Segmenting your audience for internal communications

This guide covers how to understand and segment your audience to communicate effectively.

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Understanding your audience

This assessment of who your audience is, and what is already known about them, is part of the communications planning process. It’s something you should be thinking about at the start of a campaign or project.

Your communications strategy or plan will be much more likely to achieve its objectives if you develop audience insight and segment your audience.

Finding out who and where your audience is

If you communicate the right message, to the right person, at the right time, using language they relate to, it’s more likely to be heard, understood and acted on.

While your target audience might be large, audience segmentation works on the principle that there are shared characteristics amongst certain groups. These smaller groups have distinct needs, attitudes and levels of knowledge. Their size makes it easier to understand.

Audience segmentation is about splitting your audience into smaller, defined, groups. It makes it easier to understand their needs and how they might react to your communications.

Segmentation can help you:

  • develop your internal communications strategy or plan
  • assess the impact, priority and communication requirements around a piece of work
  • review your communications objectives
  • develop your messages and select who’s best to deliver them
  • communicate tailored messages that resonate with specific groups of employees
  • decide which channels to use to communicate your message
  • understand which stakeholders can support you in communicating your messages
  • evaluate your communications

This understanding will increase the effectiveness of your communications by making them more relevant. If you don’t segment your target audience, you’re likely to end up saying nothing much to everyone and you will struggle to change behaviours.

Segmenting your audiences

Internal audiences can be segmented in many ways. The approach you take will depend on what you’re trying to achieve, your communication objectives, and who your target audience is.

Start with thinking about the outcome you need to achieve and who can help you or block you from achieving it. Use the principles of stakeholder mapping to help you to analyse this. And prioritise audiences for communications activity. You should identify various groups:

  • people whose behaviour needs to change to achieve the outcome
  • people who will be for or against the change
  • people who may benefit indirectly from the change
  • people who influence them.

Ensuring Effective Stakeholder Engagement includes a template: strategic partnerships touchpoint map.

Here are some of the ways you might segment your audience:

Behaviour or risk 

Targeting communications according to the behaviours of specific groups, or the level of risk associated with particular segments.

For example, a communications campaign around information security might target those staff who deal with customer information as to its primary audience, or a campaign focused on sustainability might target people who don’t put paper waste in the recycling bins with specific messaging. 

This approach might not involve using channels to communicate with specific audiences directly, but using a range of messaging in your campaign.

Engagement levels and attitudes

The Civil Service People Survey gives us a wealth of information about our audience. This can often be mapped against other demographic data so you can understand which groups of your employees are likely to be more or less engaged and their likely attitudes. This type of segmentation is useful when creating messages and supporting leadership teams in their communications.

Employee life-cycle events

Employees will have distinct needs at different stages of their employment in your organisation. For example, you might want to communicate information about childcare vouchers to staff taking maternity or paternity leave.

 Job role

Employees in different jobs roles are likely to have different communication needs and channel preferences. For example, someone based in a contact centre is likely to have less flexibility over how they spend their time, or someone whose work frequently takes them out of the office might be less able to access the intranet then someone based in a policy team.

Management responsibility

A common segmentation in internal communications. Managers will often need to be briefed in advance so that they can explain issues to their team members and answer questions.

Channel preference

This means grouping people according to the way they prefer to receive their communications. This understanding is helpful in communications planning or if you are undertaking a channel audit.

Demographic information

This can include age, length of employment, location, business area, grade, diversity information, working pattern and gender. It can be useful for targeting specific information for specific groups, for example, details of a development programme aimed at black and minority ethnic staff. It also gives you a basic understanding of the make-up of the employees in your organisation.

Getting help to find out insights

Most organisations have a wealth of information about their employees. Your HR team will have basic demographic information. Whatever system your HR team uses you’re likely to be able to identify and target very specific audiences by interrogating, cross-referencing and extracting the HR data it holds. You can convert the extracted data into email distribution lists.

Your HR team will have the results of the Civil Service People Survey and other corporate people surveys. In-house analysts, social researchers or customer insight specialists can also be a great source of help or advice.

How to understand what your audience think and feel

Once you have identified who the audiences are for a particular communication, the next step is to develop your understanding of them and what makes them tick.

Here are some of the ways you can get to know your audience better.

People closeness

Observation: there’s no substitute for getting out and about in your organisation and experiencing things first-hand. This can include job shadowing, visiting offices, attending meetings and going to staff events.

See what they’re saying: there are lots of different ways that employees share their views within an organisation. These are a really rich source of understanding. They include internal discussion groups, online community areas, internal blogs, and any open comments left in responses to surveys, for example, the People Survey.

Pay attention to feedback. This could be in the form of staff complaints, questions to internal helplines, concerns staff are raising with their managers, questions being sent into central teams, feedback from staff panels or staff suggestion schemes.

Put yourself in their shoes: customer-journey mapping techniques can also be used internally and are a helpful source of understanding.

Talk to the people who understand them best: their knowledge of your audience will be vital to your communications planning, development and delivery.


Data can help you build a picture of what categories of employees are doing. It can include existing management information, like sickness absence figures, or other numeric information, held in internal databases. Don’t forget that user data might also be held by suppliers or other public bodies: for example, travel booking numbers or registrations to training courses. Follow the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements.


This could include:

  • quantitative and qualitative research,
  •  research you commission to fill an information gap
  • existing research held elsewhere in the organisation – or example focus groups, telephone surveys, one-to-one interviews or online surveys

Developing the insight

Insight relies on you understanding your audience. It works on the principle that understanding your audiences’ opinions, attitudes, values, behaviours and influences will help you to identify what’s at the heart of what they say and do.

Understanding the behavioural context

Most behaviour is automatic. It can be helpful to understand and focus on these unthinking behaviours when planning communications. 

For example, look at people’s habits. Look at the mental shortcuts people are making or their inherent biases – which can include a natural preference for the status quo.

You can find insight from the themes that emerge from lots of different pieces of evidence, data and information. Unpick them to answer the underlying question: why? This will provide the hook for your communications.

Good insight can help you communicate more effectively by:

  • understanding the real issue your communications need to focus on
  • finding the best way to engage your target audience with your key messages
  • giving your target audience a clear understanding of what’s in it for them

Here are some steps for generating insight:

  1. Set out the task clearly – what is the question you’re trying to answer or the issue you’re looking at?
  2. Bring together all the relevant information, facts and observations you have. This could include focus group comments, management information or survey results.
  3. Examine all the data and information. Then, with a group of colleagues, pull out the key facts or observations
  4. Group facts into common themes. You should end up with several groups.
  5. For each group, summarise at a high level. Each of these high-level ‘understandings’ should explain why people are doing what they are.
  6. Think about what each of these high-level understandings is telling you about the issue and use this to generate your insight. The insight should give you an underlying truth that will help you change your behaviour.

Tools to help you generate insight

The three-stage insight model relates to the steps above. It gives you a framework to help you turn the information and evidence you have into understandings and insight. You’ll have many pieces of information and evidence leading to a smaller number of understandings, which lead to your final insight. The insight should be a short sentence written in the first person.

Theory: three-stage insight model

Data: the what:

  • Facts and observations
  • Survey results
  • Focus group comments
  • Complaints
  • Discussion group comments
  • Facts and figures

Understanding: the why:

  • A number of high-level understandings drawn from the data that explain what’s going on in the ‘what’.

Insight: the ‘Aha’ moment

  • The deep truth strikes a chord with people and has the power to change behaviour.


  • Data: the what
    • Facts and observations
    • Focus group comments from staff about their views on information security
    • Security incident reports and numbers
    • Comments from information security specialists in the organisation
    • Survey results
    • Complaints
    • Discussion group comments
    • Facts and figures
  • Understanding: the why
    • If my line manager doesn’t treat this as important why should I?
    • I don’t think my organisation practices what it preaches
    • I do the job right, it’s others that don’t
    • I think the risk lies elsewhere – not with me
  • Insight: the ‘Aha’ moment
    • I understand that information security is important, but not everyone does. Don’t tell me, tell them. This insight means that a campaign focused on the importance of information security won’t have an effect. Audiences will agree with the messages, but not see the relevance or re-examine their own behaviours.

The five whys?

This is a useful technique to get to the underlying ‘why’ behind an observation. It’s a basic root cause analysis technique. It gives you a structure to work through the issue to an answer. 

It is called the 5 whys because you have to ask ‘why?’ 5 times, but this number of repetitions is usually enough to get to the answer. 

The starting point is a clear and relevant observation. Once you have that you can begin asking ‘why?’ to get to the underlying issue and insight. It can be a good idea to run this with a group of people to generate a lot of possible whys at each stage, before voting on the favourite. 

When asking the why? You should answer with a fact or provide your best theory as to the answer.


The best practices to segmenting your audiences for internal communications strategy are:

  • get out and about, there’s no substitute for listening
  • don’t forget your organisation will already hold a huge amount of information on your colleagues’ views
  • pay attention to colleague feedback, it’s an important source of information
  • it doesn’t have to be complicated; something as simple as asking for feedback on an online forum or telephone interviews can give you a valuable understanding
  • it’s not all down to you; there will be colleagues in HR, communications and other parts of the organisation who can help you understand your audience
  • if you’re working on a specific campaign or communicating a specific issue, map and talk to the stakeholders who understand it best
  • Further reading: