Intranet and content specialist Suzie Robinson shares her four priority areas that internal comms professionals should keep in mind when starting a new role.
I’ve been using intranets since about 2006 and have been working on them (and internal communications) since around 2009. I fell into working in internal communications, so I did a lot of learning on the job and feeling my way. It wasn’t even really a job I’d considered when going through school or university, but my manager at the time was right – it is something I love doing and I hope you will end up loving it too.
As you’re reading this I’m assuming you’re either in the industry already or are considering it as a career path. So, I’ve thought back to the early days of my career and to some of the things that have happened along the way.
But first: intranet vs. digital workplace
I’m going to refer to these two words a fair bit, so want to make sure you know the difference between them (as I am applying them in any case).
Lots of companies have an intranet that fits on a sliding scale from ‘just somewhere that documents are saved and accessed by the business’, to a ‘social, collaborative, newsworthy, frequently used and loved site’. The investment by a company, in time, money, dedication and passion is what tends to move an intranet along that sliding scale. It’s usually managed by internal communications, IT, HR, PR, a standalone team or sometimes a mixture.
A very strong intranet is probably also a digital workplace, although a digital workplace doesn’t automatically include a strong intranet. A digital workplace is essentially all the digital tools that an employee uses, how they are presented, accessed and how they work together.
A strong digital workplace will allow an individual to use a myriad of systems through just a small number of portals (including the intranet). This is a term that has evolved over the past few years, particularly since Microsoft released Office 365 and more non-intranet social tools started to emerge (like Workplace by Facebook and dedicated communication apps).
People within the intranet industry are trying to work towards that concept of a digital workplace, and some have achieved it already. For some fantastic examples have a look at some international award winners, either Nielsen Norman, Ragan or the Step Two Awards. For more on this subject have a look at the variety of online articles, like this one.
One: Everyone will have an opinion
This is one of the earliest lessons I learned, and it is still something that I have to keep in mind now. Everyone, no matter how good they are at writing, will have an opinion about the communications you’re creating. They will also have an opinion about the digital workplace, based on their own experiences and expectations. You’re going to have to learn how to work with individuals from across your business so that you end up with the right result. This may mean making concessions on some requests, completely changing your plans, or sticking to your guns.
This will come with experience but will also come from research and evidence. If you can argue your point strongly, particularly where something has/hasn’t worked in the past or where you have feedback from your audience to back up what you’re saying, then you are more likely to have your approach approved. (You can then develop the technique of saying no, while it looking like you’re saying yes…)
If something doesn’t quite work, then you can use it as a learning experience. If it’s related to the intranet, then you will likely have the opportunity to change whatever hasn’t worked. If it’s a communications campaign, then you will now have the experience to refer to when you work on a future campaign. Essentially – it can feel overwhelming at times but do what you can to relax, be taken on the journey, and learn from the experience.
Two: Work across your company
There are two parts to this bit of advice. The first is that you need to build your position as a trusted advisor. This links to the point above: as you get experience and understand your audience more, you will be questioned less and less about your strategy and recommendations. Work as closely as you can with the people who ‘know things’ in your organisation and befriend senior people where possible. Get stuck into events and volunteer, as the more well-rounded your knowledge of the company is, the better your communications will be.
The second part will be applicable to you and your business to a greater or lesser extent. There is often a crossover of strategy, ideals, and approaches between a huge array of departments in a business. Ultimately everyone is working towards the same overarching business goals, but in some businesses, different departments will take their own routes to get there. This can mean a clash, especially when it comes to technology and reaching out to colleagues. So do what you can to work alongside other departments and make sure you’re not going to be pulling your audience’s attention between different tools. If HR wants a dedicated wellbeing app for example – great! Work with them to see if any existing tools can fulfil that role, or whether a new tool could be found to tackle more than just that topic.
Measuring the success of internal communications is something that comes up far more now than it did even just a few years ago. It’s incredibly important but can also be tricky to pin down. Hit rates on an article about a new procedure is great, but how can you tell if people are actually following it?
I’d recommend researching this topic as much as possible and understand the different techniques you can use to measure the success and influence of your campaigns (Rachel Miller’s guidance for example). You can look at external marketing approaches to get ideas, as well as those provided for internal communications practitioners. This is particularly important for the world of intranets or campaigns where you’ve paid for external assistance, as whether something has had a Return On Investment (ROI) will be something senior management are keen to understand.
Four: Research, network and attend events
There is a wealth of information out there for you to refer to, a lot of which comes from people like me who work in the industry and like talking about it! You will also find great content from software providers and consultants. Read all of what you find through the lens of your own experience and your own business though – don’t treat anything as gospel. Think critically and apply what you think will work for you and your organisation – then use the outcome as a learning experience either way.
There are also loads of events and conferences you can sign up to. Some are free, others you will need to budget for, but they can be invaluable. Use the sources you find to guide you to these events, as well as any software providers you already use – they are bound to know of something. Use these experiences to meet people in the industry, don’t be shy and talk to whoever you can. You can end up with an amazing support network around you, and people who will lend an understanding ear. I wish I had gone to more events when I first started, as the community is brilliant, and I’ve learned an awful lot from the people around me.
Finally, please feel free to reach out to me.
Here’s my blog site, you can contact me through that and read my posts for help or inspiration as needed.