Once upon a time, Marketing and Communications were tightly woven together under the name of “Marcomms.” 

Then Internal Communications split away as its own department and aligned more closely with Human Relations, with a focus on internal branding and engaging employees. 

Internal communications as a discipline has experienced growing pains, most notably in its ability to quantify and optimize the impact of its campaigns. According to a study (pdf) by internal communications firm Melcrum in partnership with internal communications software provider Newsweaver, only 16 percent of respondents are satisfied with their ability to measure communications’ success. 

In order to build on this, internal communications departments should look to their marketing roots. Marketing has established processes to measure and optimize that which is difficult to quantify. Incorporating this knowledge into communications strategies is the future of internal communications.

Know Your Audience(s)

All too often, the only metrics available for internal communications departments to measure audience engagement are blanket metrics. According to the study, 43 percent of survey respondents reported that they use open and click-through rates in email, while only 16 percent answered that they have a segmented audience view. 

Any marketer will tell you there’s no such thing as one singular audience. Though they are talking about external facing communications, the same holds true when looking inward. Different departments will have different markers of engagement, and may prefer different modes of communication. 

Take these subtle differences into account to engage with the widest segment of employees possible. 

Set Goals, Then Meet Them

Internal communications should regard initiatives in the same way marketers conceive their campaigns. Define a specific goal at the outset and with it, measurements which will indicate success. 

Without a quantified goal set ahead of time, it becomes much harder for internal communicators to objectively demonstrate their impact. The more specific those goals are, the easier it will be to define success. 

When the Melcrum surveyors asked communicators what they use as key performance indicators (KPI), first place went to employee survey results at 17.1 percent — followed closely by “none” at 13.2 percent. 

Surveys can be helpful, but construct them carefully to avoid being reactive or asking leading questions. Communicators should first define targets for their campaigns, then design the KPIs around those goals. Again, these campaigns should be broken down along departmental lines for the most accurate picture of success.

Test, Test and Then Test Some More

Marketers all know of A/B testing — building small variations into a piece of collateral to see which version performs better. They divide one segment of their target audience in half, sending each half an email with slightly different copy or design than the other. They perform these experiments within specific segments of their audience in order to eliminate extraneous variables that could compromise the results. 

Communicators can do the same with their campaigns, as a way of showing quantitatively what strategy gets the most engagement from workers. Some examples of variations to test include medium (video, blog post, email), time of day they’re distributed and whether or not graphics are included. 

The results demonstrate internal communications’ impact and success meeting goals, and also points out areas for future optimization. The more information gathered, the better equipped internal communicators will be to craft and deliver engaging communications. 

The objective of data gathering by marketers is optimization. This should also be the case for internal communications. 

Metrics not only help communicators understand and demonstrate their place in an organization, but also equip them with the tools to continually improve their product. By learning to measure and optimize communications in the same way as marketers, internal communicators will help secure their campaigns' value for years to come.