inside the organisation and how I interact with technology and how I use it to help me communicate. And now we’re changing to a different platform and my needs and my requirements, my persona. So what’s important to me, how I operate. Whether I’m shift pattern, whether I’m in different locations, whatever that looks like means the tech needs to do X, Y, Z.
So you’re creating a picture. In my An Internal Communicators Guide to Hybrid Working Online Masterclass, there’s a whole lesson on creating personas in there because I’ve been finding that thinking about 2021 and 2022 internal communication.
I don’t think I’ve ever used personas as much in my career as I have over the past couple of years. And it’s all about how do we make sure that we don’t miss anybody? So if we are trying to think about our channels and reaching the right people at the right time to help them do their jobs and helping amplify their voices back then what’s the day to day reality for those people?
If you’ve got somebody sitting in financing in the head office, what’s that persona like? Who are those people? What are their access requirements in terms of the content in terms of your channels? And if you have a retail worker or a train driver or a, whatever you are, whatever type of organisation you are, a healthcare professional, someone in a hospital ward, how do they interact with your channels? How do they get involved?
How do they catch up on things that they may have missed? My top tip for creating personas is use a real person. So don’t just come up with a random person’s name in finance. Actually spend time going to get to know somebody in finance or hopefully it is our business to know our business as internal communicators. You’ll have heard me say that before if you’ve listened to this podcast in seasons one or two. You should have relationships with people across your organisation already. And if you don’t, this is a great opportunity to get to know people in other departments who you may not have encountered before. So getting to know someone who works in finance and help them understand that you are doing this persona work because you want to improve your channels, rather than making it a random person, ask a real life person or two or 10, whatever size your organisation is. Ask a number of people that feels representative of the size of your organisation.
And ask them, how do you currently communicate? What’s top of mind for you when it comes to our internal comms channels? Don’t always ask them what they want, top tip, ask them what they need. I’ll talk more about this in the audit podcast. But asking people what they need versus what they want, you get a very different set of answers. That’s a whole nother episode in its own right. But use those real people. And the reason I was hesitating when I was talking about personas then is because sometimes they are too generic. When people don’t take this home to really truly get to understand real people inside an organisation, and they make assumptions about, well, these types of people will need these types of things. Will they? Is it true? Is it accurate? You need to really check. So rather than just assume, oh, frontline workers don’t have to devices so they’ll never see anything that we put out. Is that true? Or is there a laptop in a mess room or a depot or in the storeroom of your retail environment?
And actually, they could access the intranet, but they choose not to because it’s not about the access requirements, it’s actually not a great intranet. A bit controversial, but I’m sure that will resonate with some people. So just be really honest about when you’re creating personas, make sure that they are really accurate and credible, as much as you possibly can. Don’t make assumptions, test your thinking, and then use all of that insight into your channel strategy to help you make informed decisions. So that’s looking in at your business priorities, what’s important to your business. It’s looking at your people that you have inside your organisation, and it’s drawing on personas to really make sure that you are making good quality decisions for your channel strategy.
The second part of today’s episode is what you need to do. And when I’m looking at a channels strategy, what I want to be able to do is spot the gaps. Now, normally this manifests itself through creating documents. So whether that’s a channel’s matrix, whether that’s an editorial calendar, whether that’s looking at all sorts of things, different groups of employees inside an organisation. I want to be able to see where the gaps are. Now sometimes, it’s about frequency. So sometimes when I’m looking at a channel strategy, I’m asking an internal comms team or an internal communicator to send me what you’ve got, let me have a look at it. And I have a look and I look for, I’m this sort of person doing this sort of job, what’s the experience of internal communication to me? Hopefully, it’s with me, but often it’s to me. And then sometimes, I spot gaps in terms of rhythm. So it might be, I’m a retail employee, for example.
And I have a monthly team talk from my line manager and there’s a six month town hall that I might have access to that’s on a video that’s shown to me. And that’s pretty much it. But if I’m a head office employee, I have access to an app, I have access to the intranet, I have access to digital signage, I have access to a printed publication. You see where I’m going here? So just think about from your perspective, where are the gaps? And the gaps may be, if you’ve got those personas in place that we’ve just spoken about, look at the cadence, the rhythm of your internal communication for those people. What’s the experience like for them inside your organisation? Where do they get information from? It could be that you really rely on your people managers, for example, and you rely on them to communicate well with their teams. But actually, when you are looking at how you plan your channels and how you make information available to them that helps them brief on with their teams.
What’s the rhythm like? Is it good? Is it bad? Do you give them space to check for understanding, to ask questions or is the rhythm of your internal communication such that you are sending them a team brief and you are expecting them to instantly brief it? You are not giving them the opportunity to ask you questions or whoever has created it to check for understanding before they then go off and have those conversations with their team. That’s super important because if you fail to build that in, then that experience isn’t great for them as people managers and actually the experience probably isn’t for the people that they’re briefing onwards. So I would see that as a bit of a gap in terms of when we are creating content and when we’re sharing and distributing content, how are we making sure that we are being consistent?
So we are managing expectations with stakeholders, with people managers, with leaders. What can they expect when? When I’m looking at a channel’s strategy, for example, I want to be really clear in terms of, have we missed anybody out? Are there certain people in the organisation that we never think of, or we’ve completely missed from our internal communication? Sometimes I find this, when we audit organisations, we are always focused on internal channels, but very often there’s a bit of a blurring around the edges and that’ll be things like extranets. So those are internal websites that can be viewed externally. I’ve got a whole blog post on that actually, I’ll link to that in the show notes at AllThingsIC.com/podcast. Or could there be things like your recruitment site, for example, which actually mirrors and blends into your employee value proposition or your employer branding.
There’s very often some blurred lines between internal and external communication. But what I look for when I’m looking at the way an organisation communicates and structures, its internal communication is I want to spot any gaps in terms of rhythm, in terms of people, in terms of topics. So when I’m looking at channels matrix, for example, I like to see columns, which include things like what makes a great story or what topics work really well here. And be really clear when you are looking across the way that you are structuring your internal communication. Is it clear where to go to get information about particular topics? Be it the latest pricing, if you are a retail organisation or be it the latest information to share with customers, whatever it might be. Is it really clear or actually, are there a few gaps? We are going to take a short break and when we come back, I will leave you with one thing to think about. See you in a moment.
Welcome back. How accessible are your internal communication channels? This is what I want you to think about in the final part of today’s show. Accessibility is a huge topic for internal communicators and rightly so. Globally, one in eight people have some form of disability and struggle daily to access content from brands and organisations. This was a finding that I shared on my All Things IC blog back in April 2021. When I highlighted a really good guide from the Public Relations and Communications Association, PRCA. I’ll link to it in the show notes, that AllThingsIC.com/podcast for this episode.
Now, accessibility is a topic that has become noisier over the years and rightly so, it’s absolutely crucial. And I say that as somebody with hearing loss, who has been more open about that in recent years. I received a hearing aid in June 2020, which… Oh, makes me emotional, which transformed my life. Which completely changed my ability to understand the world and hear the world in a way that I just didn’t know was possible.
Accessibility is a matter that’s really close to my heart. And particularly, I’ve found over the years that as my hearing has got worse, I’ve been wearing my glasses more to help me lip read. I found that in lockdown and in the pandemic, my ability to lip read has been hindered by people wearing masks but I believe that we should wear masks. Accessibility for me, has really changed. And I’ve been really mindful of how can I concentrate when I’m planning channels at All Things IC, how can I make sure that are accessible? That’s why for people who listen to this podcast, however you choose to do it. Whether you choose to listen as you are now, or if you choose to read the transcript, I make both available because I’m mindful of that. All the videos that I produce in my online masterclasses have closed captions that can be on or off.
That’s how I interact with content. I need to have subtitles when I watch a video. I normally watch videos twice. I watch them, if they don’t have subtitles, I watch them once for the content, like for the listening to what the words that are being said. And then I watch them again for things that I may have missed because I have to concentrate so hard the first time around. I really like podcasts because I can pause them and I can rewind them. And if people publish transcripts, I can read what I may have missed. I struggle with content like Clubhouse, for example, which is audio content. The majority of those conversations are not record. So if I’ve missed it, I’ve missed it. If I haven’t heard it correctly and the audio quality is not great in Clubhouse, because it relies on people just dialing in and sharing their thoughts, which is amazing.
And they get really fascinating conversations. But as someone with hearing loss, I really struggle. So I can’t use Clubhouse. I don’t don’t use Clubhouse because I really struggle with it. So there were some really personal examples there. But for me, when I’m looking at channel strategy and planning content, I’m trying to be mindful of accessibility and the PRCA guidelines, which I’ll link to in the show notes are brilliant.
Further reading: PRCA publishes new accessible communications guidelines.
They’re broken down into the five main areas that we need to consider when it comes to accessibility and disability. And it’s around visual, hearing, mobility, cognitive, speech, and neural. And there’s some really excellent examples within that guide of how to improve your content to make it more accessible. There’s lots of resources that are available online. I’ll share some with you in the show notes, but one of the best things that you can do is plan for accessibility.
So when you are looking at your channels and you’re creating your strategy, we talked right at the very start of this episode when I said the words channel strategy for the first time, I described it as the thinking. And that’s what I believe a strategy is. Before you dive into doing the doing, it’s making sure that you’ve articulated and captured the thinking. For 2022 and beyond, your thinking has to be rooted in accessibility for your channels. That’s not just how do people interact with content? How can we make sure they get the right information at the right time to help them do their jobs? That’s one layer, comms friends. The other layer is, are we presenting information in a way that is accessible for them? Are we mindful of people with everything I’ve just talked about with visual impairments or hearing impairments or mobility impairments?
There was an example in the press only recently in COP26 where the venue where the event was held was not accessible for wheelchair users and therefore the UK government had to issue an apology to the Israeli government minister, Karine Elharrar, who’s the Israel’s minister of energy and water resources. She was denied entry to the summit because she was a wheelchair user. And unfortunately, the venue in Glasgow, Scotland that was being used, unfortunately wasn’t wheelchair accessible. I mean, we don’t need that. We don’t want that within our organisations. It’s a horrendous situation to be in. So it’s thinking like that. Thinking about when you are planning events, how accessible are they for people? Not only can we make sure that they can get into a venue if they have mobility issues, but actually how can we make sure the content makes for all of our people. Whether we’re having sign language and I’m seeing this more and more. I’m certainly experiencing at conferences where people have live captions.
That is a game changer for me. It’s so helpful because when people are presenting, normally their faces are really small on a screen. If you’re watching a hybrid event or a webinar, for example. Very often their slides are all over the screen. And if there’s no live captions and the person who’s speaking is really small in a corner, I can’t lip read them. And if the volume isn’t great, the audio isn’t great, I really struggle. And I’m looking at slides and unless they’re reading the content of the sides, which isn’t ideal. Don’t design slides like that. But as someone with a hearing loss, you’ve lost me. I can’t follow the content. I can’t keep up. I can’t hear. So there are now some platforms that are enabling live captioning to happen and some conferences are starting to have sign language interpreters at the side of the stage or on a screen to translate the content for people who are deaf and hard and of hearing.
Wonderful, we need more of that. So that’s what I want you to take away from today and think about from this episode, think about accessibility. Whether you need to have large print, whether you need to be writing things in a simpler format for people to understand, whether you need to be mindful of having captions on videos and having transcripts available, whatever that looks like. Look at your channel strategy and make sure that you are planning for accessibility. And if you are not, take action. Work with people inside your organisation. Work with your HR department as well. Ask them for advice and guidance, whether you report into them or not. I encourage you to seek help because the more accessible the content is and the conversations are at your organisation, the better the experience for internal communication.
I hope you found this episode useful. We covered a lot today. As ever, I’d love to know what you are taking away from this episode. You can tweet me your key takeaway @AllThingsIC. You can find me on LinkedIn at Rachel Miller. Look me up on Instagram, @RachelAllThingsIC and all the show notes and the transcript can be found, AllThingsIC.com/podcast. And remember what happens inside is reflected outside. See you again soon.
Post author: Rachel Miller
First published on the All Things IC blog 30 December 2021.