Choosing internal communication channels
This guide is to give an overview of channels and help you decide which one to use when communicating with your colleagues.
On this page:
- Considering your audience needs
- Types of channels
- Writing for different channels
- Developing content for digital channels
Considering your audience needs
When choosing which channel to use, there are a number of factors to consider.
Choosing the correct channel includes thinking about who your audience or audiences are. You need to reach different audiences in different ways. For example, while an email may be enough for one group of colleagues, you will need to think about frontline colleagues who do not have regular access to a computer.
You also need to think about your audience’s level of knowledge and base this on insight, rather than assumption. For example, if you need to let a group of technicians know about a new software package they are due to receive, you might not need to explain technical terms in great detail. But if you’re communicating to a different department you may need to explain these terms in more details. Read Segmenting your audience for internal communications.
The nature of the message
You will also need to consider the type of message you are communicating. Using email or an intranet is a suitable way of communicating a short call to action message. However, it is not the most sensitive way to let your colleagues know about a more substantial change, like restructuring. Something of this sensitive nature you should communicate face-to-face. See Using internal communications to support change.
If your message is urgent, for example in times of crisis, you need to reach people quickly. Because of this, you may be restricted to channels that are easy to use and that you know people are most likely to see. For example, text messaging colleagues or an email to a managers’ distribution list.
If your message is not urgent, plan what you want to communicate. For a big change programme, take time to better plan your use of channels:
- segment your audience
- choose the most appropriate channel
- tailor your message
Consider timing in relation to the other internal communications activity taking place. Colleagues will only have time to see and absorb a certain amount of information at one time.
For example, if you’re running a campaign around managers’ responsibilities for health and safety, it might be best not to run one on managers’ responsibilities for learning and development at the same time. This prioritisation comes back to aligning your communication strategy to your organisation’s strategy. See Developing an internal communication strategy.
When you are planning which channels to use, think about:
- which channels already available
- which you could introduce
While budgets may be limited, try not to be restricted to what is already in place and is familiar. Find out what other parts of government have done and whether they can help you develop new, no-cost channels.
Sometimes the established tried and tested channels, which have good recognition and trust amongst staff, will be the right solution.
Using multiple channels
Often a message or communications campaign will require the use of multiple channels, to help to reinforce your message and make sure it reaches as many people as possible.
Some studies have tested how many times a message should be repeated for maximum effect. These suggest that people have confidence in an idea after they have seen it between 3 and 5 times (Brinol et al., 2008). After that, repetition ceases to have the same effect and may even reverse.
If you think about TV adverts, they are repeated many more times than this. Advertisers now use subtle variations in the ads to recapture our attention. This is an attempt to avoid the fact that while familiarity can breed liking, over-familiarity tends to breed contempt. This concept of repeating with a subtle difference, is a useful principle to remember when developing your internal communications campaign.
Using multiple channels is helpful because not everyone responds to communications in the same way. For example, some people will prefer to receive messages by email or text message. This allows them a chance to absorb the message in their own time. Others will prefer to receive information face-to-face. This allows them an immediate opportunity to discuss the news with others.
It is not about using every channel available. Think about who your audience is and which channels you have available to target that audience. Using a variety of channels takes planning and you should think about how you are going to evaluate the use of the channels you chose. See the Evaluation chapter
Is your message something colleagues will want to ask questions about? Would you benefit from hearing senior leaders views on it? If so, you may want to use a two-way communication channel.
An important contributor to high engagement is that people feel they are being listened to and have chance to air their views. Even if there are no easy answers. So don’t be put off using a two-way communication channel just because you think colleagues will give negative feedback.
Two-way communication channels include:
- face-to-face meetings and events, where people can ask questions,
- digital channels such as web-chats and blogs, where people can post comments
Types of channels
Most organisations have some form of Intranet – an internal website available to all staff. Intranets have improved over the years and can provide a personalised service to colleagues. Personalisation helps them in their day-to-day roles as well as being an effective communication channel.
It is worth assessing your own intranet to ensure that you are making the most of it. Often it is the first thing colleague see when they log on in the morning. It is also the portal to other channels such as blogs.
Many organisations also use direct email to engage with their internal audiences. As with other channels you need to check who can access this kind of communication (does everyone have access to email?). Consider the look and feel, tone of voice, accessibility, and how you will evaluate its effectiveness.
How to develop a channels plan
In your organisation, you may have a colleague newsletter, an intranet, some face-to-face channels such as team briefings or colleague presentations, and various workshops or away-days. But are these channels working hard enough? Do you know how effective they are?
Ask yourself questions like:
- ‘Are you pushing out information to your people – or really making them sit up and take notice?’
- ‘Are your colleagues being talked at – or do they feel involved, engaged and enthusiastic?’
- ‘Do you feel you’re fighting an uphill struggle with insufficient budget and too small a team – or are you getting top value from your limited resources?’
- Have you identified a gap or a better way of reaching certain parts of your audience?
- Are you embracing modern methods of communication and engagement or relying on traditional broadcast methods?
- Could you find a cheaper, more efficient and effective way to communicate by reviewing your channels?
- Do you have a clear indication from your audience of how they rate your current methods?
- Circles of influence are changing and peer to peer communication often gets the message across more effectively than the older broadcast or top-down channels.
- Have you heard of other colleagues adopting new methods you would like to try out in your organisation?
Writing for different channels
Different channels need different styles of writing.
For example, write in a different way for:
- a post on an intranet noticeboard
- an update on a blog
- a formal letter informing colleagues of a significant change that has an impact on them.
There are many style guides out there and you need to understand what works for your organisation and audiences. When you develop a style guide, be mindful of how language is changing. Check the Government Digital Service style guide, along with Plain English principles, are often a good starting point.
Developing content for digital channels
The principles to consider before developing digital content are similar to those for any other content:
- who is the audience and what is the most appropriate social media channel to reach them?
- what do you want people to do as a result of reading your communication?
- how does the content help your department or organisation achieve its policy aims?
Generally speaking, the following content works well for digital:
- striking imagery, coupled with short and informative status updates
- content featuring recognisable people and places that resonate with your audience
- asking questions of your audience and providing them with answers and useful information
Blogging sounds like a good idea, but are staff reading and engaging with them? If not, it could be due to one of these reasons:
- Your titles don’t pull them in
- You’re not using enough stories
- You’re posting too infrequently
- Your posts are too long
- Your posts are unfocused
- You’re not engaging in the conversation
The best practices to segmenting your audiences for internal communications strategy are:
- your channel is as important as your message, get it right if you want to make an impact.
- think digital by default, but new technology is not always the answer.
- don’t just send out stuff, make it your task to think about the best channel to use to communicate each message.
- think about whether you need to use a two-way communication channel or not. An intranet story is likely to be fine for an update on some redecoration taking place in the office, whereas an office move will prompt questions that need discussing.