Digital first isn’t the holy grail, explains internal communications consultant Daniel Lambie, audiences are where you should channel your energy.
For what seems like forever, companies and organisations have been adopting a ‘digital-first’ strategy for their internal communications. This supposed holy grail immediately reduces cost, increases immediacy, and provides the data needed to reassure the bean counters that what we are doing is worthwhile.
But it is not the panacea that it purports to be, for a number of reasons.
#1 When it comes to internal communications, we need to recognise that in the most part internal digital capabilities are limited. Repeatedly pulling people to clunky, unengaging intranets is not easy. Especially when they get there, they find a user experience far removed from what they enjoy outside of work. Dull, default emails add to clutter. They are lazy and uninspiring, and mostly destined for the trash – particularly if they are overused (which is almost always). While the belated rise of internal social media networks is a marked improvement, these are not without their challenges. Segmentation is often tricky. If popular, the noise is simply being moved from one platform to another. And all too often take-up is disappointing.
#2 Then there is the measurement. Digital is great to gauge traffic. But beyond that, it does not crack the nut of understanding how content has affected people – what impact it has had. And how this helped to change behaviour and improve business practice.
#3 Then, most importantly, there is the audience. Millions of workers in the UK have no access to a work-based digital device. Convincing them to download apps and mobile channels on to their own devices is hard, especially if they are temps, or part of the burgeoning gig economy. And more and more audiences are complaining of digital fatigue, of being overwhelmed by sheer volume.
So the digital-first strategy can be as much of a problem as it is a solution.
What’s the alternative?
At AB, we encourage an ‘audience-first’ strategy. This involves understanding the needs and preferences of all of the different segments of your workforce, and then designing a channel map to accommodate them. Digital will almost certainly have a prominent place in most of these maps. But so should face-to-face, experiential and ambient channels. And for many, the stubborn persistence of print cannot be ignored.
Designing a robust audience first channel map is a fundamental foundation of success for the internal communicator. Making it clear what each channel is there to do, and how they complement each other, is still too often neglected.
The result? Defaulting to the quick and easy email. Ticking the delivery box. But every time we do this, we are doing our audiences, our business and our profession a disservice.
Being a great internal communicator is not easy. But without an audience-centric channel map, populated by channels that are as good as the audience consumes out of work, it will always be nigh on impossible.