“The internet of me”: why we should be bringing digital personalization to internal comms

Algorithms. Cookies. Big Data. Thanks to the digital Big Brother watching our every move and capturing our data, we are used to being recognized online as individuals.

Amazon pushes products to my homepage based on my recent searches. Netflix knows where I’m up to in my series and uses viewer data to recommend similar options “because you watche…”. Facebook populates with suggested posts based on what I’m reading.

A misguided rogue search for a Nutribullet one day, and I ended up being stalked by them for months after. Nutribullets would pop up on my newsfeed or in banners on the websites I visited. They were there at the end of my YouTube videos. They were tormenting me, following me around.

Our experience online is now built around the idea of personalization. Many of our interactions with brands, websites and social media are now customized to us: responding to our behaviors, our demographic, our preferences.

Digital personalization and behavioral retargeting to customers and consumers is nothing new. However, thanks to continual development of the technology behind them, the concept is becoming increasingly clever. Online, we really are the center of our universe.

The trouble is, internal comms has yet to catch up to the trend. In the workplace, we’re simply one among the many.

Employees: the modern-day consumer

Personalization has clearly set high expectations for our digital experiences.

We’ve progressed from having websites simply remember our login details to tailored product suggestions and targeted remarketing that responds to our browsing history. Email campaigns don’t just address us by name; they appeal to our specific interests, they remember our purchases, they follow our sales journeys as consumers.

In the workplace, our employees are our customers. Every time we send out a message, a memo, an announcement, we are marketing to them. But instead of addressing our staff as individuals, many of us opt for a sweeping ‘one size fits all’ approach. We decide on an internal brand and tone, and hope to capture the general masses accordingly.

With resource and time tight, this approach is understandable. However, with employee engagement ranking high on the management agenda and poor communication reportedly costing up to $26,041 per employee per year, it’s an approach that may be costing us more than we think.

Failure to tailor our messaging loses our audience. Externally, almost three-quarters (74%) of online consumers get frustrated with websites when content is not personalized/related to their interests (Janrain & Harris Interactive). The same frustration will be true internally and may be a contributory factor for poor staff retention, lower levels of engagement, higher numbers of health and safety incidents and more. It’s time we treated our employees as the customer on the receiving end of our communications, and make the message relevant.

How do I personalize my internal communications?

Not all organizations have access to the complex tools or the resource required to execute a fully structured, personalized internal marketing strategy. However, even simple, small tactics can – if deployed correctly – have a measurable impact on engagement levels.

Step 1: Understand your audience

The foundation of personalization is acting on behavioral data – understanding who your audience is before you target them.

Depending on the nature of your organization and the communications or collaboration tools you already have in place, the actual data you can access and evaluate will vary. For most of us, the basics will be readily available: demographic data such as age, office location, department, years of employment, level of seniority.

If you utilize an intranet or collaboration platform with analytics, you can get a deeper understanding of audience behaviors. What are your employees reading and engaging with? What types of content or topics of interest? What are they searching for and where are the content gaps? Who are your ‘active’ users and which are more difficult to reach?

intranet of me content analytics

Using an intranet People Directory, for example, enables you to identify and segment based on skill or interest. If you have integration functionality that pulls profile information from multiple sources – such as Active Directory, your HR platform, Twitter and LinkedIn – you have a comprehensive, multi-layered profile of employees that can be tapped into. The more data you capture, the more power you have to customize.

Step 2: Group employees with similar behaviors or needs

The chances are, you won’t have the capacity to individualize every message you send out; creating a smaller number of campaign groups is the most efficient approach. So, once you understand your employees, you need to group them accordingly.

This may be according to their department or function, their office location, their level of seniority or service, even their interests or level of engagement with the business, depending on the data you have available.

For example, consider a ‘Regional Group’ for communication specific to a certain office or location; a ‘Middle Management Group’ for cascading of business information; or simply a ‘Active Interests Group’ for your sports or fitness enthusiasts, for the promotion of upcoming events, deals or opportunities related to their interests.

intranet of me profile

Note: just because two or more employees have a common behavior or trait doesn’t mean that constitutes a ‘group’. It may well be possible to group employees who have ‘Microsoft Excel’ as a skill on their profile, but should you? Consider the applicability of the segments you create and the scenarios in which you would need to communicate to that group.

Step 3: Understand the employee journey

We tailor external marketing messages according to the customer journey; the same should be true of our employees and their interactions with our business.

Consider, for example, the communications you need to be sending to new starters during the onboarding process, compared to those operating at middle management level who have several years of company knowledge under their belt. If you send the same message to both sets of groups, you risk alienating the first group and patronizing the later.

The employee lifecycle, therefore, is a good starting point for understanding when and why employees interact with communications.

employee life cycle intranet of me

Given the focus on using internal communications to engage employees with the business and their roles, the major touchpoints that have direct impact on the employee experience are also vital. This may include direct interactions with line managers or business leaders which don’t necessarily sit within the internal comms remit – but given their implication for employee experience of your brand, should factor into the internal comms process.

intranet of me employee brand experience

Identify the major touchpoints or triggers for employees rom a communications perspective. This will span seeking out information about company policies or the mission and values through to the day-to-day processes required to fulfil their roles, such as workflows or submitting process forms. These all form internal communications opportunities, when you have contact with employees.

Step 4: Create a library of responses

You’ve identified your audience, grouped them into segments and determined the touchpoints or triggers for when and why they interact with you. Now, it’s the creative part: the act of personalizing and customizing your content.

As any communications professional will tell you, there’s no magic formula for the ‘perfect’ piece of content – mainly because the sheer volume of variables and opportunities for customization is so vast. Just some of the small things you can tweak or change include:

  • From / sender
  • Subject line
  • Subject matter / content
  • Time zone / time of communication
  • Device
  • Communication channel
  • Action required
  • Job related
  • Links
  • Language
  • HQ news/regional news
  • Tone of content
  • Type of content

Interact’s platform, for example, offers fully customizable intranet homepages that can be tailored to a specific employee demographic, team, or region. New starters can view a customized homepage that pushes vital onboarding information, policies and ‘how to’ content for the first month of employment; by comparison, the service desk team may see a widget on their intranet homepage displaying open tickets or response targets. Content is timely, relevant and aligned to employee needs and wants.

intranet of me new starter homepage

If you have standard communications that regularly go out, such as welcome / new starter emails or the announcement of a new company policy, create a library of templates for your major employee groups, customizing or tailoring the content accordingly.

For example, announcement of a new policy may be in the form of a structured email and attachment with detailed explanation for senior management, but for Millennial or entry-level employees, more interactive and ‘digestible’ content such as social media posts or videos with ‘need to know’ basis content may be more appropriate.

A word of warning: personalization can often come hand-in-hand with the process of making certain assumptions. For example, that a particular age group will have specific interests or prefer a particular tone of voice. Be mindful of alienating or over generalizing, and consider your assumptions before structuring content around them.

As a real-life example, algorithms in Facebook respond to changes in relationship status or life events to ‘assume’ the next phase of people’s lives and deliver content accordingly. Switch to ‘Engaged’ and you’ll be hit with wedding fair promotions; move to ‘Married’ and sites begin pushing maternity clothing or pregnancy tests. Not everyone fits nicely into the stereotype: some assumptions can cause offence or distress, so be conscious of your choices.

Step 5: Utilize technology and streamline the process

One of the biggest mistakes communicators or marketers make is in assuming they need expanses of complicated or expensive technology to carry out their vision. In our experience, many organizations already have plenty of communication tools: the key is to create a plan, and to ensure they work effectively together.

Identify your communication channels and the groups that utilize them: your intranet, social media, internal email, mobile devices through to in-office posters or letters. Explore their functionality and whether that allows for personalization or tailoring to defined groups, such as having your intranet display specific content according to job function, region or length of service.

If you have messages that need distribution regularly or across multiple platforms, consider using automation tools to take off the load. Communications can be scheduled for pre-determined periods, ‘nurturing’ your employees along a pre-determined communications journey.

For example, here at Interact we utilize marketing automation software for new starter communication emails. Below we see the original welcome email, followed by a 6-week check-in.

welcome email intranet of me
check in email intranet of me

Streamline the process of creation and approval. Comms teams need to be empowered to act on their own to quickly test and iterate different ideas; if you have bureaucracy barriers that demand multiple layers of approval and sign-off before content can be sent out internally, this inhibits your comms team from innovating and doing their job successfully.

If necessary, set a ‘traffic light’ system for communications: where ‘Red’ or high risk content that communicates change requires a certain level of approval, whereas information about the office coffee machine can happily go out without the need for an internal nod.

Finally, use your technology and tools to learn from your mistakes and gather insights. If a personalization campaign hasn’t delivered the expected levels of engagement, investigate and use trial and error to shape future communications.

Digital personalization pays

If you operate in marketing, there’s a chance you’ll know a bit about the value of personalization already. There are some strong stats and arguments to back it up:

  • Personalized calls-to-action result in a 42% higher conversion rate than calls-to-action that are the same for all visitors (Hubspot)
  • Organizations who personalize their web experiences see, on average, a 19% uplift in sales (Monetate)
  • Personalized emails deliver six times higher transaction rates than generic emails (Experian Marketing Services)
  • In 2018, B2B companies who personalize their sites will be doing 30% better than those without personalization (Gartner)

Ninety-four percent of customer insights and marketing professionals across multiple industries say personalization is “important,” “very important,” or “extremely important” for meeting their current marketing objectives; when determining internal communications objectives for the coming 12 months, it needs to be a priority.

Admittedly, we’re not looking for our staff to progress down the sales funnel and make a purchase. Click-through rates of internal emails aren’t likely to make it onto the senior management agenda. But the premise is still there: if we are investing time and resource into communicating with our people, it’s likely we are looking for a reaction or response in return.

Taking the time to produce quality, rather than quantity, is key. Personalized, timely and relevant messages will deliver measureable returns on employee engagement, reduce the internal email burden and tick the boxes for internal comms objectives. Everybody wins – so, is it time you introduced personalization into your plan?