In 2015, Australian government insurer icare was in disarray.
Employee retention at the 284,000-person organization was plummeting, morale was in shambles, and the culture was a mess.
Even worse: The government was investigating claims of workplace harassment and bullying.
When Vivek Bhatia took over as CEO, he vowed to change all that.
Part of his efforts to improve morale included an internal blog. He chronicled work events, partnerships, and his personal life. He spoke about his family and his love of coffee and sports. His dog Coco became something of a company mascot.
Vivek’s efforts boosted employee engagement significantly. His staff, who had never spoken with past CEOs, began to connect with something. Instead of a lawyer-approved corporate facade, they had the opportunity to interact with a real person.
Over time, Vivek established a workplace culture that emphasized transparency and honesty. He used the blog to make his team feel comfortable. He became more than just a name on a business card or a face on the wall.
He was a real person with dreams, imperfections, and, most importantly, a shared mission. Vivek found a way to make his staff engaged.
Did you know employee engagement is at a historic low? According to Gallup, 70% of U.S. employees are unengaged at work.
We just don’t connect with our employers.
This is actually a newer problem. While the modern workforce craves job satisfaction as much as previous generations, how a person arrives at satisfaction has changed.
At one time, people were satisfied with a polite boss and a steady paycheck. Now we want fulfilling work that aligns with our skills, values and interests. We want meaning.
A study by the Queen’s School of Business found that disengaged workers create 49% more accidents, make 60% more errors, and have a 37% higher absenteeism rate.
Organizations with low engagement see 16% lower profitability, 18% lower productivity, and 37% lower job growth, all leading to a 65% lower share price.
Engagement isn’t some abstract, politically-trendy concept. The 2015 Conference Board CEO study found it was the highest priority for organizations all over the world.
If you don’t get engagement right, you can deal with serious business problems.
Your employees aren’t satisfied with a disconnected, impersonal workplace. They want relationships.
They want to be a part of something.
But they can’t make that connection if their leadership is inauthentic, robotic and aloof. When communication is strictly top-down (only coming from their immediate supervisor), employees fail to connect with the organization outside their silo.
They want genuine leaders who speak candidly and honestly, and who bring people together.
Your internal blog’s purpose is to stimulate and scale connections between people. It gives someone at the top of the organization an opportunity to speak directly to everyone else, without the filter of bureaucracy.
Whenever you publish, you’re creating a pathway from yourself (or your organization) to your team. You can send anything you like down that pathway: News, commentary, information, entertainment, announcements… Anything, really.
If Vivek’s blog doesn’t sound like yours, don’t worry. You aren’t alone.
Most internal blogs are stiff, boring, and hardly read. For good reason, too. It’s hard to communicate with thousands of people, most of whom you’ve never met face-to-face.
Some of the largest companies in the world have failed entirely due to poor communication. You started the blog with good intentions, but it’s just not working. The C-suite might think you’re wasting your time.
So it’s time to make an adjustment. If you want your organization to actually read your internal blog, you must satisfy their need for engagement.
Before we talk about how to improve your blog, let’s identify why it’s not helping your employees connect with the organization.
Which of these sounds like your blog?
We can feel disingenuousness.
We can tell when writing has been edited, re-edited and edited again as it passed through marketing, legal, HR, and the C-suite.
Bob Block, Customer Success Officer at Jive, knows that readers can identify inauthenticity. "People can tell fairly quickly if someone else is writing your blogs," he says.
And the asterisks (you know: *, **, ***, ****) that denote footnote disclaimers make us feel like we’re reading a terms of service contract.
The modern workplace is changing. Corporate lingo, buzzword jargon, and formal aloofness are being left behind.
(That’s why at Fluxe, when we help executives and leaders blog, we use a unique interview process to carefully extract their words so the writing is always genuine, authentic, and impactful.)
Remember pep rallies in high school?
Other than getting a break from class, did you find anything about them enjoyable?
Even if you didn't mind them, few people loved them (except the band).
Excitement is infectious to some extent, but it’s nearly impossible to force someone to get excited over something they would never celebrate on their own.
If you’re trying to create buzz around mundane, boring, or corporate-washed topics, you’ll struggle to keep your employees engaged.
Does your staff need to know that the cafeteria has switched from whole to 2% milk?
Do they need to know that six parking spots in the back lot will be unavailable next week?
Do they care that the brand of soap in the bathrooms was changed?
People only ready what they find interesting. Even if they open your URL, you’re likely to lose them rather quickly unless they find the content valuable.
On top of that, your staff are probably overwhelmed with information. They’re juggling emails, phone calls, texts, drop-in visits, and notifications from their group chats, Slack channel, and project management tools.
If your communication isn’t meaningful, it’ll be the first they tune out.
Ask yourself this: What’s your goal?
It’s unfortunate how many bloggers (whether they're writing for internal or external consumption) can’t answer that question. Without understanding the purpose of your blog, it will never feel successful.
Why are you writing for an internal blog in the first place? Do you want to increase engagement? Improve the workplace culture? Create a sense of community? Build an attractive environment to hire new talent?
Once you figure out why you’re blogging, you'll be able to measure success.
"I don't need a web-based blog," you might say. "I'll just send a newsletter. Everyone at my company uses email."
If that's you, you're part of a big club.
In 2014, Poppulo surveyed 500 internal communication professionals for their Emerging Trends & the Use of Technology survey. They discovered that 60% of them regularly send internal newsletters to employees.
Your staff likely checks their inboxes several times each day. Sending company-related content through email seems reasonable, right?
Well, no. While email marketers will attest that inbox-to-inbox communication is one of the most effective ways to reach people, there’s one major reason it’s smarter to post to a blog rather than send an email:
Organization. Email is a terrible database.
If you deleted an old newsletter, never received it, or weren’t with the company at the time, you’ll never see that valuable information.
Through a blog post, however, that information is retrievable by anyone at any time. It’s easily searchable and always accessible.
Plus, you can update blog content.
Let’s say the marketing team writes an article about a new inbound leads system. Six months later, they tweak the system based on new data. They could quickly edit the article so searchers have current information.
Let's be clear about something: Blogging takes time and work.
Results don't happen immediately. External blogs can take six months to a year to gain traffic, and up to two years of consistent publishing until it consistently ranks for keywords and generates leads.
Internal blogs are a bit easier for a few reasons:
Nevertheless, people won’t read a blog just because it exists (as you know). You need to publish consistent, quality content if you expect to build a following.
Let's talk about some ways to improve your internal content.
According to the Harvard Business Review, 80% of Fortune 100 companies tout values, but those values “too often stand for nothing but a desire to be au courant or, worse still, politically correct.”
Why go through the effort of crafting value statements if you won’t adhere to them?
Here’s why: It’s hard to force thousands of employees to value what you want them to value.
Internal blog posts are perfect opportunities to reinforce your values. Share stories of employees who chose to abide by your values, even when it was easier not to. Chronicle hard choices made even when they weren’t cost-effective.
If you can show real examples of company values being lived out by your employees, you’ll inspire their peers to do the same.
Your employees don’t want carefully chosen words vetted by legal. They want to hear you speak like them. They don’t mind if you absently swear or misplace an “e” in “definitely.”
They want to see your vulnerabilities. If something didn’t work, document what happened. Show what you tried and what you learned. Admit that you, like them, make mistakes. Then show them how you overcame it.
Linda Rottenberg, CEO of Endeavor, let down her guard when her husband was diagnosed with cancer.
“Rather than freak teammates out and distance me from them,” she says, “my vulnerability drew us closer. And it changed me as a leader. By showing my true self, by revealing that I needed other people, by communicating through every meeting, email, and, yes, the occasional tear that I wasn’t invincible, I allowed people–especially employees–to relate to me as they never had before.”
Stories are beautifully simple ways of communicating wisdom. Ordinary stories can be used to create relationships. Extraordinary stories can be used to impart lessons.
Whenever possible, lead with a human element. Tell stories of people (with names!) who overcame conflict. Tell stories of hope and persistence. Tell stories of great adversity and noble triumph.
Just make sure your stories are relatable. A tale about your recent yachting adventure only works among other yachters. If your experiences are beyond audience’s reach, your posts will come off as bragging.
Here's a great video that shows how Pixar creates relatable stories. You probably won't create animated movies, but the concepts are good to know.
Your staff doesn’t have time to read 4,000 word epics with bloated, unnecessary language. When they see a massive article, it quickly gets filed in this “I’ll do this later” column (also called the “Permission to forget about this forever” column).
Publish only the information they need. Boil your topics don’t to the most important tidbits.
Here's a great piece of editing advice that all writers learn in one form or another:
"Write everything down, then strip out anything that doesn't tell the story."
Use proper formatting, too. If you’re giving out details or data, use lists or tables to speed up consumption. Use headings so they can scan your content quickly.
There’s no debate that company culture is important.
By carefully crafting the work environment and massaging employee sentiment, you can create a workplace that builds relationships, boosts productivity, and gives people purpose.
Imagine this scenario: Jim, an accountant in your finance department, spotted a wasteful expense. He made his boss aware and the fix saved $5,000 over the fiscal year. To show your appreciation, you bought Jim and his family dinner at a nice restaurant.
In this example, your generosity was good, but you could use that event to inspire others in a short blog post.
By sharing Jim’s heroic story and your response, you can reinforce the company culture. Now everyone knows that hard work, thoughtfulness, and a willing to go the extra mile will be rewarded. (Plus Jim feels extra rewarded.)
Some will get excited about the free meal, but most people will hunger for the praise.
According to Gallup, “The concepts of ‘recognition’ and ‘praise’ … are two critical components for creating positive emotions in organizations.”
They found that people who receive praise are more productive, engaged with their colleagues, receive higher satisfaction scores from customers, and have fewer on-the-job accidents. They’re also more likely to stay with the organization.
And yet, the U.S. Department of Labor found that the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated.
Recognize your employees when they reach milestones (like significant birthdays, weddings, birth of a child, significant company anniversaries, new opportunities, etc.), receive an award, or do something outstanding (like manage a difficult task or achieve a big goal).
The key, however, is individualization.
Recognition is only impactful when it’s tailored specifically to the recipient, so it’s important to make sure the recipient is comfortable with public recognition before you give it. Be specific, too. “Well done” isn’t enough. Tell them why they’ve earned your appreciation.
Finally, make sure the recognition is deserved. If you dole out meaningless awards just for the sake of praise, your employees will notice and dismiss the whole program.
This is tried-and-true marketing tactic that always improves performance.
Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger, says it clearly: "One of the most repeated rules of writing compelling copy is to stress benefits, not features."
It’s much easier to connect with a piece of content when we are immediately aware what’s in it for us. By showcasing the benefits of your content right away, you’ll increase the number of people who click and read.
For instance, let’s say you want to announce a new vacation policy. You want everyone to have that information (so there’s no tension when they try to take their summer holiday), so you need a title that grabs the reader.
Bad title: Update to Acme, Inc. Vacation Policy
Good title: Your Vacation Days Now Roll Over Each Year (Policy Update)
Your blog posts should offer as many opportunities for engagement as possible. Every time your readers interact with your content, they become more emotionally invested. This makes them more likely to read and interact in the future.
First, enable commenting with thread nesting so readers can respond to your article and each other. Then sprinkle your content with surveys, polls, calculators, and even games – anything to get them clicking and manipulating.
It’s hard enough to get your staff to read something that applies to them. They certainly aren’t reading articles that don’t matter to them.
Your maintenance staff, for instance, doesn’t care that the sales team has reworked their pipeline. No amount of “transparency” or “cross-team collaboration” is going to make them care.They might open a few articles out of curiosity, but after the third or fourth unrelated piece, they’ll stop bothering.
Relevant content is more impactful. Irrelevant content is off-putting.
The solution is to only send content to people who care.
How you personalize your content is up to you. It depends entirely on your organization, the content you’re creating, and your staff.
Personalization isn’t difficult. Your company’s email tool probably allows you to send announcement emails to different groups of people. Find out how to do this from your IT team.
The world will always depend on the written word, but web content has evolved. People are more likely to consume communications that are unique, interesting and engaging. So we have to use all of the tools at our disposal.
Experiment with these content formats:
This tip is going to make you uncomfortable, but hear us out.
It’s nice to hear from the CEO every week. He or she may be the perfect symbol of leadership.But they aren’t always the best person to author an internal blog post. Sometimes a story is best told directly from the source.
A story can have more impact when it’s authored by the source. Invite members of your team who are not usually a part of the internal blogging program to share their stories with the rest of the organization.
Don’t force the “guests” to stay on message. It’s fine if topics go beyond work. Give them room to discuss topics that promotes positive work and life. Personal stories told by people who aren’t “speaking for brand” can balloon the sense of community.
Yes, you need guidelines to make sure everything is appropriate. You may want to start a formal employee blogging program. Here’s an excellent guide that applies to external blogging, but much of the advice will work for your internal program.
Without data, it’s impossible to tell how people are interacting with your internal blog, thus you’ll never understand its effectiveness.
These days, data is easy to come by. Connect your internal blog to an analytics tool to identify the content they read and engage with. Also identify the types of actions they’re willing to take (sign up, call number, see Jane in accounting, etc.).
Vivek Bhatia’s blog was successful because he focused on his people. He found out what made them feel connected and he gave it to them.
Always remember that the purpose of your internal blog is to build and foster connections. An engaged workforce that feels like they’re part of something is a valuable asset with real business advantages.
Joel Widmer is the Founder & CEO of Fluxe Digital Marketing—a content marketing shop that helps smart businesses create, produce and promote their content through a unique one-on-one interview process. When he’s not working, Joel can be found trying new restaurants with his wife and son.