13 March 18 -

Six key stats and strategies for the future of communications.

This past week saw the release of the latest Gatehouse State of the Sector report. Released annually, it’s the largest global survey of international communications professionals. In this joint post together with Alison Wines, Principal of Ursa Communications in Toronto, we’re going to investigate some of the report’s more intriguing findings.

The figures in this year’s report were sourced from over 650 organisations, representing 25 different industries.

Participants from the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia Pacific answered a variety of questions on industry trends in technology, measurement, and communication culture.

Alison and I have chosen some of the more compelling highlights to unpack what they could mean for the way businesses communicate in the future.

Let’s start with a curveball, right off the bat.

61% of companies say technology is a barrier to successful internal communication.

What? This makes no sense, right? The whole purpose of technology is to help us interact more effectively.  What’s standing in the way? Often this perception—of technology as a barrier—can be more of a cultural issue than a technological one.

The real issue is many organisations invest in new technologies without an adequate implementation strategy.

You wouldn’t roll out a client’s technical solution without a solid understanding of potential strategies, goals, or challenges; why do things differently internally?

Before you adopt any new technology platforms, you need a strategy that includes firm policies for effective usage, and incentives to encourage universal uptake.

There can be genuine benefits to a culture that embraces innovation and change, encourages play and failure, and fosters experimentation with new channels. However, you need a roadmap before you roll things out on a larger scale. Leadership teams should ensure they are high profile adopters and effective users of any new communications technologies, to ensure whole-company buy in is effective.

It’s easy to be swayed by the promise of platforms like Slack and Yammer, but if email remains the channel of choice for leadership teams and day-to-day client interactions, implementation of these platforms can be hampered.

A half-hearted approach will inadvertently segment audiences—those who adopt new platforms and those who continue with legacy systems—and eventually dilutes communications power overall.

And yet, three quarters of companies want to increase their use of digital channels.

Technology can be sexy and alluring, but as we’ve seen time and time again, it’s doomed to fail when implemented for its own sake.

Don’t underestimate the wastage associated with over-engineering a solution.

Therefore, it’s essential that the first step is to understand and articulate your ‘why’.

Why are you implementing this technology in the first place? What are you hoping to achieve?

The answers to these two key questions will help determine:

  • The appropriate technology to implement.
  • Which existing technologies or business processes may need updating (which is an integral and often-overlooked aspect of the process).
  • Whether a review of current channels, and the way they are used, may be more effective.

Once you have identified the right approach, planning is key for successful implementation, including a clear change management strategy.

Often when earlier systems are broken, people will have created their own (generally quite efficient) workarounds. These provide an excellent opportunity to learn how people really work and can offer insights into their priorities. Don’t be tempted into knee-jerk implementations. Rather, use broken systems and processes to inform your strategy.

When you change or update technologies, you can ‘break’ the potentially valuable ad-hoc workaround solutions people have created.

Beyond the potential for lost insights, frustration and evasion (or worse, rejection) are relatively common responses to the prospect of re-learning systems, so it’s important to have a plan to address this. Again, change management and a solid communications strategy will hold you in good stead.

For the first time in the survey’s history, video is deemed as effective a channel as email and e-newsletters.

This one generated a bit of debate between us as authors:

Alison: I think this result is reflective of an increasing desire for authenticity and human connection in corporate communications.

Live video is rarely ‘perfect’ and the ability to see someone as they naturally are is a powerful way to build relationships, rather than through an email or (ahem) blog.

The general assumption is that static, written communications have often been refined—possibly by many contributors—to the point where any authentic voice is lost.

Video is also particularly useful at a time when working practices are changing and many of us wish to consume content on our own terms: whether it’s working from home or passing time on the commute.

Zoe: On the other hand, I feel as though video can be overused, which makes it ultimately ineffective due to the time it takes for the ‘receiving user’ to catch up or respond.

This can be especially challenging for workers in other time zones, who may feel divorced from the real-time social experience that video is meant to provide. Once time differences are factored in, this is particularly true for recorded meetings and conferences, which deny people the ability to actively contribute to the dialogue as it unfolds.

Like everything else, video should be included in your channel mix. A high-quality communications strategy will include a channel plan, which clearly articulates why, when, and how video should be used to reach and engage your target audience.

Face-to-face is still considered the most effective way to communicate…

Personal interactions pack a lot of punch when it comes to conveying important messages. Not only do audiences retain messages better, face-to-face channels are a critical contributor to employee experience.

However, the survey shows that despite the effectiveness of face-to-face communications, digital channels are still used more heavily .

We speculate this may reflect the many organisations who have remote or hard-to-reach staff, which presents a real challenge for prioritising interpersonal communication. So, what can you do when face-to-face isn’t feasible?

Alison: This was a big issue when I was working with Deloitte in the U.K.

Most client-facing staff work off-site. Time spent coming back to the office for a leadership briefing is time that can’t be billed. And if you’re not billing, you’re not progressing. There’s simply very little incentive for advisory teams to attend an on-site CEO briefing.

In addition, project teams often used client hardware, so didn’t have ready access to the firm’s intranet. Yet, the nature of the firm’s work meant that it was essential to get strategic and compliance messages to this diverse, dispersed audience.

So, we tried something counter-intuitive.

Despite nonstop feedback about email overload, we implemented a weekly news roundup email. We used e-newsletter software that made the emails look slick and easy to read. We kept content short, linking key stories back to the intranet.

Although I left for Canada before final implementation, the reports from the team have been fantastic: the plan worked. Hit rates for the intranet went up. Engagement with key initiatives went up. Qualitative reports of understanding messages went up.

Face-to-face is an invaluable channel. However, it’s important to remember that when it’s not possible, the ‘old ways’ can often be tried and true means of reaching and engaging remote audiences.

Make mine mobile.

According to the survey, 73% of organisations are planning to increase their investment in mobile communications this year, despite reports of mixed success to date.

While most prefer third party apps such as WhatsApp or Yammer (used by 44 percent), other respondents didn’t feel they are particularly effective, especially compared to traditional SMS (boring, but effective).

Gatehouse suggests around half of surveyed employees can access corporate channels via their personal mobile phone. And with the digital nomad phenomenon well afoot, companies can really benefit from improving the experience their people have when engaging with company content on mobile.

Some things to remember when looking to embrace mobile include:

  • Firewalls and other barriers to internally linked information (such as documents stored on a secure server or network). One tip: always ensure any linked content is accessible externally.
  • Any content accessible on mobile must also be mobile device friendly. It may seem obvious, but it’s poor practice to link to a 100-page high-resolution PDF in a communication channel predominantly accessed by people on small screens with limited data plans.
  • Screen resolutions and sizes vary, so ensure your content resizes, looks good, and performs well across major platforms and operating systems.
  • People scan rather than read deeply on mobile devices, so keep your content short, engaging and actionable—so they don’t have to find a desktop to finish what they started on their mobile device

You can’t manage or improve what you don’t measure.

The great thing about digital is that it offers built-in ease of measurement. Whether it’s free Google Analytics for your intranet or click-through rates for email campaigns, it’s never been easier to measure the effect of your communications.

And yet, only two thirds of organisations measure intranet hits. Nearly 70% rely on annual employee engagement surveys for feedback, rather than measuring by campaign or channel. And a worrying 12% don’t measure at all.

What’s going on here? It may well come down to the simple fact that: ain’t nobody got time for that.

There’s so much hype around data, and there are so many potential data points to measure, that we can get stuck in analysis paralysis.

When implemented effectively and strategically, data measurement doesn’t have to be a full-time job.

The remedy? Decide which metrics matter, gather high quality data rather than huge quantities, and create an insights template that can be updated regularly with minimum fuss. Measure twice, cut once, as the saying goes.

It’s also good practice to conduct a holistic communications audit on a regular basis. This provides an important baseline for understanding performance and helps to demonstrate the effectiveness of communications to executive teams.

An annual communications audit is the gold standard, but once every two to three years will still make a tangible impact on the perception of communications.

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Have you read the report? Did any other figures resonate with your, or alternatively, ruffle your feathers?

View the full Gatehouse State of the Sector report and let us know your thoughts.

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August and Ursa Communications have teamed up in Toronto. With complementary skills and a combined 25 years’ of experience in digital and communications, the collaboration offers a unique skillset to support clients with solutions to address the most pressing challenges.

Get in touch to find out how we can help you optimise your communication strategies and harness digital technology to your advantage.