4 ways to get the most out of your communication technology

November 27, 2017

We are obsessed with our phones.

We can't stop fiddling with them, according to a recent study by Dscout. On average, we touch our smartphones 2,617 times a day (gulp!), and the heaviest users among us clock in at more than twice that number.

The technology that transforms our personal lives eventually finds its way into the workplace. Employees expect company communications to reflect the world they live in, and their employers, often begrudgingly at first, come to realize that these tools can help everyone be more productive and efficient.

In today's mobile, mixed-media reality, we depend on internal blogs, community forums, and social media. So we Skype and we Slack and we Snap. We send each other emojis and share videos. These are tremendous tools, but they cannot be automated. There's no such thing as "set it and forget it" when it comes to company communication.

Authentic, meaningful engagement is a prerequisite for success.

Truly great employee communication still requires creativity and a human touch. And it's up to communication professionals to lead the way.

As you discover the latest tools and develop a new strategy to better connect and align your employees, keep these four lessons in mind:

1. Look people in the eye digitally.

Employees want to feel valued and heard. If your team is communicating at them, without asking for ­­­­–- and responding to –- feedback, you're missing a huge opportunity and eroding trust.

Scripted executive videos, automated emails, and outdated intranets will not create the connection you need to ensure your employees know they're valued.

In his book, How to Look People in the Eye Digitally, social marketing strategist and brand evangelist Ted Rubin writes that we should connect with people online the same way we build relationships face-to-face.

Simple techniques such as addressing people by name, referencing a relevant detail from their bio, and making your communication personal and authentic go a long way toward building lasting connections.

"Think reputation, not ranking. Connection, not network. Loyalty, not celebrity," Rubin advises.

2. Get personal.

Technology should be used to humanize and scale our communication, not to automate it. New tools help us to be efficient, but to be effective we need to offer personalized, convenient content as well.

"Communication shouldn't be complicated. It should just be genuine and simple, with the humility and understanding that we're all multi-dimensional humans, every one of which has spent time in both the dark and delightful parts of life," writes Bryan Kramer, author of There is no B2B or B2C: It's Human to Human H2H.

With the rise of technology like AI, the temptation to automate employee communication is high. But it's critical that we maintain human connections and look for opportunities to offer personalized interactions.

The smartphone gives us a natural advantage. Communicating on mobile is one of the most intimate ways we can engage employees. By offering targeted content on mobile, we literally put important news and information in the hands of our employees – a much more natural and effective way to connect with them.

Since we can track every employee in the cloud, we should also know how and where they work. If your communication efforts contradict that, you're not "looking people in the eye digitally."

3. Create content that fits your audience.

If you want to connect with employees, you need to make it worth their time by generating content that speaks to them in a meaningful way. Technology alone can't do that for you.

Create videos that feature employee stories, publish candid interviews with executives and showcase photos from events or volunteer days.

We spend so much time on external content, but our internal audiences are just as critical. Said Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications and publisher of Ragan's PR Daily: "Today's communicators have to create content that is empathetic, valuable and entertaining."

The New York office doesn't need to see the Palo Alto lunch menu, and engineers don't need the new sales collateral. Target relevant information to your employees to show you're paying attention to what matters to them.

And choose the right channel. If you have frontline employees in retail, factory workers on the floor, or nurses dealing with patients, they're not sitting in front of computers and may not even have a corporate email address.

Acknowledge where people can easily receive communication. (Hint: It's on their phones!)

4. One size does NOT fit all.

Learning what employees want to see and where they want to see it requires a flexible technology platform that helps them cut through the white noise instead of adding to it.

Some companies invest in HR management systems that track employees but don't engage them, while others spend millions on hard-to-navigate intranets that only serve to remind us how little we know about employees as people.

Even more alarming is the trend to automate employee communication, to turn it into a one-size-fits-all solution that will never provide the kind of connection employees want.

To build the trust and alignment employees need to do their best work, we have to show up in their inboxes, desktops and smartphone screens in a way that is convenient and relevant. We need to increase productivity without interrupting workflow.

Technology can help us reach more employees and with greater impact. But we also need to measure those results to justify our investments and to make sure we really are improving the employee experience.

As your workforce grows and evolves, so too will your communications. Remember: While the focus on clean employee data is foundational, it's what we do with it that matters most.

This article was originally published in PR Daily.

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