Data – it’s never been more freely available, but are we making the most of it?
As modern internal communicators, we have a wealth of measurement options at our fingertips, but a recent study suggested that around 60 per cent of us don’t even measure what we do.
A separate report by recruitment firm VMA found that 31 per cent of internal communication teams don’t have any strategy in place.
No wonder then that the potential of big data remains largely untapped while the opportunities remain huge, particularly at a time when internal communicators are striving to become a trusted partner within their business or industry.
“It’s a myth that it’s hard to find tangible evidence that internal communication contributes to the bottom line,” explains Benjamin Ellis of business analytics experts SocialOptic.
“In reality, the evidence is there and, especially in the age of big data, there is no excuse not to find it and use it effectively. When we do utilise big data, it can make our jobs easier, improve content and benefit the business and employees.”
It’s an age-old question: how do I prove the value of internal communications to the senior team? The answer, according to Benjamin, is to understand what makes them tick.
“I previously worked as a senior executive at a global company, so I appreciate that it is data that ultimately drives decision making at the top level,” he explains.
“That means that, if internal communicators really want to have meaningful conversations with their senior teams, everything we do has to be backed up and proven by it.”
That can seem daunting, especially as internal communicators are naturally more focused on storytelling than mathematics, but there are many tools available to help.
These include quick pulse surveys, social media polls, traditional surveys, focus groups and phone polls.
Online tools such as Google Analytics can also be used to highlight a wide range of data, including site traffic, readership spread by geography, gender and business area, as well as highlighting the time spent on each page and the most popular content.
But, as Benjamin explains, the success of any measurement is less about tools and more about strategy.
He says: “I’m a big fan of measurement that is based around the business’s overall strategic objectives and values.
“If internal communicators can link their strategy to the goals set for the senior team, we can clearly show how we’ve contributed to business success.
“For instance, a lot of organisations now have a strategy to be great employers and it isn’t too hard to prove how internal communications contributes towards that goal.
“An example would be carrying out a pulse survey on the back of a campaign that has highlighted a change of process or a new product. If you can show the senior team data that suggests employee awareness or engagement has improved as a result, that shows simple evidence of the value you’re adding to the business.”
Taking a strategic approach is vital and measurement should be consistent and regular where possible to maximise its value.
Benjamin says: “Doing a survey once can provide some valuable data, but it’s only when you have something to compare it with that you start to uncover meaningful trends or changes.
“So the timing of your measurement is vital and, if you’re asking for employee feedback, so is the wording of the questions.
“It’s very easy to fall into the trap of vanity metrics, where you word a question to get a positive response that will make you look good.
“While that might serve your purpose in the short-term, it can also be impossible to maintain and, most importantly, it doesn’t produce honest feedback that can help you improve your content.
“I’ve worked with companies whose survey results look great on first look, but on closer inspection they’ve just papered over the cracks.
“It’s only by being brave enough to ask questions that may not produce positive answers that you begin to gather data that will help you improve.”
Another important skill when analysing statistics is to learn how to tell the difference between genuinely meaningful data and ‘noise’.
“Knowing how many times a piece of content is viewed and shared is vital so we are not flying blind,” explains Benjamin, “but when we see a spike in activity or a particularly popular piece of content it’s also important to ask ourselves if there are any mitigating circumstances.
“By doing this we can work out if the story’s popularity is repeatable, or if it was more down to timing or luck.”
One thing is for sure – if communication measurement is done well, it can be a huge competitive advantage for any business, having a major impact on employee engagement, happiness and retention.
Benjamin explains: “This is an exciting time for internal communicators because businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of employee engagement to the bottom line.
“Add to that the wealth of new ways we have to engage with employees and gather meaningful data and we’re in a great position to become a trusted partner to our senior teams, being an important two-way link between the employees and management.
“If internal communicators can harness it and use measurement strategically, the opportunity of big data is huge.”