Focus on Employee Communications

Internal Communications: Balancing Old Methods with Millennial Generation 

By Ariel Parrella-Aureli

Jul. 10, 2017

Office communications used to happen largely via one channel — email. But nowadays, email has many helping hands to spread information.

Whether it’s an internal messaging app such as Slack or a private message board like Seedly, new ways of communicating to diverse employee populations — and finding which platforms work — are growing, especially due to the tech-savvy millennial presence.

A recent study by email marketer Poppulo (formerly Newsweaver) and corporate communications firm Ragan Communications revealed that email, while it may be overused by some companies, won’t be phased out anytime soon, though its effectiveness as a go-to internal communications tool may be waning. Some 60 percent of the 615 respondents in “Exploring the use of email for internal communications” said internal communicators send emails to employees at least once a week, with 14 percent hitting the send button daily. Not surprisingly, 80 percent of those surveyed said email overload is a problem in their organization, and many would like to reduce its constant flow.

Internal communicators can find themselves in an unenviable position and often criticized because they don’t want to overwhelm employees with a constant stream of email but also must distribute information to keep them informed.

The Value of Communication 

But Priya Bates, president of Inner Strength Communication Inc. and an expert on internal communications, thinks the profession is not so much criticized but undervalued. When an organization has a communication problem, their usual solution is tactical, like hiring an intermediate or junior professional to write a newsletter. Instead, Bates said it is important to think about what the company is trying to achieve to create a communication method for improvement.

The best way to do this is for internal communicators to develop a strong relationship with the management and HR leaders of the company, Bates said.

“We help them massage how they are going to have the best impact on their programs and how they deliver on those programs,” said Bates, who had 20 years’ experience leading internal communication in retail, tech, aerospace and mining before starting her own firm. “We are constantly listening to them and understanding what the strategy is and the direction they are going and we are really using communication to help them deliver their results.”

When she assists businesses in communications, she teaches them the five I’s for successful internal communications: implementation, influence, interaction, integration and impact. Balancing face-to-face communication is as important as is social media and behind screens, and finding that balance with traditional methods and social media is crucial to the success of any internal communication role as well as the organization. Bates argued that clear, concise communication is even more crucial when talking about financial information and benefits.

HR professionals who have communications reporting to them need to be mindful of their interaction with internal communicators so the line stays strong between both parties, she said.

“When there are barriers to that relationship, it’s like playing broken telephone — HR professionals who have communications reporting to them need to open those doors and allow for that content and relationship to be built,” she said.

Bates is currently working with the Ontario Nurses’ Association — Canada’s largest nursing union — to integrate new communication tools with younger members and employees in mind.

With more millennials entering the industry as baby boomers retire, new communication tools to are emerging. Bates said a newly launched Nurses’ Association app will better serve employees and members, along with a nurse-themed podcast to inform employees and members on industry news and advocacy opportunities, which can be accessed via the ONA website. Bates said the approach

“It’s not a matter of either or, it’s a matter of having a variety of vehicles that will resonate with those different generations and choosing the right one,” she said.

Be the Bamboo 

Alicia Johnston, brand communications manager for Sprout Social, a Chicago-based social media management and engagement platform for business, sees internal communication mixed with active engagement as a solid approach to keeping internal channels clean and streamlined effectively.

As workplace technology evolves, she noted that internal communications have lagged. Sprout Social, which launched in 2010, created social media and internal platform Bambu commercially in August 2015. The platform now serves over 12,000 users, according to the Bambu sales team.

Johnston describes Bambu as a platform where companies can curate information about their team, company or industry and then employees can learn and share it through their own social network.

She said it helps internally with providing company information in one place for employees in the office or those working remotely by sharing videos from meetings and talking points covered, and also amplifies social recruiting, marketing and sales by how employees choose to share information.

“It helps you create one internal communications hub, which is something that employees are looking for,” Johnston said. “They don’t have to check 10 different media to feel like they are fully informed.”

A big motivator to make Bambu easily navigable and all-inclusive was the millennial desire for transparent information, which Johnston.

According to a spring 2017 study by Bambu, 30 percent of millennial employees say their internal communications feel dishonest or self-serving, compared to 21 percent of baby boomers and Gen Xers. Forty-five percent said information gets buried with information overload of current internal communication strategies, and Johnston agrees.

With more mobile usage, more remote workers and new tech platforms popping up to better serve internal communications, they are balancing the speed of change with personal connection. Several companies are now focusing on strengthening internal communications among their teams, whether that means using platforms such as Bambu or other navigable tools companies have been using.

“We found there is really this need to do internal comms better and catch up with where people’s workforces are in terms of technology,” she said.

Ariel Parrella-Aureli is a Workforce intern. Comment below or email

Ariel Parrella-Aureli is a Workforce intern.

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