We are living in the golden age of technology solutions. If you’re on the market for a non-email internal communications tool, the good news is that the sky’s the limit with options. The challenging part is selecting the right option. Here are some considerations to ensure you choose the best platform — one that will solve the communications problems you need it to solve.
Start with strategy. Always.
There’s no use sharpening your toolbox if you don’t have a plan for what you’re trying to build. Creating a comprehensive strategic internal communications plan should always be your first step. What are your overall goals for internal communications at your organization? What messages will you send (and in what cadence and by what channel) in order to support those goals? How will you know when you’ve reached your goals? Your strategy will guide your internal communications tool selection process.
Consider your internal resources.
Before you start looking at tool options, it’s imperative to determine who at your organization will be managing that tool as the application administrator. Whether that person is a communications team member or someone from IT, the key question is how much time and technical expertise they will be able to devote to your new platform. Some communications tools are easy for non-tech-experts to manage out of the box, while others require extensive development. Your available internal resources should inform your application selection process.
Make your wish list of features.
Now the fun starts! Get your stakeholders together and assemble a list of everything you want in a new internal communications tool. Do you need to be able to ghostpost for leaders? Is it important that the company be able to force on subscriptions for employees? Brainstorm a giant list of everything you want, and then start prioritizing. This is where your strategic plan comes into play. Sure, it’s great to have a platform that allows employees to design their own dashboard, but how does that feature support your strategic communications plan?
Here are a few features to consider for your wish list:
- Notifications: Do you need them via email, browser, or mobile? Do you want to customize them?
- Multiple channels: Do you need channels that intersect and allow you to add content to several at the same time?
- Emergency messaging: Will you need to send employees high-stakes, emergency messages?
- Threaded replies: Do you need to allow for multiple layers of conversations, or is one layer of comments enough?
- Surveys: Do you want to send surveys or forms within this new application?
- Read confirmations: Do you need a mechanism to confirm that groups of employees have read a message?
- Video and audio storage: Can you host those files elsewhere or do you need them stored on the platform?
- Formatting and design: How much design do you need to add to messages?
- Pinning: Do you want to pin key messages to your homepage for maximum visibility?
When you demo a platform, ask questions — a lot of them.
Demos show you a platform’s possibilities, and it’s very easy to get swept away by the beautifully designed mock sites. Don’t forget to use this opportunity to ask questions about how the platform works under the hood. Here are three recommended question areas:
1. Metrics: Most platforms promise metrics, but it’s rare that these output-level metrics give you everything you need to measure the impact of your communications. Get a detailed understanding of what metrics the platform provides — views, clicks, shares, downloads — so that you can ascertain how those metrics will inform the larger outcomes-level measurement you use at your company. Say, for example, that your strategic goal is to increase productivity. Will this platform provide metrics on the number of clicks it takes a user to find a critical job aid?
2. Integrations: Most communications tools can integrate with other business applications. The critical question is: What does that integration look like from the user’s perspective? Will they be able to view messages from one platform within the other and receive notifications from one platform within another, or will the integration simply open up a new tab?
3. Customizations: One question that I ask relentlessly when considering a new communications tool is, “Does that come out of the box?” Customizations can be a great way to enhance a communications tool to meet your company’s specific needs, but they also can be expensive and difficult to upgrade. When you’re watching demos, make sure you’re clear if you’re looking at customized or out-of-the-box features.
Final word of advice: Don’t buy a house only to add wheels to it!
Each communications tool is designed to solve specific internal communications problems. If you make a strategic decision about which tool to buy, let your new machinery do the job for which you selected it. Set up the platform the way its designers intended it to be used. If you find yourself turning off key functions or limiting critical settings, it may be time to revisit your strategic plan or reconsider the tool itself. Your new platform’s customer success manager should be able to provide advice on best practices, or you can join the application’s customer community to ask other administrators for advice.
Ready to source your next internal communications tool? Join IABC members in discussion on The Hub to share tips, best practices, and success stories for tracking metrics and strategy with internal communications tools.
Jocelyn Flint is the senior internal communications manager at GoGuardian. With expertise in both internal and organizational communications, and experience managing both internal and external communities, she leverages technology to drive engagement, streamline communications and solve workplace problems. Flint holds an MA in communications from Grand Valley State University and an MA in Chinese from the University of Michigan.