Overcoming Internal Communications Metrics Anxiety - Bonfyre

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Despite the essential, strategic role internal communications metrics play in their profession, many communicators shudder at the thought of crunching numbers.

The reasons for this aversion are varied. Although the expansion of digital communications channels and analytics tools has increased access to measurement systems, the truth is, many communicators still struggle to strategically approach data. According to a recent survey, 41% of communicators have no way of tracking how employees are consuming content.

Even communicators leveraging digital tools are still figuring out how to make internal communications metrics materialize. A separate survey revealed many communicators can’t pull data from their intranet and email, two default digital communications channels; 51% report they do not measure email effectiveness, and 56% say they can’t pull meaningful data from their intranet.

In a recent interview, Angela Sinickas, CEO of Sinickas Communications, identified another reason for measurement jitters: fear the numbers will tell them they’re underperforming. Consequently, these communicators will resort to measurement, well, half-measures, tracking how much content they’ve put out (i.e. six newsletters written this quarter) and not how internal audiences are engaging with that content.

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Yet another hurdle, a lack of time and resources. No doubt even communicators with practiced measurement skills can sympathize. These days, feeling overwhelmed is a defining part of our work experience, and many communicators, who work in a profession historically strapped for budgets and resources, feel they simply don’t have the bandwidth to take on this skillset.

Bottom line: there are several reasons why communicators aren’t measuring their strategies. Perhaps more importantly, there are plenty of communicators out there who are still figuring things out. If you’re a communicator struggling to measure success, take comfort knowing you’re not alone. There is no shame in admitting measurement is a challenge, but it is a challenge that nevertheless needs to be overcome.

Measurement is imperative to internal communications’ value proposition. When performed correctly, it provides proof of the very real impact internal communications has on the workforce beyond just informing and educating. Today, savvy communicators are taking their work and connecting it to the impact it’s had on outcomes like employee engagement, productivity, retention, workplace safety and more. As a result, this impact is becoming clearer to executives, who, as a recent report details, see internal communications as the “most important communications function” and “tightly linked with core business objectives.”

Measurement and metrics are a language business leaders understand, one every communicator should become fluent in. But beyond the stuffiness of high-level strategic outcomes, internal communications metrics simply tell you how to do your job better–and frankly that should be compelling enough to climb aboard the data train. Communication is a skill, and like all skills, it can grow rusty if not practiced with the specific intent of self-improvement. Or as the quote popularly attributed to Peter Drucker goes, “What gets measured gets improved.” Who are we to argue with one of the most influential thought leaders of the last century?

So as you set out on your path to strategic measurement, keep a few things in mind:

Define your goal

Strategic measurement is most successful when you get as specific as possible with your goals and the key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll use to measure your success toward those goals. Are you trying to reduce workplace safety incidents? Maybe you’re trying to increase awareness of company mission, vision, and values. Or maybe you want to increase user engagement on a particular platform. Examine what the desired result of your communications is and set a reasonable goal for your first time out.

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Invest in systems that provide internal communications metrics

Every digital communications platform has unique corresponding metrics that tell you how employees are engaging with your content. For example, a recent survey showed that for email, communicators felt open and click through rates were the most valuable metric for that specific channel. However, other metrics will illustrate a fuller picture of how and when employees are consuming communications content. Going with the email example, these metrics show what time of day employees are reading the newsletter, the platform it was read on (mobile or desktop), how long users read the message, and more. Taken together, this type of data empowers communicators to make informed decisions about communications strategy and tailor content to the needs of internal audiences.

At Bonfyre, we strive to provide our clients with analytics and reporting capabilities through our platform. Some of the metrics communicators have found valuable include:

  • Participation rate, or the percentage of users who have joined a community where they’ve been invited.
  • Engagement rate, or the percentage of active users who post or like content.
  • Read receipts for community-wide broadcasts.
  • Total number of chats, photos, and videos shared across the community.
  • Total number of likes given to content.

Additionally, the platform offers chat analysis capabilities, which categorize an ecosystem’s chat activity into four major groups: recognition, internal communications, knowledge sharing, and relationship building. Through this analysis, communicators have real-time insights into the nature employee conversations that produce workplace engagement, and can better understand how information travels through the organization, how the workforce is responding to company news and culture initiatives, and more.

Measurement shows outcomes

Internal communications metrics detail how users are engaging with content, but they don’t point to business outcomes. You also need to be measuring for your desired outcomes to correlate with communications consumption data. To be successful, you need to measure before and after communication has taken place. Measuring the current state of your company attitudes and behaviors before the communication strategy is executed is essential because it creates a baseline to measure against. Without this baseline, it is difficult to demonstrate a link between the actions you’ve taken as a communicator and the change you’ve seen in the workforce.

What you’re measuring, of course, will be different according to your specific goals. Going with the examples from earlier, if your intention is to reduce workplace safety incidents, then track how many times incidents occur at the worksite before and after they began receiving communications (it’s important to note that in this case and others, you may need to work with other departments to get the data you need). If you want to improve awareness of company mission, vision, and values, then ask questions about perceptions of these items via surveys distributed before and after you execute your campaign promoting these concepts. Pulse survey polls, ad-hoc company-wide surveys, focus groups, and the yearly engagement survey are all valuable tools for assessing success.

Practice makes perfect

Above all else, understand that your first time measuring internal communications will be flawed. Be prepared to discover some data you want may be less valuable than you initially thought. Perhaps you might find you need to rephrase survey questions to provide more actionable information. You will experience growing pains, but by working through this process of trial-and-error, you’ll develop the strategy right for you and your workforce. A strategy that will raise the ceiling of potential for your communications.

For more on what these strategies look like in practice, our Around the Bonfyre interview series has profiled several internal communicators who share their real-world measurement experiences:

  • Kristin Hancock, Manager of Communications for the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba, shares her experience deploying the agency’s first employee engagement survey.
  • Ally Bunin, Vice President of Employee Engagement and Internal Communications at Brighton Health Plan Solutions, shares the double-digit outcomes of her successful measurement strategy.
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