Red Swingline stapler

Bonus points if you know why I photographed my stapler for this post.

Every good communicator does one thing: thinks about what the audience needs to know. Not what you want the audience to know, but what’s important from the other side. Master this, and people will pay attention.

This is as important for internal communications as it is for marketing. Like everyone else, employees are overloaded with information. To get their attention, you have to give them useful information, and only useful information. How? A few rules I follow:

Rule #1: Don’t assume everyone is like you. Most people are not content creators, and they don’t want to be. You think nothing of writing a blog post, tweeting some events and editing a video before lunch. Must employees stop at reading company news, and you’re lucky if they bother to do that. Even commenting on blog posts (at least at work) is beyond many employees’ comfort zones. (If participation is lagging on your new intranet, this is why.)

Rule #2: People don’t read your carefully crafted emails/fliers/intranet posts. They skim them (again, if you’re lucky). Get their attention, and fast. Think in bullets. Put the why first. (“If you don’t comply with this new time card policy, you will not receive a paycheck.”) Actions and deadlines must be absolutely clear. No matter how simple a task, include screenshots if it’s technical (preferably in a link, rather than embedded, for brevity). Put optional background information in links as well, so those few employees who want to read more can, without overwhelming those who don’t.

Rule #3: Talk to employees. Ask them what they want to read about, what they have questions about. Do a survey, but don’t expect everyone to respond, and don’t rely on this as your only source of information. Consider an email marketing system for internal communications, so you’ll know exactly what gets read and clicked, or use URL shorteners like so you can track clicks on embedded links sent from your own email system. If a message or link is particularly popular, look at what you did differently, and repeat it next time.

Rule #4: Be an optimist. Assume people want to follow the rules, and that they’ll read useful information. Make your messages engaging. Corporate newsletters don’t have to be “grip and grin” photos and overly cheerful executive notes. They don’t even have to be totally about your company. Consider covering industry trends, news and conferences. If one person goes to a conference, ask him for highlights to share with those who couldn’t be there. Have silly contests. The executives won’t participate, but a small percentage of your employees will really engage with these (and it’s usually not executives who need motivation to stay engaged anyway).

Do you have any rules for internal communication? Would love to hear what works for you.