Chat? Social Media? Bah. Companies Use Email for Employee Communications

Email

With all the talk that goes on in HR circles, you’d think email was dead and live chat—and soon live video chat—would be on its way toward becoming a foundation of internal communications. Yet despite the reports we read about reaching out to employees and candidates in the latest and greatest ways, it seems the great majority of companies—95 percent—view email as their most effective internal communications tool.

EmailThat’s according to a survey conducted by PoliteMail, a Portsmouth, N.H., company that provides an internal communications measurement tool for use with Microsoft Outlook. “The rise of employee communication alternatives such as social networks, instant messaging and mobile apps have created more challenges for internal communications professionals, who lack the budget and resources to both manage and measure multiple channels,” the company said.

“The results of this research show that these new tools, largely aimed at millennials, often fail to gain adoption and lack the broadcast capabilities corporate executives need to communicate within large organizations,” PoliteMail Managing Director Michael DesRochers said in a press release.

Context is the Key

That may be true, but it’s important to keep the use of these tools in perspective. Like marketers, internal communications specialists (and we’ll venture to say many of those people sit in HR), continue to rely on email as a way to get their message out to large numbers of people. It’s a broadcast medium. Social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter or more specialized communities like GitHub, are more effective ways to target audiences down to the individual level. Email’s great for announcing promotions, new policies or quarterly earnings, but tools like Slack streamline interaction between team members who may be trying to solve a problem despite working in separate locations. In instances like that, email’s just clunky.

So when companies tell PoliteMail that tools such as mobile apps, instant messaging and social networks aren’t nearly as effective as email in the corporate world, we believe they’re speaking without context. It makes sense that 40 percent of the survey’s respondents rely on mobile apps or text messaging in their employee engagement efforts–because outside of, say, the Skimm, when’s the last time you saw a really engaging email?–while 33 percent have deployed social network tools such as Chatter and 19 percent use social media. We’ve got to do some research to back this up, but for now we’re willing to bet that much of that social media use is by recruiters.

One of the survey’s revelations particularly struck us: Only 20 percent of companies consider their corporate intranet as a “highly valued” resource. Most of the others see less traffic than they expected and cite a lack of employee engagement. There may be a hint to why that is in another of the survey’s data points: While 35 percent of companies believe mobile is the best way to reach employees, 48 percent don’t make their intranet available via mobile, and only 5 percent have a mobile strategy for internal communications.

Serious Measurement?

Given PoliteMail’s business, it’s not surprising that the survey’s true focus was on measurement. While 60 percent of the companies surveyed said they measure “most” or “some” of their internal-communication results, 59 percent they were “unsatisfied” or “very unsatisfied” with the way they conduct their measurement. There’s something mind-boggling about those numbers to us: Almost as many companies are unhappy with their measurement processes as there are companies who take measurement seriously. It makes you wonder whether businesses might get more out of their intranets and if they spent more time studying how employees user them, to raise just one example.

As we’ve said before, executives need two things if they want their HCM technology to have an impact: First, a clear idea of what they want the system to accomplish and, second, a true understanding of the workforce’s capabilities in that area. Solid measurement is key in determining that second point

Since the last survey was conducted in 2014, most companies have cut back on the number of channels they use for internal communications: Some 43 percent said they used too many channels in 2014, while 20 percent agreed with the same statement in 2016. PoliteMail says this suggests fewer channels appeals to both the teams in charge of producing and distributing the information and the employees who receive it. Interestingly, nearly a third of the respondents–32 percent–agreed with the statement, “We probably send too much email, but it works.”

You can download PoliteMail’s complete report here.

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