Your guide to buying an internal communications tool

The way we communicate is changing. In part, this is due to technological advancements, but the COVID pandemic has also caused a big shift in how we work.

Many of these changes are set to last as outlined in this Gartner article. We have seen an increase in remote working from 30% pre COVID to 48% now. The pandemic has also resulted in an increase in responsibility for employee wellbeing and we continue to see a shift in which employees are taking back control. For example, we are seeing many employees demand more transparency from their leaders. Potential employees are also looking for clear evidence that an organisation values its people.

The digital transformation

Prior to COVID, we were seeing organisations adopt technology to support them with their internal communications. But in response to the greater demands COVID put on internal communications teams and the shift in how we communicate with employees, we are seeing an acceleration in the internal communications digital transformation. As company cultures shift it’s vital that businesses have an internal communications tool that is employee-centric and can deliver efficient, transparent communications.

The employee communication journey

To reach this digital transformation we have come a long way. While employee communications have always been part of everyday working life, historically announcements would be made in person through newsletters, bulletin boards or letters.

The arrival of the internet saw the entry of a wave of new channels such as email and intranets but all of these internal comms channels focus on pushing communications out. The information the business leaders believe employees should know has been sent out to them but that is where it ends. There is no understanding as to whether the information reached every employee and no opportunity for those employees to provide feedback.

The next arrival on the market was employee survey tools. These filled the missing gap and enabled employees to have their say. But, while employees finally had a voice, that voice was only heard at the time a survey was released. The results provide a snapshot in time but do not show a true representation of employee sentiment.

Cue internal communication tools. In recent decades technology has developed to an extent where all the outcomes achieved by ‘traditional’ internal communication channels have been wrapped up in one internal communication tool with a heap of additional benefits added too. As a result, top-down communications are a thing of the past and businesses can communicate quickly, easily and transparently.

Today, these tools also play their part in maintaining productivity. By connecting, more employees with the right information businesses are empowering their employees to achieve more in their roles. The digital transformation is leading to a cultural transformation.

The journey of employee communications: 

But which internal communications tool is right for you?

If you too are looking to transform your internal communications, your next step is to establish what internal communications tool will be best suited to your business.

We have moved from a time when there were no internal communication tools available to properly manage employee engagement to an era when there is an overwhelming number of options. You just need to look at a software comparison site such as Capterra to see this. Under the ‘Internal Communications Software’ category, there are over 200 options.

This guide will help you refine what you are looking for so that you don’t have to sift through 200 different software solutions!

Internal communications platform features – the pros and cons

Before we consider the pros and cons of the different internal communication tool features, it is important to have a base point. Below are the ‘additional’ features of an internal communications tool. These assume that the basics of sending messages, videos, files and images are covered. But it is always worth checking these basic capabilities of a system too. To be on the safe side, we have included these in the ‘internal communications tool procurement checklist’ so that you can double check when you start your procurement process.

The additional features to consider are:

An employee app

Typically speaking, an internal communication app is a reciprocal for the communications you create within your internal communications software. Once you have created a message and hit send, it will be visible within the app. Some providers also enable you to create messages within the app which will be very beneficial if you would like multiple authors (see below for more details on that).

Pros Con

An internal communication app is a highly effective way to reach employees if they don’t have a corporate email address or don’t work in front of a screen.

All employees will be required to download the internal comms app on their mobile device. For many this will be their personal mobile and they may be reluctant to have work-related app on their phone.

Information can be sent to employees quicker. Should you have an urgent message, some internal comms apps include push notifications alerting employees of urgent messages. For those who work away from a screen this will be a far more effective way to keep in touch.

The roll out of the software will require project management to ensure everyone downloads the app.

An internal communication app can be used by every employee. That means you will have one version of a message sent to everyone. No Chinese whispers and no delays; just one version of the truth.

When the internal comms app is on a personal device the lines of work/home life can be blurred. Expectations and, potentially, policies would need to be in place prior to the roll out.

The ability to email messages

This is exactly what it says on the tin – the ability to also send messages via email.

Pros Cons

For employees who do sit at their screen most of their time they may prefer for all their messages to come in via one channel. By receiving messages via email they will not need to have other browser windows open or keep an eye on their mobile.

With options, comes the need to understand preferences. If you choose to procure an internal communications tool that can also send messages via email you will need to identify which employees would prefer this option.

If email will always be a channel in your internal communications strategy an employee engagement platform will save you time. Rather than creating one message in your internal communications tool and one in your email platform, you will be able to create one message in your internal communications tool and simply select the relevant distribution channels.

Audience segmentation

The ability to group your employees so that you can send more targeted information to them.

Pros Cons

With segmentation you are likely to see higher employee engagement rates because you can send them information that is both relevant and of interest to them.

Any segmenting will require resource. Usually just at the outset but there may be an element of ongoing management.

Employee segmentation is also very valuable when collating information because you can just ask the people your research is most relevant for.

Some internal communications tools have limited segmentation options. For example, they may only allow you to segment by department.

Collaborative authoring

Collaborative authoring enables multiple people to contribute and distribute content.

Pros Cons

If you work within a team you can easily share the workload whilst still having visibility of the communications that have been sent. This removes any silo working and increases efficiency.

Depending on the number of authors you have, you may need an agreed structure to ensure employees don’t get burdened with too many messages.

Author access can be given to anyone which means important messages can be sent instantly. For example, a major health and safety alert could be created by a line manager at the site.

You may need to brief each author on your brand guidelines and tone of voice to ensure consistency across all your messages.

Some internal communication tools enable you to create content in the mobile app too which is perfect for messages on the go.

Translations

Particularly useful if you have a workforce that consists of multiple nationalities where English is the second language.

Pros Cons

By automatically translating your messages you can save significant time and money on translation services.

Translation features often come at an extra price. Consider the percentage of staff that would require this to calculate how essential it is.

You know that all of your employees are receiving your messages at the same time.

Some translation options can be flaky. If you require this as a feature ensure you see it in action to ensure the translations are accurate.

Chat options

A function to enable two-way conversations with individuals or groups, similar to that of Teams or Slack.

Pros Cons

Chat features can improve collaboration amongst employees.

By opening this feature up to your entire company it can interfere with day-to-day productivity.

There may be an opportunity to consolidate your systems if you already have a chat/messaging tool in place.

Some chat features may have limitations, i.e. you may only be able to have conversations with individuals rather than within groups.

Open and click rates

A way of measuring the success of the communications you send.

Pros Cons

Open rates show you how many people wanted to read more of your message once they saw your preview. This can help you to identify what content catches people’s attention.

Open rates are only an indication of the interests of a recipient. While they may have opened the message, you will not know if they read it in its entirety.

Click rates show you how many people clicked on a link within your messages which is an indicator of how interested they are in that particular link.

Open and click rates are often high-level statistics. They enable you to make a generalist conclusion but cannot influence future content strategies to any great length.

Open and click rates can often be distorted by multiple opens blurring the effectiveness of these statistics.

Engagement statistics

A way of measuring the success of internal communications that takes a number of variables into account. These may include the duration a message has been read, an emoji response and the number of employees that have opened a message.

Pros Cons

Engagement statistics typically dive deeper than the traditional open and click rates giving more thorough analytics that can be used to inform employee engagement strategies.

To fully utilise employee engagement statistics you will need time/resource to monitor the analytics.

Some internal communications tools will time how long someone reads a message to identify if they are skim reading or fully engaged.

Employee engagement scores usually monitor real-time engagement enabling you to quickly identify disengagement so that you can take corrective measures sooner.

With the right internal communications tool you will be able to set employee engagement benchmarks, using the statistics to monitor progress.

Analytics with greater depth will enable you to report on your work more effectively, whether that is to line managers or as a KPI in board reports.

In-built employee surveys

The ability to send employee surveys via the internal comms tool.

Pros Cons

With a survey feature included in your internal communications tool you only have one platform to access for all your employee engagement activities.

Some internal communication tools may have a limited survey feature. Our ‘internal communications tool procurement checklist’ lists all the potential options to help you ensure you get what you need.

All the results of the surveys will be recorded in the same place as your communication engagement statistics making it far easier to connect all your activities together. The right internal communications tool will also include additional statistics such as how many people have opened the survey.

Employees only need to go to one place to provide feedback.

Document library

A location within the internal communications tool that employees can access files.

Pros Cons

You will no longer need paper documents or forms.

If documents were previously printed and filled in manually you may need to convert these into editable files to make them usable on a screen.

Employees will be able to save time because all the documents they need will be in one place. No need to scroll through emails, multiple drives or to ask colleagues.

Some internal communication tools may limit the type of files you can share/store.

Forms

Digital forms accessible via the internal communications tool.

Pros Cons

Digital forms will eradicate the need for paper work.

Employees using the forms will need to have a basic understanding of tech to fill then in effectively.

Forms will speed up your processes because the data from the form will be immediately visible in the internal comms tool.

You may need to recreate forms to make them editable.

Employee directories

A directory of employees to help people find the right person to speak to.

Pros Cons

A searchable directory improves collaboration because employees can find the help they need with very little effort.

Most employee directories are reliant on the employee to keep their profile updated.

Skills overview

Often part of an employee directory the skills overview is a list of the skills each employee has.

Pros Cons

A list of skills further enhances the searchable employee directory for further efficiencies.

As this is often part of an employee directory it relies upon the employee to keep their skills updated.

Well considered internal communication tools will also give you a high level overview of all skills across your organisation. This combined view is great for identifying skills gaps.

Corporate branding

Instead of having the branding of the vendor on your internal communications tool, you will have your branding instead.

Pros Cons

With your own branding on your internal communications tool it will instantly feel familiar to your employees.

These elements may be hard coded and require a fee to update.

Some vendors may limit what you can update within the internal communications tool.

Integrations

A way of enabling multiple systems to link with one another.

Pros Cons

Integrating systems will often cut out laborious, repetitive tasks.

Sometimes businesses assume they need system integrations when actually a system consolidation would be more beneficial.

The efficiencies gained from system integrations can improve take up of the new internal communications software because it makes the life if the user easier.

‘Off the shelf’ integrations may have limitations. Ensure you look at the detail carefully.

With the above in mind have a look at our ‘internal communications tool procurement checklist’ to refine exactly what it is that you need from your internal communications tool. The checklist enables you to highlight the essential features as well as the nice to haves and long-term requirements. This will help you get a clear picture of which internal communications tool will be right for your business.

Questions to ask when you have a demo or trial

With a clearer picture of what your need from your internal communications tool, your next step will be to see some solutions in action. As well as delving into the features that you want to know more about, this is also your opportunity to explore the processes that sit behind the internal comms tool – the areas that will get you up and running and keep you running smoothly. Here are some important questions to ask:

1) How easy is it to use?

An absolutely critical point. If it isn’t easy to use those administering the internal comms software will struggle to stay motivated. If your end users don’t find it intuitive to navigate they won’t engage risking your entire adoption process.

When evaluating usability consider your entire employee base. How technically capable are they? If a large proportion of your workforce has minimal involvement with apps, consider what they would be familiar with and whether the internal communications software works in a similar way. If you have a tech savvy workforce, workarounds or unnecessary clicks are likely to really annoy them so put yourself in their shoes and analyse the user journey they would experience.

2) How do you access the internal comms tool?

The type of work your employees carry out will likely dictate the best method for accessing your internal communications tool. If the majority of your teams work at a computer and have a company email address, a traditional Username and Password may suffice. However, if you have a large percentage of your workforce that doesn’t have a company email address you will need a way of accessing the internal comms solution without the need for an email address. A passwordless login may also be beneficial because it is likely to increase adoption, particularly early in the rollout process.

3) Will the internal communications tool protect your data?

When handling any personal information it is important to ensure that data is protected. There are a number of certificates and competencies that will ensure your data is safe including GDPR compliance, ISO 27001 and Cyber Essentials.

If you are based in the UK double check the GDPR capabilities of a vendor. For some, the data will be stored outside of the UK which could cause issues. It’s also worth checking that they adhere to UK GDPR legislation rather than EU GDPR legislation.

4) How easy is it to get up and running?

Adoption of your new internal communications tool will be very important. Firstly, the implementation of the software and secondly the widespread adoption by all your employees.

Assuming you like what you’ve seen so far in the demo, establish what will be involved in the implementation process. What resource will you need and what timescales will you be looking at?

Then when it comes to the rollout what do they recommend? Does that align with your thoughts? Do they offer any support to help you maximise uptake?

This will be a daunting time for many because us humans are often averse to change so make sure you have a solid understanding of what will be involved. You need to be comfortable and confident that together you can make the rollout a success.

5) What ongoing support is provided?

No matter how simple software is to use there will always be times when you need support. What support package does the vendor provide? Some will offer basic support and then provide a greater depth of support at an additional cost. Consider your team and how tech-savvy they are. This will help you to evaluate the available options.

Another question to ask is whether their support package is entirely responsive or do they also provide regular reviews? Account reviews help you ensure you are getting the most out of the system, potentially finding more efficient ways of doing things or highlighting other features that you can benefit from.

Questions to ask to ensure a strong working relationship

If you’ve got to this point and are feeling positive you will have found an internal communications tool that ticks most, if not all, of your wish list and meets your expectations when it comes to the implementation and ongoing support of the software. You will also have confidence in the security and integrity of the solution. Your final checkpoint is to ensure you would have a happy working relationship with the vendor. After all, you are purchasing internal communications software to improve engagement and communications – it makes sense to work with a provider that understands the value of relationships and strong communication.

Ultimately this final check is to ensure the vendor you work with is a good cultural fit. Some areas to discuss to help you conclude these are:

1) Responsiveness and quality of communications to date

You may only have been speaking to one person so far but their manner and approach should be a good representation of their culture. Have they been responsive and helpful? Have you liked their approach? If you have concerns now is your opportunity to ask further questions to ensure you won’t be frustrated working with them.

2) As part of the ongoing support do you have a named account manager?

It’s a small difference but if you build up a relationship with someone you are likely to resolve any problems far quicker than if you are just speaking to a faceless call handler.

If a vendor takes this approach it is also a good indication that they don’t just want to solve problems, they want to ensure you get the most out of the internal comms tool. It proves that they are invested in you as a customer.

3) How is their pricing structured?

A basic question but the answer can tell you a lot. Are they very transparent with their costs or are there lots of ‘additional extras’? Do they have different tiers and if so, is it clear what you get with each tiered package?

As well as needing to be confident there will be no ‘hidden extras’ now, you also need to be confident that you won’t get ‘stung’ further down the line. A transparent approach to pricing is also a great indication that the vendor will be open and honest with all other aspects of your working relationship too.

4) What is the history of the business?

 Understanding a little bit about why the business was started and who is behind it will be really valuable. What were the motivations for starting the business? Are the people that created the software still in the business or is the business now led by people focused predominately on the money? Ultimately you want to find out if the people behind the internal communications software have a passion for improving employee communications. If they do, they will be much more invested in your journey with them.

5) What are the future plans?

This question applies to both yourself and the vendor.

For you are there any future business plans that could impact your internal comms solution? How might your internal comms tool need to adapt and scale over the coming years? Can the vendor accommodate these plans?

It will also be worth you exploring the vendor’s plans. Nearly all internal communication tools will be SaaS (Software as a Service) products. If they are, explore the vision of the vendor? What items do they have on their roadmap and how do they manage that roadmap? Is it purely generated internally or does customer feedback inform future developments?

The questions in this section are perhaps the most important. The answers you gather will ensure that the internal communications tool, and the company that provides the tool, will not just work for you now but also long into the future.

Conclusion

Don’t forget to use our ‘internal communications tool procurement checklist’ to help you refine and find the right internal communications tool for you. Good luck on your buying journey!

Internal Communications Tool Procurement Checklist

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