message in a bottle washed up on a beach
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Employees often complain there is too much noise from internal communications. Not necessarily from their internal communications function, but from all the other originators of emails, announcements, team meetings, enterprise social network (ESN) posts and more.

What doesn’t help is that traditionally, internal communication has tended to be managed along channel lines. The magazine or newsletter managed separately from the intranet; emails sent by many people at many times; digital displays done locally and then ESN on top by anyone everywhere. This creates fragmentation and duplicates effort.

To address this, advanced companies are using centralized content management and sophisticated targeting to boost relevance and cut down on duplication.

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Internal Communications Go Headless

A good example was recently demonstrated by Lena Hildeberg for Swedish broadcaster TV4.

Its intranet includes checkboxes to simultaneously push an article to the intranet, website and all-company Slack channel. It allows the communications team to take the content to where its audience is already going, rather than forcing people to come to a particular place.

article on TV4's intranet
Article on TV4's intranet

Option in CMS to publish on TV4’s Slack
Option in CMS to publish on TV4’s Slack

In marketing and external communications we’ve seen suites come into play to help manage such a multi-channel approach (often called "omnichannel," but that gives me reflux). Marketo, Hootsuite and HubSpot for example, allow a more campaign-based approach. Messaging is planned centrally and then published out to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. At its best, analytics then aggregate back into a campaign-level view so you can compare cross-channel performance.

Similar internal communication tools have been lagging. However, the concept of "headless CMS" is growing, with the storage of content becoming independent from the channel in which it is presented. It’s a great idea, but in practice I don’t see such a pure approach any time soon — there will probably always be an authoritative source that is both content management and the leading publication channel, such as an intranet or mobile app.

tv4 slack channel news
Article appears on TV4’s ‘all company’ Slack channel as ‘News from intranet’

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Campaign-Based Employee Engagement

In tandem with multi-channel publishing comes the ability to take a more campaign-based approach to internal communications. Some interesting tools are now emerging to support this.

The pioneers are typically companies that started mobile-first. Dynamic Signal and SocialChorus for example began as employee engagement apps to reach frontline workers. But a mobile-only employee app creates problems too. It is another channel that needs content management. You end up doing dual publishing, once in the intranet and once on the app, or in extreme cases forcing everyone into a mobile experience, even when this is a poor choice for some kinds of information.

Some mobile app vendors have understood this and are now moving into a more neutral mode where content and channel are decoupled. It allows you to manage the content in one place and then push it out across the native app, be it the SharePoint intranet, Slack, Yammer and so on. By managing centrally, you can reduce duplicate messaging. For example, on SocialChorus, if an employee has already responded to a request, they can be excluded from the next round of messaging reminding people of a deadline.

To ensure relevance, you also need to accurately target the content. Dynamic Signal, for example, can hook into Workday to match content to job role and location. To avoid a content island, Dynamic Signal can also push content back into SharePoint so that it shows up in searches.

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Intranets Respond Too 

Another way to tackle this issue is with an intranet that is more mobile and channel friendly.

There are plenty of responsive intranet applications, but intranets often come with a tacit expectation of desk-based workers, for example, by requiring every user to have a network account. Thankfully, some vendors do have ‘kiosk’ type pricing tiers and the ability to onboard people without an email account (e.g., Sparrow).

In the SharePoint intranet space, several vendors now include dedicated mobile apps to go with their solution. Often these also manage notifications, comments and so on, just like the mobile-first solutions. However, they have the additional advantage of being more deeply integrated into employee profiles if you use Active Directory, and the content also shows up in enterprise-wide search without extra effort.

A few vendors are much closer to the headless CMS idea, and even agnostic about using SharePoint as the content system (Akumina’s David Maffei explained this well back in 2017). The IntraActive intranet product is another innovative example in this space, offering the ability to push content from a SharePoint intranet out to digital signage.

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People Still Like Emails

Employees will often tell me, with a straight face, that they get too many emails, but then add they also like email newsletters and don’t get told enough. So despite the ongoing predictions of the death of email, there’s still a role for the digest newsletter.

Newsletter consolidation is partly there. Modern SharePoint offers a basic news digest feature out of the box, for example, and this works both on mobile browsers and the SharePoint App. Both SocialChorus and Dynamic Signal also offer an email newsletter feature. However, the market for dedicated newsletter tools such as Poppulo and Bananatag still seems very healthy, suggesting corporate communicators are looking for more.

Interestingly, the newsletter tool vendors are also to some extent expanding into the multi-channel domain. Poppulo offers its own mobile app for example, but like the mobile-first route, this still creates fragmentation issues to address.

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No Perfect Solution Yet

At the moment there doesn’t seem to be a perfect solution. If you go the mobile-first route, the employee news experience is great, but extra work is needed to avoid a content island. The relationship with ESNs also needs some thought. Typically if employees comment on a news story it will be within the CMS, but if it triggers lots of ideas and discussion, this would more naturally sit in something like Yammer or Workplace by Facebook.

If you go the intranet-first route, the mobile experience can be good, but the solutions still tend to be wedded to a browser-type experience. I’m not aware of any intranet in-a-box products that can also push news out into Slack, Chatter or Yammer, for example.

Right now, it seems there is a practical choice to be made around the dominance of mobile or desktop workers you want to support. However, the vendors who seem to understand the world of internal communicators best seem to be those with roots in employee mobile apps.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Lena Hildeberg, Alison Murdock of SocialChorus and Joelle Kaufman of Dynamic Signal for valuable discussions on this topic.