Using Social Platforms to Overcome the Challenges of Internal Communication
“People will see the important messages and are more likely to participate in other conversations as well.”
How are your internal company communications? I’m not talking about the wording of your monthly CEO hoo-rah emails or the ability of HR to ensure everyone understands your time-off policies.
I’m talking about all of the communicating that goes on within the company between departments, managers and employees, and co-workers and friends.
The challenges of and need for internal communications
Internal communication has different challenges depending on the stage and situation of your business.
In a startup, internal communication is easy. All two of you are likely sitting in the same room and you spend exorbitant amounts of time with each other. You may email non-important things, but mostly you talk face to face and probably text each other on your personal numbers for the five hours a day that you’re not in the same room.
As your company grows, you still spend copious amounts of time together, but you may group text, group email more, and some use some sort of instant messaging system like Google Hangouts. You may bring on a remote teammate halfway across the world, but with a handful of people, conventional conversation methods work.
The real challenges with internal communications begin when you scale and reach a size that can’t really be considered “startup” anymore.
When you start creating individual teams with team leads and departments and certainly when you move into multiple locations and increase the number of remote employees and contractors, you need to take a serious look at how you communicate internally as a company.
The challenges are compounded if you grow rapidly. As is the case when scaling–especially scaling quickly–you use old processes until they break and you’re forced to find new solutions.
Since no one wants more email as communications necessarily increase, an unfortunate side effect often entails various teams finding their own solutions in the interim and you’re left with a company using multiple conversations methods in different parts of the company.
The issue with using multiple communications platforms
Why is this a problem? Because organization is a nightmare when communications are scattered across multiple mediums. You recall a conversation from the previous week, but can’t find the record. Is it in your email? Or is it in the project management platform messaging system? It might actually be in your text messages? You try to keep certain conversations within certain platforms, but it’s never a perfect process.
Additionally, the more communications platforms your company uses, the less engagement and effective communication you’re going to see.
For example, I worked for a company that had a project management platform that supported related conversations. We used the G Suite so we had Hangouts and email, as well as chats within Google Docs and Sheets.
Then company instituted the company-wide use of Google+ for official and non-official communications at the corporate level and for cross-departmental chat. And then as a department we started using Yammer for Facebook-style departmental communications and conversations within individual teams.
I was maxed out. I didn’t have the time and energy to visit every different platform to see the discussions and get involved. I checked in the bare minimum amount to make sure I wasn’t missing information about the company party or changes in the corporate handbook and that was it. And sometimes I forgot to check in and missed things simply because it was too much to remember what was posted where and why.
So what’s the solution? I’m not going to give you a list of the best messaging and company communications platforms–plenty of others have compiled those lists before me. I’m going to help you figure out what it is you even need to address about your company communications.
Figure out exactly what you need, bearing in mind that employees will use certain communication methods no matter what since they’re ingrained in our lifestyles. For example, culturally we use email, instant messaging like Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger, and texting. Since those are popular methods outside of work, they will be prevalent inside of work–especially with apps that allow texting via a PC.
But none of these methods are ideal for consistent and frequent internal communications. We all have seen the annoying and embarrassing “reply all” disasters. And email is too clunky for timely conversations. Yet group texting and Hangouts messages are equally ineffective for communicating with departments and companies as a whole.
So you need to find a communications platform that is official enough to use for corporate communications, is flexible enough to allow for various groups and individuals to communicate without involving the whole company, fits diverse job function needs, and has the functionality for employees to shoot the breeze with each other in a Facebook sort of way but not necessarily in an instant messaging sort of way.
If everyone is on the same platform, you remove the confusion and hassle of checking in to multiple platforms and you’ll get more engagement. People will see the important messages and are more likely to participate in other conversations as well.
1. Do what’s best for your company
The number one choice on “The Top 10 Best Communications Platforms for 2017” may not be ideal for your company.
If you don’t use G Suite or a similar email platform with an instant messaging system, you may prioritize that functionality in an effort to keep employees off other IM platforms like Facebook.
If all of your employees are on your project management platform and the communication services are great, then you may simply want to stick with that. I worked for a company that consisted 100% of virtual teams and remote contractors. We used Basecamp for literally everything and never even touched email. For that company at that time, Basecamp was the perfect setup.
2. Give the chosen platform an honest chance
If the platform you choose doesn’t initially take off, give it time. I was super skeptical with the implementation of Google+ as a communications platform and I’ve done my fair share of criticizing of Google+.
But as time progressed and I learned the ins and outs and management continued to push the platform, I warmed up to it and am now a staunch supporter of Google+ as an internal communications platform. And the bonus there is that Google+ is a social platform and easily doubles as outbound marketing as well.
Also, people definitely won’t take to switching platforms frequently. All you’ll succeed in doing by switching often is drive your employees to personal methods of communication and fracture the communications within your company.
3. Less is more
Try and find a platform that will cater to as many types of communication and departments as possible, e.g. project management, department updates, company-wide updates, conversations and comments on updates, “water cooler” conversations, etc.
You do not need all the bells and whistles and you do not need separate platforms for every type of communication. The simpler the process, the more engaging and effective it will be.
4. Don’t force casual conversation
On a related note, don’t force “casual” conversation. You may run contests and reward contributions at times, but don’t try to force water cooler conversations. As people warm up to the new internal communications platform, they’ll settle into a natural interaction with the platform and with each other and the result will be much better than if you try to force random conversations to happen.
5. Get buy in from management
If you’re the CEO, make sure the VPs on down use the platform. If you’re in HR tasked with making internal communications more effective, make sure the C suite is on board.
If upper management sees the platform as a method of the ground-level communicating, the ground level is not likely to adopt the platform. With management buy in, the platform is much more likely to take off.
6. Actually use it
If you use the new platform to push your next company event and then email everyone to remind them to check the new update (or worse–repeat the same information in an email “just to make sure everyone sees it”), you may as well have just emailed everyone and saved yourself the time of posting it elsewhere.
While you can and should send reminder emails during the adoption phase so that people do remember to check in every so often, don’t continually rely on email or you’ll undermine your efforts on the platform.
If you have a communications platform, use it strategically and people will catch on.
7. Email can trump your platform
Just because you have a general internal communications platform doesn’t mean that you are restricted from using email to communicate with employees. You may want to set the precedent that 95% off communications, updates, and conversations happen on your internal communications platform, but the monthly CEO update or weekly report from the team leads or managers will come via email. Just set the precedent and stick with it.
Internal communications is undoubtedly a tricky part of scaling a business. But with the right strategy and proper assessment of your company’s needs, you can find the right platform for your company. Many companies have faced this issue before you and plenty of solutions–both free and paid–exist. You’re bound to find one that works for your situation.
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Image Credit: Fortune
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