Will anything be radically different in internal communication in 2017 compared to 2016 or, for that matter, 2015 or 2014? The title of a recent blog post by an internal communication partner posed the question: “The Death of Internal Communication Roles?” But while the provocative headline may have attracted attention, the piece focused more on the evolving nature of the internal communication role, rather than the demise it suggested. So nothing radical there, then.
And that is likely to be the narrative of internal communication in 2017. An evolution, at varying degrees of pace and intensity, of the issues, the challenges, and the technology already shaping the future of internal communication, and its role in driving business goals.
OK, so video isn’t exactly new as an internal communication tool, but in 2017 it’s really going to flex its muscle as one of the most powerful ways of communicating within organizations, mirroring the space it now occupies in the lives of people outside the workplace, particularly in the rapidly expanding mobile-first generation.
Consider the mind-boggling stats: In 2016, Snapchat said its users watch 10 billion videos per day, Facebook revealed its figures at eight billion video views daily, and while YouTube is reluctant to reveal precise data, they say views are also in the billions per day.
Much of this consumption is personal and fun, of course, but a significant ramping-up in business usage is inevitable in 2017. Already, video is hitting the spot with senior business executives. In a Forbes Insights study, 75 percent percent of executives surveyed said they watch work-related videos on business-related websites at least weekly, with 65 percent saying they visited a vendor’s website after watching a video.
A key message that internal communication professionals will no doubt take on board is the sheer power video has over other channels as a communication tool. A consumer behavior survey this year by HubSpot showed that more than half (55 percent) of users say they consume videos “thoroughly,” rather than skim through them, compared to 33 percent who said they thoroughly consume interactive articles and a lowly 29 percent who do so with blog posts, while podcasts trail the bottom of the table at 17 percent.
Referring to Snapchat and in a nod to where things are going, Robert Peck, an analyst at the U.S. investment bank SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, astutely observed that “conversations are not only including a photo or video, but are being started by them.”
With tens of millions of us consuming and sharing video on our smartphones, tablets and PCs, it should not come as a surprise that video is shaping up to be both the king and the queen, if not the entire royal family, of internal communication.
2. Enterprise social networks (ESNs)
The launch of Facebook’s Workplace last October once again focused attention on the role of enterprise social networks (ESNs) in internal communication, but it’s too early yet to see what the impact of Facebook’s wannabe wonder child will be in 2017, though the adoption rate so far, in terms of companies that have signed up, is believed to be high.
Over the past decade, adoption of ESNs has grown from roughly 10 percent of businesses to 65 percent, according to a McKinsey Global survey. No doubt Facebook will do whatever it takes to push up that figure further, or to eat Yammer’s, Jive’s and Slack’s lunch, not to mention trying to nail up the coffin on corporate email.
But Facebook might not get what Facebook wants, and email in particular must yawn that predictions of its death continue to be more absurd than exaggerated.
Yet with almost 1.8 billion active users, Facebook will be hoping that Workplace replicates the parent company’s phenomenal social network success inside the ESN environment in 2017. Watch this space, and in the meantime have a look here if you want to learn how to make the most of your ESN.
3. Outcomes, not outputs
Compelling data adds significant heft to an internal communicator’s power of persuasion, especially when it comes to convincing senior leaders about the value and impact of internal communication campaigns. We have come a long, long way from directionless, hope-for-the-best communication to focused campaigns where outputs are systematically measured and carefully analyzed.
But while being able to measure campaign outputs, reach, opens, clicks and views, etc. is useful, it doesn’t go far enough, as it is much more valuable to be able to measure the impact and outcome of a campaign, to assess how successful it’s been in impacting employee attitude, understanding and behavior.
Again, nothing new here, but with incontrovertible evidence about the correlation between an engaged workforce and financial performance, 2017 will see heightened focus on this critical component of any business.
In a 2015 global survey, Aon Hewitt found that a 5 percent increase in employee engagement is linked to a 3 percent increase in revenue growth the following year. Unequivocally, the single most important key to driving employee engagement across the board is leadership. Aon concludes that engaging leaders who engage others are not just nice to have—they are the key ingredient to creating a culture of engagement that sustains business. “Leaders make engagement happen…and we find that creating a culture of engagement starts with leaders,” the report noted.
The survey also found that other key drivers of engagement are: valuing people/people focus, organizational reputation and communication, as well as pay.
5. Influencing the influencers
Companies have always been keen to identify key influencers at all levels in their organizations. Knowing who is supportive and aligned to the company objectives, goals and ethos is very valuable information. But just as important is being able to identify those who are on the other side of that line: the disaffected, or worse.
While at different ends of the spectrum, they share an unlikely bond: both are potential influencers, for good or bad. For impactful communication and engagement, it is important that internal communication professionals have the ability to identify and target both sets, encouraging those who are positively influential to be even greater ambassadors, and perhaps offering more tailored and remedial assistance to the less supportive.
With the increasing proliferation of ESNs in particular, and the development of technology capable of measuring levels of communication and engagement, the identify of key influencers has never been easier for communication professionals to focus on, and that is certainly going to continue through 2017 and beyond.
6. Data and measurement
The adage about the difference between how senior business leaders regard data and opinion is not going to change in 2017 and is generally best summed up by the memorable quote from former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale: “If we have data, let’s look at the data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”
That said, in the age of data overload that we live in, Milo Jones and Philippe Silberzahn, writing in Forbes earlier this year, offered a timely update on the famous Barksdaleism, and the original quip from W. Edwards Deming on which it was based (“without data you’re just another person with an opinion”).
They observed that now with data overload, the risk is that “without an opinion, you are just another person with data.”
But of course it has to be an informed opinion, which is why a recent global survey of internal communicators showed almost unanimous agreement on the importance of measuring the impact of internal communication.
Respondents viewed the biggest challenges to measurement as being: “the organization does not have the right tools,” “the organization does not know what to measure,” “IT will not run the reports needed to generate the metrics” and “it’s too costly to measure internal comms.”
7. Virtual reality
Without doubt, the brightest and most talked-about star in the galaxy of gadgetry, virtual reality (VR) has arrived and is here to stay. But while it might allow you to throw a shape in Barcelona’s Camp Nou alongside Lionel Messi, or riff with Keith Richards as Mick Jagger struts his stuff beside you, what is it actually going to do for internal communication?
Sorry to disappoint, but you’re not going to get the answer here because, despite the hype, it appears that so far nobody really knows how VR is actually going to spread its magic to internal communication.
It was fun and rather amazing to try out Microsoft’s HoloLens at SMiLE London’s internal communication conference in November, and undoubtedly there will be no bounds to the creativity that can extend to VR, but predicting how it’s going to be practically applicable for internal communicators is too far off to see in my crystal ball. At least for 2017.
So there you have it, our top seven trends to look out for in 2017. Do you plan on implementing any of these or are you already ahead of the pack?
A version of this article originally appeared on the Newsweaver’s IC Matters blog. It is reprinted here with permission.