Metrics are the Holy Grail for internal communicators. They can extract insights to engage with employees across the whole organisation. Read data carefully and it becomes something very useful—a guide on how to navigate the business.
Measurement can provide practitioners with a ladder to meaningful decision-making: what the best channels to interact with colleagues are; what content is most popular; what audiences to reach at any given location, time and context; what messages should be reinforced; what stories should be curated that appeal the most to staff.
But, one of the main challenges in today’s digital and social networking age is to catch up fast with all the amount of information flowing inside the company. Which raises a pressing question: how can practitioners maximise the power of measurement to support the creation of relevant communications?
The annual employee survey is dead
Back in the 90s employee communications research tended to be a major annual or two-year programme covering a variety of subjects that ultimately ended up tracking employee satisfaction.
Over the course of the years, however, there has been a big shift, mainly driven by the possibilities brought by new technology. Social media platforms and analytics, the online environment per se, is making the process much faster and more effective.
Susan Walker (pictured right), one of the UK’s leading experts in employee communications research and author of ‘Employee Engagement and Communication Research: Measurement, Strategy and Action’, begins her book with ‘The annual employee survey is dead.’
Yet she believes that it is still very important to discover the facts.
It is increasingly important that communicators understand how information flows inside the company on real-time: What are the right channels, mechanisms, times, types of media to allow the message become alive?
Certain communities might make a lot of use of videos; others may prefer blogging. Some employees may want to read news during the day; other will check it early in the morning. As a communicator they need to understand well all these pieces of information.
Strategist for Collaboration and Communication at Jive Kathryn Everest believes that exploring analytics on an employee social network (ESN) is a huge opportunity for communicators: “One of the things that we have never had before is the listening capability allowed by the ESN. Listening to what people are talking about, and finding out where the energy is.”
On the platform internal communicators have access to the whole company, different regions, markets and business units. And, they can see not just what colleagues are reading but what they are engaging with.
“They can understand what is happening in the back channel. For example, how many people are sharing a piece of content and who is talking about it – not just on the public corporate feed, but behind the scene too. It helps you know not only what happened but how it happened, and when it happened.”
But, even the most initiated need to learn how to game the system. An important starting point is to look at who is doing it well.
The Social Graph
As part of her daily job, Analytics Strategist at IBM Marie Wallace (pictured right) interprets data from the Social Graph of companies to help them make better decisions and communicate more effectively. “The Social Graph is the representation of how people interact inside the organisation,” Wallace says. “I also call it Enterprise Graph. It takes into consideration all the different communications that happens inside the company. This includes all the direct interactions such us having a telephone call with somebody, or sharing a text via instant messaging (IM) or having a discussion on the internal platform.
“It also includes all the indirect connections. For example, I create a presentation around a certain topic; then some people download that document; they recommend it to other colleagues who may also share it with somebody else; others may start liking it and making comments on it. All those communications happening with me because of that document are considered indirect, and can be all tracked.”
Ultimately, when Wallace analyses the Social Graph she is trying to understand how staff interact with each other inside the company to get their job done. “When you look at the whole business and all the different ways people communicate with each other – directly and indirectly, you can piece together a big network. Once you put that graph together, you we can start analysing the organisation, asking a whole set of questions from collaboration, to engagement, innovation and retention for example.”
Partnership with Analysts
At IBM, Wallace and colleagues combine open source technologies with IBM proprietary intellectual capital around analytics. Working with open source technology allows them to represent the network in different ways.
On top of that they use their own decades of research around network analysis and technologies like IBM Watson, which helps them to extract deep insights from content and use those insights when we analyse the network. Plus, the IBM predictive analytics package and the platform for IBM biggest insights.
But, how can internal communicators, who do not necessarily have a high level of familiarity with data, interpret the Social Graph in a relevant way?
They need partnerships with analysts, according to Wallace. She believes that practitioners don’t need to know or worry about deep analytics. They need the right recommendations for the best channels to use, the right people to contact to build a network of advocates, etc. “Data scientists can create this information through simple interfaces that can make communicators feel very comfortable with.
“Perhaps the market is not ready yet for those solutions. But this is absolutely where we have to go. It is not just communicators who need it – any line of business doesn’t want complicated data analysis.”
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