7 Audience Engagement Strategies You Can Borrow from the Marketing Team
August 15, 2023
Speaking to a disengaged audience is always frustrating; for professionals working in human resources or internal communications, it's disastrous. Employees can miss important messages, misunderstand brand initiatives, and ignore opportunities to interact with their peers. All of this impacts productivity, morale, and, ultimately, the company's bottom line.
For a fresh perpsective on engaging audiences, we're going to take a leaf or two from the marketing team's playbook. After all, strengthening your brand's reach and community is often a pillar of the marketing team's charter. "Internal marketing" applies related strategies to connect an organization with its employees and address common pain points such as disinterest, information overload, and feelings of detachment or isolation.
There are numerous intersections between internal and external marketing practices. While some of these strategies from the marketing department may already be familiar, there might be a new perspective to explore.
1. Do your research.
Marketing teams employ user research to help them uncover and meet the needs of their target market. User research is the process of understanding the behaviors and motivations of an audience through observation, analysis, and feedback. This information informs everything from product development to related messaging.
Internal communications (IC) professionals should also get to know their peers and include them in the work of finding better ways to engage them. User research can uncover the type of content employees best respond to, the best channels to use for communication, and what messages different segments of an audience want to hear.
Learn more about employee needs through individual interviews, focus groups, and task analysis. Watch as people try out a tool or respond to an initiative. What problems arise? What positive outcomes — expected or unexpected — emerge?
For example, only Gallup reports that 12% of employees say their company's onboarding process was effective. Take advantage of user research to improve your onboarding. You can talk to new hires as well as people who have been in their positions for some time. What would they have found helpful?
Benefits of User Research for Internal Marketing
In addition to finding and solving problems, companies can benefit from improved morale and engagement. They can gain insight, personalize communication, and increase employee investment in both the brand and the organization's systems.
Few things can tell you more about what people want than a candid conversation. It's all too easy to deliver a solution in search of a problem, adding shiny new measures or tools with the assumption that they will benefit the company.
For example, user research might reveal that employees prefer visual content over text-heavy emails or that they are more likely to engage with content shared via an intranet post over using a company app. This insight allows professionals to tailor their strategies accordingly when delivering important information.
User research enables the creation of consumer personas: detailed profiles representing different segments of your audience. In the context of internal communications, these personas could represent various departments, roles, or even demographic groups.
71% of consumers expect personalization in external marketing messages from brands. They should be able to count on it in their jobs. Not everyone requires every piece of information or prefers the same channels or formats. Employees shouldn't be required to wade through irrelevant content to find the necessary points.
Use these personas to tailor communication strategies. For instance, a frontline staff persona might demand concise, mobile-friendly communications, or a senior management persona might prefer detailed reports and strategic overviews.
Involving employees in the user research process through surveys or interviews makes them feel valued and heard. It fosters a sense of ownership and engagement with the communication materials and strategies developed as a result.
This inclusion turns potential monologues or top-down edicts into conversations and agreements. Let people participate in the content and systems that will shape their workdays.
2. Leverage analytics.
Make use of data-driven strategies and modern tools in your research. In addition to direct conversations, learn from the way that employees interact with their systems and the feedback they provide through various channels.
Quantitative and qualitative measures offer valuable information, so combining the two will give the fullest picture.
Quantitative measures provide hard data on employee engagement with your internal communications.
One way to gather this data is through intranet analytics. Just as digital marketers use website analytics, you can use intranet analytics for insights into how employees interact with your content.
Key metrics to track include page views for online resources, post views, comments, and event-focused numbers, such as the number of people attending an in-house lecture or social gathering. IC teams then can adjust their content strategy better to meet the needs and preferences of their employees.
While quantitative data provides valuable insights, it's only part of the story. Qualitative measures help you understand the "why" behind the numbers. Feedback mechanisms such as surveys or employee engagement sessions can provide these qualitative insights. They allow IC professionals to gauge employee sentiment, gather subjective opinions, and understand the reasons behind certain behaviors.
Let's say that employees regularly ignore emails but engage with posts on the company's social media platforms. This might indicate a preference for more informal, interactive communication channels, or they could find something in the current email content or frequency off-putting. Qualitative feedback helps restore meaning to potentially ambiguous numbers.
3. Use content calendars and themes.
Content themes and calendars allow marketers to plan and coordinate communication efforts. In the world of internal marketing, you can use them to lay out upcoming posts, emails, and events, creating a clear schedule for the upcoming month or even year. Save time, energy, and resources while improving content.
Creating Content Calendars
A content calendar is a visual workflow that helps plan and schedule your communication activities. It contributes to a steady, pre-established stream of content while leaving space for emerging needs.
By adding a thematic approach, you create a consistent narrative across channels and supply yourself with ready sources of material. There's no need to start from scratch each time. Draw on a clear focus and batch-produce content in advance, freeing up time for other tasks and reducing the stress associated with constant deadlines.
Try to balance variety with coherence. Spark interest with different topics but let central themes dictate key content pieces.
If your current system doesn't offer a content calendar, it's easy enough to make one with a simple spreadsheet or computer calendar. Better yet, try out a free template, which does some of the work for you.
Developing Themes for Internal Content
Start with your organization's calendar and annual events or opportunities, including general holidays. Think about upcoming product launches, anniversaries, and industry conferences. Seasonal activities can also appear. Try featuring a physical workplace's softball team or remote workers' fantasy football league.
You can also develop content themes that reflect your company's culture and objectives. Consider developing a special month-long theme or recurring feature. For example, you might send out a regular "Spotlight on Innovation" featuring stories of creative projects or employee innovations. Even broader themes such as "Teamwork Tuesday" or "Wellness Wednesday" can spark ideas.
The goal is not just to fill the calendar but to strategically plan content that will engage, inform, and inspire the members of your organization.
4. Set SMART goals for individuals and teams.
SMART is an acronym that stands for "specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely." Each of these components contributes to creating clear, focused goals that can guide your internal communications strategy.
SMART goals are well-established tools across business departments and even in private life. For marketers, they provide a framework for defining and measuring their objectives.
Crafting SMART Goals
Develop SMART goals with an eye to — and possibly the input of — anyone who will play a role in its success. Consider the audience you want to engage and the available resources you can devote to any project.
When writing a SMART goal, each letter of the acronym indicates a vital quality:
- Specific: Your goal should be clear and specific. Instead of "Improve internal communications," consider "Increase employee engagement with our monthly newsletter."
- Measurable: Identify metrics to measure progress. Using the example above, measurable goals could be "Increase newsletter open rates by 10%."
- Achievable: Set yourself up for success by identifying objectives that are attainable. Be realistic about the amount of progress you can achieve.
- Relevant: Your goal should align with broader organizational objectives. If improving communication leads to better team collaboration and overall morale, it’s relevant.
- Timely: Don't leave goals open-ended. Set a timeframe for achieving the goal. "Increase newsletter open rates by 10% in the next quarter."
What if you have large goals that should span months or even years? Use these greater objectives to create relevant, smaller goals. So, for the earlier example, your Q1 goal might be to craft and implement a company-wide survey to help improve the newsletter. In Q2, your goal would be to integrate the new ideas and generate A/B testing for the improved newsletter. In Q3, you'd launch a campaign to introduce the newsletter and build interest. Think through the steps to generate the type of engagement you envision.
Don't forget to celebrate when you achieve your goals. It's easy to just push on to the next thing without taking the time to glory in achieving a goal. CEO and author Whitney Johnson tells the Harvard Business Review that "celebration is an important opportunity to cement the lessons learned on the path to achievement, and to strengthen the relationships between people that make future achievement more plausible."
When crafting your SMART goals, don't forget to determine how you'll celebrate when you achieve your goals. That offers motivation and something to look forward to as the team builds surveys, runs tests, and tries new strategies. Finally, when you see that magical 10% in your newsletter open analytics, make good on the promise of a reward to the hard-working team.
5. Understand and use positioning.
In an influential article published in Harvard Business Review, Colin Mitchell laid out the importance of "Selling the Brand Inside." Mitchell emphasizes how consistent branding can build the connection between a company and its employees, integrating them into the overarching brand vision. He recommends that businesses pair external with internal marketing.
For example, a tech company that positions itself as a leader in innovation might regularly send internal updates on research-and-development projects, spotlight employee-led initiatives, or share stories about interesting ways that customers have deployed their technology.
IC professionals should use brand positioning to create clear images of organizational cultures, value propositions, and visions. It's an opportunity to showcase what really makes the organization stand out, from its mission statement to its company values.
Organizational culture is the shared values, beliefs, and practices that shape an organization's identity. It's not just about company perks or office decor — it's the underlying ethos that guides decision-making and influences how employees interact and perform.
In addition to communicating standards and codes of behavior, a strong workplace culture can foster an emotional connection between the brand and employees.
What are the experiences that make working for this organization special? Perhaps you want to highlight collaboration with public recognition for team accomplishments. Or showcase diversity with a holiday newsletter that profiles different employees and their family traditions.
A rich company culture also lets a workplace hire the best — and keep them. It's a key factor in employee retention and helps turn current employees into advocates. That's especially important since job seekers rank current staff as the most reliable source of information about a prospective employer.
Just as marketers identify a product's unique value proposition to differentiate it from competitors, IC professionals should highlight what sets their organization apart. This could be a focus on sustainability, a strong sense of community, or a commitment to offering quality products at an affordable price.
Make everyone feel part of the effort to deliver on the business's main value proposition. In part, this requires people to communicate initiatives and successes internally as well as externally. If some random Facebook follower enjoys hearing about a milestone achieved by the company, how much more will its employees revel in the triumph?
Visions are meant to be shared, as is progress toward them. Connect people to a deeper purpose by letting them know about long-range planning and objectives. It helps employees feel personally and professionally invested in the brand and their work.
This is true at the level of the team as well the greater company. According to a study mentioned by Forbes, 85% of employees feel more motivated when provided with regular updates.
6. Adopt a multi-channel approach.
For IC professionals, multi-channel communication means using a variety of platforms and methods to share information, engage with employees, and foster a strong sense of community within your organization. It's about meeting your employees where they are via emails, intranets, company meetings, or social networking sites.
A multi-channel approach allows you to cater to diverse communication preferences and disseminate urgent information more quickly and thoroughly. It also ensures everyone, including remote and non-desk workers, stays in the loop.
Finally, different platforms lend themselves to different formats and genres of content. Take advantage of the creative opportunities offered.
Just don't fall into the trap of believing that more is always more. Information overload can lead to disengagement, so personalize and prioritize your communications. You should also limit active platforms to a few that best suit the organization's needs.
7. Create compelling multimedia content.
Easier said than done, right? But there are some actionable tips you can find in the marketing playbook.
Incorporate storytelling in internal communications. Storytelling is a powerful tool in a marketer's arsenal, and it's equally effective for internal marketers. Stories can provide context, build a shared sense of purpose, and make mundane messages more memorable. Whether it's a CEO's message, a policy update, or a project milestone, framing it as a story can make it more relatable and memorable.
For example, instead of merely sharing quarterly sales figures, tell the story of the team's effort to achieve those numbers. This could include the challenges team members overcame, innovative ideas they implemented, and the impact of their work on the company's overall goals.
Employee spotlights can also be popular. People love to hear about their colleagues. Highlight someone's unique experiences or passions, and introduce coworkers to another side of who they are. Telling these stories helps build community and reminds employees that they are valued as individuals beyond their immediate utility.
It's hard to overstate the importance of visual elements in the digital age. Web content with visuals receives up to 94% more engagement than text alone. Use images, infographics, and videos to create more appealing content that captures — and keeps — attention.
Visuals also aid in understanding. They help you appeal to different learning styles and can simplify complex messages or condense long ones. Consider a company-wide restructure — a well-designed infographic can communicate these changes more effectively than a lengthy email.
People even retain more information when it has a visual element. According to molecular biologist John Medina, people remember only 10% of a piece of information three days after hearing it. That number jumps to 65% when coupled with a picture.
But what if you're not a graphic artist? These days, you don't have to be. There are many incredible content tools that make it easy to incorporate pictures and even design your own visual aids. Many include a library of templates, freeing you from the work of building content from scratch.
People read content on screens differently than they do on paper. Short paragraphs and skimmable text are key. The number of different devices your audience might use has also grown with the rise of remote work and BYOD (bring your own device) policies.
Consider factors such as font size, line spacing, and formatting. Bullet points and subheadings also make lengthy emails easier to skim through.
Remember, the goal is to make the content accessible and digestible for everyone, whether they're reading it on a desktop monitor or a smartphone screen during their commute. Try reading a piece of content on your own various devices before sending it out.
Marketers know the power of a compelling call-to-action (CTA). Whether you want employees to attend a town hall meeting, participate in a survey, or contribute to a project, be clear about what you want your audience to do.
CTA should also be visually identifiable and, when appropriate, linked to the next step of someone's digital journey. Need people to complete a training segment? Give them a nice big button to click that says "Begin Training."
Make internal marketing a priority.
Effective communication is the lifeblood of a connected, productive workforce, and HR and IC departments continually seek innovative ways to enhance employee engagement. Instead of reinventing the wheel, head over to the marketing department and borrow its fully functioning car.
You can even bring some of its branding work along for the ride. Employees should be able to recognize a message from your organization as easily on the intranet as they would in an advertisement. Craft thoughtful, segmented content well in advance of when you need to distribute it and keep themes consistent across channels. Then, track the piece's performance and adjust your strategy accordingly.
At the end of the day, employee engagement is essential for organizational growth and success. Your content should both mirror and contribute to a positive work culture in which people feel recognized and energized as part of a larger project and community.
Not all of the rewards are intangible. Companies with strong cultures see that strength reflected in their bottom lines. Organizations that have appeared on Fortune's annual list of the 100 best places to work see exponentially higher average annual returns. Food for thought, no?