Whether you’re defining an internal audience or making a business case for internal comms budget, an internal communications plan is paramount for success. It’s your roadmap; defining not only where you want to go, but how you’re going to get there. It clarifies your objectives, who you’re targeting, and how.
Even if you’re a seasoned pro at pulling together strategy plans, creating an internal communications plan can feel overwhelming when you’re staring at a blank document and wondering where to start. Here are some ideas to help get your 2023 internal comms plan into shape.
Internal vs. external communications
Before we dive in, it’s worth looking at the internal/external divide. Both are unique professions, serving distinct audiences with different objectives. So, why are we grouping them when it comes to making a plan?
2022 was a tumultuous year and the idea of hybrid working was fiercely debated. Twitter ended its “work from home forever” policy but others, such as Airbnb, doubled down and launched a “Live and Work Anywhere” initiative. The dichotomy in strategy from even the biggest enterprises shows a lack of consistency across the market; that’s just one factor making the job of internal communicators even more difficult.
In a world of ever-changing employment policy, recession, and finding our way in the new hybrid way of working, failure to align internal and external messaging can cause alienated employees, reputational damage, and a loss of productivity. Being honest and open with both customers and employees – and ensuring a consistent message is being delivered on both sides – is vital.
Transparency about working policies, business finances, or even potential redundancies is now firmly on the C-suite radar. 2023 will see it become a priority for all communicators – internal, and external (if it isn’t already). Even if you have two distinct plans in place for internal and external communication within your organization, take the time to ensure they align.
Step 1: Evaluate last year’s internal communications plan
Before we move forward, we need to look at where we’ve been. If we don’t understand what has worked previously – or where our weaknesses and gaps are – we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes or become static.
- Why were these campaigns undertaken?
- Which times of year were your busiest or least busy?
- Did you collaborate with every department in the organization?
- Which comms channels did you use in your campaigns?
- What were the results and how were they measured?
- Was there any anecdotal feedback from colleagues or senior leaders?
Don’t just consider campaigns in isolation, however.
Look to the overall contribution your communications efforts made to the business, and how that aligned with business objectives. How did you define success? Did you realize your goals?
Seek feedback from your audiences – whether internal or external. Use surveys to request anecdotal feedback. Look to the analytics of your platforms. It may also help to look at your competitors, and what they’re doing. Use social listening techniques through Glassdoor or LinkedIn to observe the general feeling about company comms in other workplaces. Is there something that competitor staff mention they love?
Building a research-based picture of what works – and what doesn’t – will help steer the plan for your 2023 comms.
- Look at previous campaigns
- How were they delivered?
- What were the results/measurements of success?
- How did comms contribute to overall business objectives?
- Seek feedback from your target audience
- Look at competitors
Step 2: Setting internal comms goals
You know where you are now. So, where are you headed – or where do you want to be?
Communication has evolved from a tactical tool to distribute necessary information to a key element of business strategy. So, the first step is to look at the overall business objectives and direction of the organization for the year ahead and then determine the role communications should play in supporting those.
Perhaps there are challenges or changes lying ahead for your organization that will shape your objectives for 2023. This may include mergers and acquisitions, industry changes or regulatory updates, your product roadmap, or even the wider economic and political landscape. If talent acquisition is as difficult in 2023 as it was in 2022 then there may be an increased focus on employee satisfaction to engender word of mouth referrals.
Seek input from multiple departments on what their goals are too. They may have specific objectives that require comms support over the coming 12 months.
Revisit or define your key messages – whether for the organization, particular campaigns, or specific parts of the company.
Who are you and what do you stand for?
What is your mission and your brand?
What is important to the workforce and what is that ‘certain something’ that makes it unique?
Strong self-awareness and a defined tone of voice should run through every piece of communication coming from your business – internal and external.
Finally, take time to re-evaluate what to perceive to be ‘effective’ or ‘successful’ communication. Is your campaign a success simply because people look at what you’ve distributed or are you seeking action?
If it’s relevant, determine key performance indicators (KPIs) and set tangible, quantifiable goals or objectives. “Increase employee engagement” is not an objective. “Increase employee traffic to the company intranet news pages by 5% by the close of Q2” is. Make the objectives in your internal communications plan Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely (SMART).
- Align with business objectives
- Identify 2023 events, changes, or challenges
- Go company-wide
- Define your key messages, brand, and tone of voice
- Determine what ‘success’ looks like
- Set out quantifiable KPIs
Step 3: Define the tactics in your internal comms plan
Now you have a clear idea of where you want to go, it’s time to figure out the route there. This part of your plan is the ‘brass tacks’: the tactical specifics.
Start with your audience. Who are you targeting and has that changed? Don’t assume that this remains the same; consumer trends change regularly, and the introduction of Generation Z into the workforce has strong implications for internal comms.
How do you segment and target your audience? Personalization and tailoring of communication is more vital than ever before.
Consider introducing employee personas into your 2023 comms plan, if you haven’t before. These use behavioral, demographic, and psychographic research and data to form a fictitious archetypical character that can be utilized to shape your messaging.
Next, look to your communication channels and content. What are you currently using that has proven successful? Are there alternatives you may want to introduce to your plan for 2023, or certain channels that should be given higher priority?
The continuing trend towards visual communication may see you shift towards more interactive or video content, for example. In terms of channels, are frontline workers without email access seeing your content on mobile app or digital signage?
Create an internal communications calendar of key events or areas of focus for each month or quarter. How far in advance do you need to begin communication efforts? For example, if you have a company acquisition, this may require a staggered communication effort over several months, targeting different individuals with timely and relevant information accordingly.
What resources do you have available in terms of budget, people, and time? Consider who has responsibility for creating and delivering your communications, alongside any additional resource requirements. Clearly define roles and expectations. Factor in any budgetary requirements, including new platforms/channels, PPC, campaign budgets, any external support, and more.
- (Re)define your audience and create personas
- Evaluate existing and potential comms channels
- Create a communications calendar of major events
- Outline resource needs
- Determine budgetary requirements
Side note: Planning for the unexpected
Remember: an internal communications plan is not a hard-and-fast structure that you must adhere to. Communications is often reactionary and communicators become responsible for the management of dispersing and managing information in response to unforeseen events, changes, or incidents.
Planning for the unexpected may sound like a contradiction, but there are processes and protocols that can be put into place to ensure that ad-hoc communication is managed successfully. Ensure you have a defined pathway for what needs to happen, and who needs to be involved.
If communications need to be escalated or approved before they can be distributed, for example, create a hierarchy of responsibility and include ‘backup’ options as a safety net. If a crisis hits and a statement needs to be released, whether internally or externally, it doesn’t bode well to be withholding information as the designated approver is unreachable on annual leave.
Step 4: Act and evaluate
It sounds obvious, but don’t let your internal communications calendar become all talk and no action. Ensuring you have accountability, deadlines, and regular check-ins to gauge progress are key to getting your plan off the ground. They also safeguard against the risk of failing to deliver on your objectives.
Don’t wait until the close of 2023 to evaluate your success. Seek agile feedback from your audience or on specific campaigns and where possible, regularly report against your KPIs and objectives to ensure you’re on track. This will help identify any failures or weaknesses early on, meaning you can react or adjust accordingly. Learn from your successes and failures.
Keep a finger on the pulse of any trends, changes, or developments, both inside and external to your organization. An annual or even 3-year plan used to be a pretty solid framework for organizations: now, this is simply no longer the case. In an age of continuous innovation and development, the pace of change is so rapid, that even monthly plans can become redundant before they’re actioned. Make your comms plan should be a living and evolving document. Revisit it and make adjustments to KPIs or targets where necessary.
- Assign timelines, deliverables, and accountability for your plan
- Book in regular evaluations to check progress
- Seek agile feedback
- Keep up-to-date with trends and developments
Any plan is better than no plan at all
The plan for your 2023 company comms may have started months ago. Or perhaps the Christmas rush and chasing of Q4 targets placed forward-thinking on the back burner. It may be the first time you’ve attempted to formally plan out your communications approach, or perhaps you’ve been compiling these for years, and you’re simply looking to update last year’s efforts.
Regardless of your position, even taking the time to simply jot down the basics can make a tremendous difference to your success. The idea of creating a plan or strategy can put many people off, but this doesn’t need to be a 50-page essay stuffed with business jargon and complex ROI formulas. In fact, it should be anything but.
The most effective plans are simple, accessible, and evolve over the course of delivery. They serve as a reference point, a framework, a roadmap – rather than a comprehensive end-to-end project plan. Even a list of bullet point responses to those key summary questions we’ve set out here will set you well on your way to success.