Usability, content, search and analytics on the corporate intranet

If I were an internal communicator…

29 July, 2012 – Luke Oatham

Across the whole organisation there is a massive transformation programme running to save money and improve services. It’s been cooking since before the spending review in various guises. Internal campaigns having come and gone and are making a comeback. How successful will they be this time?

Previous campaigns have been lacking in real content but filled with flashy logos, artwork and names, sweetie, names. Developed by internal comms people who think they work in a PR agency, the relentless promotion of the programme name and logo swiftly goes the way of banner adverts blinking at you from the top of a web page. You just switch off.

The comms strategy this time round is not much different and continues to promote the brand and programme everywhere possible, including (the declining) news stories on the intranet, engagement and ideation projects, television channels at HQ, staff magazines, gung-ho groups, email newsletters and the intranet homepage. And again, there is very little substance in terms of meaningful information.

We’ve been here before and I remember being so annoyed last time that I mocked up a new intranet homepage with a massive programme logo filling the screen, leading to a page which said “more information coming soon.” Constantly being told to “change, save money and transform” like a stuck record when it’s not clear what you are expected to do does not make for a successful campaign.

In traditional project management, back in the day, I remember project managers appearing with their mile long Gantt charts and proudly slapping them on the table. Of course, everyone around the table is thinking “What’s in it for me? Where’s my bit?” and it only becomes useful when broken down into the bits and pieces that affect you. Bitesize user stories make sense.

A few weeks ago, strategically placed while I’m queuing for coffee, I saw a wide popup display that looked pretty similar to those old project management charts. Branded with the fabulous programme logo, naturellement. Lines and milestones going left to right, up and down the length of the coffee queue with diddy writing that I can’t read. And curious about this monstrosity that had been created, I walked, as one does between paintings in a gallery, from end to end of the display, trying to work it out. The years run from 2010 into the future across the top. Down the left are 20 or 30 items with different colour codes and writing so small that you need to get up very close in order to read it, meaning that you lose orientation from the bigger picture. And it’s all so high-level and overarching that none of it means anything. Disengage. Switch off. #fail

The same spawn-of-gantt-monster appeared later in a multi-page PDF document to go on the intranet, with a caveat not to make the document printable. So now it’s impossible to make sense of if you try to read it on screen, and you lose all hope of being able to understand it should you actually want to print it. But hey, it’s been communicated. Tick!

We know from email marketing that audience segmentation gets the best click through rates. We know that analysing data by splitting into chunks is more meaningful than looking at the big picture. We know that projects work best by breaking down into bitesize pieces. If I were tasked with communicating the programme to the organisation I would break down the programme, section off the tasks and priorities that affect my different audiences and communicate tailored messages to each audience segment. So that as a member of staff, when I get a message, it’s personal to me. It affects the building I work in, the department or team that I work in. It calls for my expertise in helping with a specific problem. It engages me.

Of course if it were possible to use digital solutions to engage staff without being hampered by out of date IT platforms and restrictive information security policies then my campaign could be even more effective. But let’s concentrate on the things that we can change.

Internal communications is more than designing a pretty logo, sending an email or shoving a document on the intranet and ticking a box to say that the you have communicated. Senior managers should demand evaluation, proof and statistics to show that something is happening as a result of the comms. And sending a survey that asks whether I’ve heard of the programme really doesn’t glean any business intelligence. Of course I’ve heard of the programme – I get spammed with it at every opportunity.

Apologies to @sharonodea for the #keepcalm reference – just seemed appropriate.

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