How to Gain a Better Understanding of Employee Communication Preferences

Paige throws a paper airplane over a group of employeesAs an internal communicator, you play a significant role in fostering employee engagement. But your success largely relies on one thing: Your ability to engage employees with your messaging content. How can you better understand your internal audiences, their preferred communication channels (and content), and what motivates them to engage?

First, consider the diversity of the audience you are trying to reach. Large organizations are not only spread out geographically but generationally and educationally, too. Because of this diversity, a one-size-fits-all messaging strategy rarely works best. 

Even when your CEO or senior leadership needs to address everyone, they must appeal to these different audiences in different ways to engage them. For example, to engage Gen Z employees — people born in the 90s and 2000s — many would assume they prefer digital communication, but research shows they want more face-to-face communication at work.

4 ways to learn more about internal audience preferences

  1. Study aggregate industry workplace data. Consultancies like Gallup, Deloitte, and Gartner, as well as communications technology vendors like Microsoft and PoliteMail, are routinely publishing aggregate workplace data about employee behavior. By reading published reports, you can learn about broad population trends, such as how best to communicate with millennials or better engage work-from-home employees. 

Vendors often provide specific details, such as the optimal message length and best delivery time. For example, PoliteMail’s annual benchmark report reveals these are the optimal email characteristics:

  • 125-250 word message
  • Delivered early in the morning (near the top of the inbox)
  • Sent early in the week
  1. Analyze your internal communications data. As internal communications have become more digital, analytics data is more readily available to reveal what content interests employees. One of the best ways to learn about your audience is to analyze their past behavior. Your intranet, email, and chat/meeting tools provide various data levels, allowing you to discover your most popular content and stories within specific regions or audiences. 

At PoliteMail, the top metrics to analyze are reach, readership, and engagement.

  • Reach is the percentage of your audience that opened AND paid attention to your message.
    Reach indicates whether or not employees are actually getting your message.
  • Readership measures how much time recipients spend reading your message compared to how much content was delivered. It can help you understand whether your messages are relevant and readable.
  • Engagement measures interactions with your communications, like clicks, likes, and comments. 
  1. Collaborate with HR. Your HR systems likely hold generational, regional, and educational employee data. HR knows the who, what, and where of your people. By working with HR, you can collect and organize the data, build groups, and understand how the issues of employee retention, productivity, and benefits utilization differ between regions, departments, roles, and age groups. What motivates employees to join and stay with your organization? What do they care about?
  2. Let employees set communication preferences. Some communications are not optional, but many are. While analytics tools can often tell you which channels employees use (or don’t use), you can also ask for their preferences on channels for specific types of content.

You can use modern communications tools and allow employees to follow or subscribe to specific authors and publications. You could provide an option for employees to bundle all policy or HR messages into a weekly digest. For newsletters, offer topic preferences or interest selections and a frequency setting, enabling employees to design their own preferred newsletter content.

  1. Solicit employee feedback. Last but not least, go to the source! Ask for employee opinions through informal methods or more formal internal communications surveys. What types of stories do employees want to read in the newsletter? Is the volume of internal communications they receive appropriate? Do they understand their benefits options? (Many employees don’t know which benefits they’re eligible for!) Do they connect with leadership and understand how their role fits into the bigger picture? Use simple surveys and focus groups to learn why employees read specific messages and ignore others.

Your organization thrives with diversity, and your communications can, too. Communicating effectively as workplace demographics continue to shift takes serious intention and effort. While you won’t be able to learn the nuances of each employee, you can get closer to a psychological understanding of the regional, generational, and educational groups you communicate with. 

The more you know about these groups of people, the easier it will be to engage them with your messaging. By understanding their preferences and motivations, you can send more tailored communications and achieve more effective results.

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