Using LinkedIn to build your internal communications community

People who work in internal communications don’t get out much. Or rather, their work doesn’t. If you work for a corporation, you’re not likely to see much of the internal communications that are produced in other large companies

In contrast, marketing professionals see the work of their peers all the time. If you’re in advertising at The Home Depot, you’ll probably see the television commercials created by your peers at Coke, and vice versa.

That’s why LinkedIn can be such a valuable community for internal communications. It gives us a place to share best practices, ask questions, learn about technology that others are using. There are countless relevant industry groups to join, some with hundreds of thousands of members and others with only a few dozen. Those are great arenas for asking advice and sharing your own knowledge.

LinkedIn has been the starting point for some of my most interesting relationships in our industry. Some of the people I count on as sounding boards or touchstones are people I’ve never met in person. They may be in Arizona or Australia, but they’re just a few clicks away when I need input.

When I’m travelling, I occasionally reach out to LinkedIn connections to meet in person. In Baltimore, I met my LinkedIn friend Dawn Brzezicki of T. Rowe Price for coffee on her way to the office. When Tribe had a meeting with clients in the San Francisco area, we stopped by Clorox to sit down for a few minutes with Patti Bond.

I’ve also continued relationships with past clients or business acquaintances over LinkedIn. I love reading blogs by Sharon McIntosh, formerly of Pepsi and now running her own company called And Then Communications. I like seeing posts of people I’ve worked with before but haven’t seen in ages.

Like any social media community, you get out of LinkedIn what you put into it. (For a take on how to make the most of your LinkedIn network, see this interview by our friend Gloria Lombardi of Simply Communicate with Chuck Gose of the digital signage company Stratacache.)

When I first joined LinkedIn, it was just to kill time on a shoot that was going on forever. The producer and I challenged each other to see who could be the first one to get to 300 contacts. I topped 3,000 long ago, and I’ll never have any interaction with the vast majority of them. But in a few dozen of those people I’ve found kindred spirits with a passion for our industry.

 

The importance of internal communications in change management

Internal communications are an integral part to any successful company. Truly communicating with employees is the key to creating a productive, creative and open office environment. Simply put, engaged employees are happy employees.

Perhaps the most important role they play is guiding employees through big company changes. When leadership is shifting, if the vision or the direction of your business is changing or even if the future of the company is becoming uncertain, communicating with employees can help reduce or alleviate your employees’ stress and reassure them that you’re looking out for their best interests. Here are six things you can do to help employees through company change.

1) Have respect for the employee. The most effective change communications are built on a foundation of respect for the individual. That means treating employees like the intelligent adults they are, as well as putting ourselves in their shoes. We often talk about the Golden Rule of Change: If you were an employee impacted by this change, how would you want to be treated?

2) Be aware that knowledge is power. And it also makes people more comfortable. We recommend beginning communications to foreshadow the change as early as possible. Some companies feel they should wait until they know all the details of how things will shake out, but in our experience employees prefer to know earlier, even if there are gaps in the information you can share.

3) Know that it’s ok not to have all the answers. Employees can accept the fact that you can’t tell them everything right now. What causes them much more stress is the sneaking suspicion that something’s afoot and management isn’t telling them about it. We advise clients that it’s perfectly fine to say, “I don’t know yet, but I’ll tell you when I do,” or even “We can’t share that information, but I can tell you such and such.”

4) Acknowledge the two big fears. Why are people so afraid of change? In the workplace, it usually comes down to two major questions: Will this make my job more difficult? And will I lose my job? We encourage clients to talk about both. You can bet their employees are.

5) Recognize individual differences. Since they happen to be actual human beings, each employee is unique. They won’t have the same psychological or emotional reactions to change. They will also have their own individual preferences when it comes to how they like to receive information. To support a change, it’s helpful to offer communications in a wide range of channels. From a section on the intranet that’s frequently updated to printed materials to face-to-face interaction. You also may want some train-the-trainer tools to help people managers know how to communicate the change to their teams.

6) Remember: trust trumps all. Your most valuable asset in any change is the trust your employees already have in the company’s management. Without it, any change will throw people into a higher level of stress. If your company is fortunate enough to have built a strong equity of trust in its leadership, your job as a change manager becomes much easier.

Avoiding the trap of treating employees like a second-class audience

Why would we treat employees any differently than we’d treat prospective customers? If it’s important to communicate a message to employees, then it’s worth putting the same attention to detail and quality of execution into the work as we would with external communications.

Tribe’s experience is that many companies don’t make this a priority. After getting to the finish line recently with a fairly complex internal communications piece, the timing of some of the marketing elements had shifted which rendered some of the details incorrect. Because of the expense of reprinting the physical piece, a decision was made to send a note accompanying the piece explaining the last-minute changes and that some of the information was incorrect.

The company wouldn’t send a note along with a TV spot explaining that some of the details are wrong. If the piece had been intended for consumers, you can be sure the materials would be revised – whatever the cost. I’ve been there and done that. Heads might roll, but the company would never knowingly send out consumer marketing that’s wrong.

Companies typically spend tens of millions, hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars per year to reach consumers. Research and results in the marketplace tell these marketers that this is money well spent. After all, we don’t know exactly who these consumers are, so it takes a large investment to find those consumers in order to build demand and loyalty for our products.

However, the inverse argument is a weak one. Some would say that since we know exactly who our employees are, we don’t need to assign the same importance, or budgets, for internal communications and the employee brand. This supports the view that employees are second-class citizens and a fine place to cut corners and costs whenever necessary.

At Tribe, we see the employer brand as the intersection of the consumer promise and whether that promise is kept. Employees are consumers. They’re bombarded with brand communications every day. They can discern thoughtful communications from boring mumbo jumbo. As internal communications professionals, our job is to understand what’s being promised externally and ensure that we’re matching that promise step for step internally.

We recommend the same high standards for internal communications as the company’s external marketing. As communications professionals, we need to understand the business need and objectives behind any internal campaign. It should be interesting and engaging. It should involve multiple channels to ensure that our audience is reached. We should be able to measure the effectiveness of the campaign in order to improve our efforts the next time around.

The great news is that we don’t need tens of millions of dollars to execute effective internal communications plans. We know who our target audience is. But effective internal communications does require a focused and intense effort to ensure that what we’re living internally matches what we’re saying externally.

Interested in improving the caliber and effectiveness of your internal communications? Maybe Tribe can help.