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The Future of Internal Communications

In this report, we unpack the current trends in the world of internal comms and its role in reinvigorating the workplace. We surveyed hundreds of internal communications professionals and spoke with industry experts to determine what The Future of Internal Communications is in 2023.

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Meet the contributors

Deborah Smith Photograph

Deborah Smith

Internal Communication Manager at Trustpilot

Jenni Field Photograph

Jenni Field

Founder at Redefining Communications

Joss Mathieson Photograph

Joss Mathieson

Chief Encouragement Officer at Change Oasis

Rebecca Johnson Photograph

Rebecca Johnson

Global Director of Internal Communications at Experian

Sharon McIntosh Photograph

Sharon McIntosh

President at And Then Comms

Tor Goldfield Photograph

Tor Goldfield

Senior Director of Internal Communications at Expedia

Emily Forbes Photograph

Emily Forbes

CEO and Founder at Seenit

1. Introduction

The state of internal communications in 2023

Now more than ever, employees are speaking up. They want to feel valued and heard, which demands a certain degree of awareness from those above them. Yet, despite it being more pertinent than ever, 40% of professionals we surveyed said the role of internal communications is falling further and further down the list of priorities for employers.

If organisations want to show that they’re progressive and want to embody inclusive values, all of this must be (authentically) conveyed not only via external channels, but internally. Brands aren’t off the hook, their employees expect them to reflect their mission and values back at them, establishing trust. And people trust people.

In this report, we unpack the current trends in the world of internal communications and its role in reinvigorating the workplace. We surveyed hundreds of internal communications professionals and spoke with industry experts to determine what The Future of Internal Communications is in 2023. We’ll draw from our research and experience working with customers from Amazon and Paypal to Vodafone and Trustpilot, to equip you with the best practices to tackle challenges and iterate your internal comms strategy.

At Seenit, we truly believe in giving your people a voice and that employee-led content is a key ingredient to an engaged workforce. Keep reading to find out why.

Emily Forbes, CEO & Founder, Seenit

2. Internal communications 101

What is internal communications?

Before tackling trends and challenges, let’s go back to first principles. 

Definition: Internal communication, also known as employee communication, is the exchange of information between employers and their employees.

Traditionally, this may look like face-to-face interactions or formal letters, but new technology has enabled workplace communication to evolve to include instant messaging and video, for example.

So, why is it important? Well, 97% of employees have agreed that workplace communication has a direct impact on their ability to do their jobs. But there’s more.

97% of employees have agreed that workplace communication has a direct impact on their jobs

A vehicle for storytelling

Yes, technology can spark creativity, but storytelling is inherently human

Storytelling sits at the heart of your brand, and people trust people. It’s why tools like product reviews, testimonials and user-generated content (UGC) are so highly valued.

When it comes to communicating with your employees, advocacy is key. And driving this comes down to how you communicate back to them. UGC, content created by your users (or in this case, employee-generated content) can and should be used as part of your internal strategy. 

With workplace technologies evolving, it’s an exciting time to be in internal comms (well, we would say that). But although modern technology—from instant messaging to AI—can get the ball rolling, nothing beats the human experience.

We’ve identified the main challenges and trends in internal comms in 2023. Let’s dive in.

Employee engagement, building trust, personalised comms

Employee engagement

We need workplace cultures to evolve, but it shouldn’t just be on HR

Employee retention is a concern for 45% of internal communications professionals, and retention is key to engagement. So, how can employers get this right? According to the Chief Encouragement Officer at Change Oasis, Joss Mathieson, it’s partly due to a missed opportunity to add value.

When businesses are so focused on tactics, crafting and sending out a particular message, they often forget to turn inward and look at their culture and, in doing so, risk alienating employees. They need to remember that the relationship between employer and employee is supposed to be a partnership, but this is where internal communicators should get involved.

“Leaders are worried about, ‘our culture is fragmenting because we haven’t got everyone back in the office’, when we need more flexibility. We need cultures to evolve, and I think the danger in leaving it to HR is that they’ll respond to senior leaders who have one view.”

Joss Mathieson, Chief Encouragement Officer at Change Oasis

It screams that the current state of internal comms is inherently one-sided; there’s a disconnect between senior leadership and the people who do the work, albeit one which can be solved by listening and building capability.

So, how do you engage employees? How do you enable people to thrive in their job? How do you offer them the opportunity to develop in areas that allow them to be more influential? All of this shapes a company’s employee value proposition (EVP), in other words, how it incentivises its staff to want to grow and develop within the business.

Employee retention, budget cuts, employee well-being

3. Internal communications is evolving

Many of the trends that internal comms people face crop up year-on-year. But these ‘trends’ aren’t trends at all; they’re “perennial issues”, to quote Expedia’s senior internal communications director, Tor Goldfield. If left unaddressed, these issues can lead to a severe communication breakdown.

“A lot of the things we talk about aren’t trends. We see them pop-up year after year after year.”

Tor Goldfield, Senior Internal Communications Director at Expedia

On March 28th Tor and Emily discussed how to build a successful relationship between leadership and internal comms, and tackle some of these perennial issues. Watch the full webinar on-demand.

Attitudes in the workplace are changing at a ferocious pace— it’s political, social, and environmental

Top-down, bottom-up, peer-to-peer

When thinking about different types of communications, 62% of internal comms professionals say they see the function of internal communications as a channel for leadership messages, but Joss urges them to think further.

Top-down comms is a common way to communicate. And there’s a reason for that. Most communications teams resort to this method of communication as it’s the easiest one to implement (though we never said it was easy). There will always be a place for top-down messaging, especially in times of change, or when communicating important updates.

But building a relationship between leadership and employees through internal comms creates an opportunity for bottom-up comms as well. But it’s a tough thing to shift.

“It’s a one-way kind of cascade. It’s been dead for decades. And yet, it still predominates.”

Joss Mathieson, Chief Encouragement Officer at Change Oasis

Leadership, internal comms and employees. Top-down VS bottom-up

Global Internal Communications Director at Experian, Rebecca Johnson, argues that it runs deeper than that.

“The top-down, authoritarian approach to comms, demanding people turn up to an office, is very one-way. It needs to be a two-way system”.

Rebecca Johnson, Global Internal Communications Director at Experian

Leadership, internal comms and employees

For holistic collaboration between different levels and teams, internal comms people should consider a circular approach that loops back around.

“When you are a strategic internal comms function, that role of being the eyes, ears, and a voice for employees is such a big part of what we do. We’re not just here to write stuff on behalf of the leadership team and push stuff out on behalf of employees”.

Tor Goldfield, Senior Internal Communications Director at Expedia

Although modern views on HR’s role in internal comms are optimistic, it’s clear that it can’t be solely on them to figure out the fundamental shifts that need to take place.

Evolving workplace culture, as Rebecca says, “is about business, productivity and performance—and they are not supporting functions”. It requires leadership and an understanding of commercial value and profitability.

“Evolving workplace culture is about business, productivity and performance—and they are not supporting functions.”

Rebecca Johnson, Global Internal Communications Director at Experian

The power of personalised content

‘Hi [first name]’ won’t cut it anymore

It’s the elephant in the room: getting employees to actually read, watch, or engage with your comms.

We surveyed hundreds of people working at large organisations and asked, “how regularly do you engage with internal communications?” only 60% said always, leaving 40% of the workforce sometime or rarely paying attention. But how do you change it?

The overall sentiment held by internal comms professionals is that video has potential to be more personalised and more relatable than other mediums and that it will only continue to grow in popularity, with 38% of people plugging personalisation among the top trends for 2023. Echoing this, 34% of the workforce say a video format would be more engaging.

34% of professionals say they would be more engaged with video comms

Consider this when creating content to feed your internal strategy.

“Look at what your employees are consuming externally and think about how you can mimic it internally. And, for goodness sake, don’t forget to have fun with it – our creativity is one of our superpowers.”.

Sharon McIntosh, President of And Then Communications & Coaching

26% have implemented video internally and 67% plan on implementing it in 2023

In fact, 26% said they have implemented video internally already in 2023, while 67% said they plan to use video in their 2023 strategy, with 21% focusing on user-generated video and 23% taking it a step further with employee-generated video. And so they should.

Trustpilot’s Internal Communication Manager, Deborah Smith, says with their analytics platform, they can pinpoint exactly when employees stop watching video-based comms, which helps them to know “what gets people clicking through to read more”.

23% will focus on EGV and 21% on UGV

AI as a productivity tool

No one knows employees better than your internal communicators. Or at least, that’s how it should be. But this isn’t to say we shouldn’t embrace or should be scared of new technology.

“This is the year of AI as a productivity tool. Think of it like a part-time intern who can help internal communicators with tasks that don’t feed our energy. We can use AI as a tool to spark writing or generate ideas”.

Sharon McIntosh, President of And Then Communications & Coaching

So consider giving tools like ChatGPT a go.

But while Sharon believes that using such tools for “less strategic deliverables” can be invaluable, our jobs aren’t going anywhere—nothing replaces the humanity in storytelling.

The age of the influential internal communicator

Internal communicators are well placed to expand their influence not just within their organisation, but globally. They can benefit from extending their expertise to the wider community, helping to improve working conditions, now and for future generations. 

It goes back to what Tor said about leadership being needed to evolve workplace culture. Today, influencers are leaders in their respective fields, which brings us to: the age of influence as power.

As we will cover later on, internal comms needs to work with all parts of the business to make an impact. However, one question often arises within the community: where should internal communications sit?

This varies from organisation to organisation. Often, the function will fall under People & HR or marketing, and sometimes under corporate comms. In some instances, internal comms can also be its own dedicated function.

Where does internal comms sit? Who does internal comms report to? Marketing, corporate comms, people & HR, dedicated function

Regardless of dotted and hard lines of reporting, what matters is not who you report to, but who you work with. Internal communicators can promote a type of advocacy or leadership by amplifying it throughout the business. But it must be rooted in trust.

Creating a culture of trust through change

Culture is key to a thriving business, one that pours back into its people

Off the back of Covid, we’ve seen endless talk about cross-functional and hybrid teams and value-driven hiring. An employee-generated video embedded throughout Amazon’s candidate journey was watched over 45,000 times.

Meanwhile, WPP’s social post about #MakingSpace hit 7 million impressions after the company gave every employee 2 days off to recharge.

Sony music achieved similar results when putting employees at the forefront of its comms, sharing A Day in The Life content.

On the surface, it’s a sign that people expect advocacy and accountability from brands. On a deeper level, it shows that an attempt to revert back to how things used to be, when the old paradigm is fundamentally broken, is “not how innovation happens”, says Rebecca. At Experian, no one has been forced to go back to an office—their approach has been employee-led.

“This is all about reverting to what we know and what we’ve done in the past. And that is not the way you move anything forward, it’s not how you innovate, it’s not how you engage, it’s not how you develop products and services.”

Rebecca Johnson, Global Internal Communications Director at Experian

Cross-silo collaboration

Collaboration across teams is critical, particularly if you’re an internal communications person.

“It almost gives you a badge to speak to anyone in the company because that is your client: your audience.”

Sharon McIntosh, President of And Then Communications & Coaching

When cross-team collaboration is present at a company, employees are more likely to benefit from learning complementary expertise from colleagues outside of their silos, enabling them to develop faster. When it comes to internal comms, this horizontal model can breed trust, as well as a sense of equality and accessibility.

4. Trustpilot x Seenit: Video for elevated engagement (Case study)

When we use employee-generated video, it elevates our comms.”

Deborah Smith, Internal Communication Manager at Trustpilot

On a mission to be seen as a universal symbol of trust among consumers, Trustpilot is a leading review platform where customers and businesses can share information, collaborate, and improve. Since starting to collect and create content with Seenit, Trustpilot ran 36 projects, collecting over 600 video uploads from 99 employees. We spoke to Deborah Smith, Internal Communication Manager, about how they’re embracing employee-generated video.

“A ‘day in the life’ video is so much more illuminating than just reading something.”

Deborah Smith, Internal Communication Manager at Trustpilot

How do you use video to advocate for people and build trust?

Deborah: A big theme of our Seenit videos is that they’re filled with lots of different Trusties, which helps to emphasise our flat structure. Our end-of-year video isn’t focussed on the activities of the CEO — it features things that real people in the business have done. Weaving in real people makes it feel that much more accessible, a great example of that was our 2022 Pride project: Copenhagen Pride 2022: external.

What metrics are you tracking to measure the success of your internal communications?

Deborah: At Trustpilot, the Internal Comms team sits within the People Team. The People Team has two main KPIs that we track: one is engagement and one is attrition. Our engagement score is tracked through a company-wide quarterly survey, where we ask our Trusties to share their views and describe their experiences. As of 2022, our engagement score was 8.1, which is strong - but of course any increase would be positive!

However, one of our current priorities is improving our use of data. We’ve been quite a small team for a while, so we don’t necessarily have all the metrics that we would want to track, and therefore we don’t have the baseline for where we’d like to see improvements. While we are able to track engagement on video, including our Seenit projects, and some of our other internal channels, there’s some work to join the dots. We really want to get serious about data so that we can quantify the impact of internal communication at Trustpilot.

How have employees been engaging with video at Trustpilot?

Deborah: What we have seen is that when we have a video attached to a project or a campaign or a Slack push, particularly because we don’t use video for every piece of comms, when we do use video, it elevates our comms. It’s a signal to Trusties that ‘this one’s important’.

What is the benefit of having a flat structure and not a hierarchical one?

Deborah: It means that anyone can communicate; that anyone can take the lead on something. Anyone has access to the same tools at Trustpilot, anyone can create an article or a video, anyone can post in our all-company Slack channel. This year we’re moving to a more structured way of organising internal communication, so that Trusties have clarity over when the Internal Communications team leads on communication, and when they’re empowered to run their own.

So what can we learn from Trustpilot? Video content is one way to ensure visibility among a sea of employees, while engaging people at all levels.

5. Top tips for a killer comms strategy

Moving away from ‘short-termism’

We know that a staggering 60% of organisations don’t have a long-term strategy for internal communications. And, from what we’ve discussed so far, it’s clear that a good place to start is identifying where you can add value.

“We need to slow down and make sure there are opportunities for people to come along on the journey of the organisation. We must kick the hurry habit.”

Jenni Field, Founder of Redefining Communications

A great way to do that is by creating your internal comms strategy.

We also know the nature of internal comms means dealing with ever-changing priorities, and putting out fires - fast. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, and simply be reactive. So how do you move on from that? For starters, you can establish the basics (pinpoint your knowns and your unknowns); identify your audience; set goals and key metrics; define your messaging; iron out tactics, channels and tools. Remember, you can swerve as needed, as long as you always bring it back to the plan.

Though we could simply list-out how to do this practically (stay tuned for our handy guide to creating your internal comms strategy), we believe there’s even more value in refining your long-term strategy. Which is why we put together practical tips to help you along the way and support you to go the extra mile.

1. Tailor your message

We’re all different, and we all have different styles of communication. To tailor your message to your employees’ individual needs, focus on connection. As well as getting to know your employees and “conversing, rather than just broadcasting”.

“The job of the internal communicator is to create an environment where the individual is most authentic, most comfortable, and most free to communicate in their authentic style.”

Rebecca Johnson, Global Internal Communications Director at Experian

It’s not, as she says, “about square pegs in round holes”. In short, speak to your people. You’ll learn more from 1-1 conversations than you could in any pulse-survey, or assuming what they need.

2. Work cross-functionally

Internal functions are blending, and internal communications should not exist in a vacuum. In fact, employer brand, HR and internal comms should work together.

HR, marketing, and strategy are like three legs of a stool. Joss says these lines of reporting, while not critical, can “influence the views and relationships you can build”. With this in mind, if internal communicators can fulfil their roles as explained by Rebecca above, they can have a great deal of influence. 

We recommend starting with your external comms team. Whilst it might feel like the polar opposite of internal comms, and we get it (it’s in the name); both functions have common goals. So don’t hesitate to join forces with Employer Brand or any other team that feels relevant in your business.

3. Build leadership capabilities

When talking about blending functions for better collaboration among teams, Rebecca raises a good point: “how do you coach and enable companies to move forward into that wide space?”

Joss puts it down to three categories: rational, inspirational and invitational. Rational covers logic, why we’re doing something and how we’re doing it - pretty straightforward. Inspirational is what gets employees excited, what makes them believe in the company’s purpose. As Joss puts it, “it’s that ability to be both human but also be a bit visionary.”

“A lot of leaders are very good at the rational part; they tend to be intelligent people with an analytical brain and strong reasoning. Some are also able to use an inspirational approach to connect with the aspirations and emotions of their people. But where I think leaders need to be better is to be invitational, encouraging their colleagues to get involved and help co-create the future.”

Joss Mathieson, Chief Encouragement Officer at Change Oasis

What is often missing is that invitational aspect. How are leaders asking people to get involved? How are they inviting them to play a part in making a difference?

Communicators must think about each of these to help senior leaders build capability. 

Rational, inspirational and Invitational

4. Create a positive employee experience

A positive employee experience is key to both recruiting and retaining talented people.

“Whether it’s the great resignation, the great un-retirement, quiet quitting (or whatever term we want to make up to scare people into a trend) these are all symptoms of chaos! The root cause is poor employee experience.”

Jenni Field, Founder of Redefining Communications

Post-pandemic, burnout continues to be a concern among internal communicators as hybrid working has blurred the lines between work and home. The unlock to that, Sharon says, is “the ability to step out of that reactive mode and have a plan that ties into the business strategy”. A big part of this? Empowering your employees by giving them a voice. 

Start with our guide to building a great employee experience strategy, and go from there.

5. Be data-driven

One of the main side effects of being reactive, as we’ve had to be these past few years, is lack of data. And, for internal comms people, data is gold.

“Having the data that you can bring to leadership and say ‘this is where we can save money or increase revenue’, that’s how you’re going to make change happen.”

Sharon McIntosh, President of And Then Communications & Coaching

Aside from getting senior leaders on-side, the right data can guide your internal content strategy. At Trustpilot, just by giving people the tools to create content, they’re finding that employees are “organically growing the usage of it”. Whether there’s a need to proactively encourage it going forward, is where analytics come in. 

So what do you track? We often get asked this question when discussing data with our customers. We know it can be overwhelming to figure out how and what to measure. Here are 3 KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that other internal comms professionals are tracking and we think you should be keeping an eye on: employee retention, productivity and customer satisfaction.

Start by evaluating where you’re at, that will be your benchmark to report back on. And use your new metrics to iterate on your strategy as you go.

6. Conclusion

The new workplace paradigm

In an ideal world, people would communicate at work not because they have to but because they see the benefit in doing so and because engaging with their fellow employees is motivating by itself—without there being another incentive. 

If we’ve learned anything from creating this report, it’s that internal comms isn’t so much about leading as it is about creating an environment in which those who need to send a message feel equipped and empowered enough to do so.

It’s clear that workplace models lack creativity and inspiration, which is leading to a trending disengagement among teams, and that employees need to feel advocated for, in order for it to change. 

The paradigm has changed unequivocally, and employers must change their approach along with it. Internal communicators won’t lead, but they will be the ones to facilitate the shift.

About Seenit

With 74% of employees feeling they miss out on company updates, and attention spans reaching new lows, the fight for your colleagues’ time is on.

Comms teams must look for new tools and channels to break through the noise and deliver timely, effective, and human communications. That’s where we can help. Seenit is the employee video software built for internal comms teams.

Leading comms teams at companies like H&M, Trustpilot, Vodafone, & EE use Seenit to create videos that increase engagement across their channels by up to 4x.

Collect, create, and host videos with your colleagues. Communicate better with your business with videos that employees actually engage with.

Search seenit.io for more.

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