We’ve all been there. Leadership is concerned about employee engagement or low morale and recommends launching an internal newsletter to fix the issue. It can’t be that hard—right? Just throw some content together, send it out and watch satisfaction numbers climb right back up to the top. Problem solved.
… Or is it?
The truth is that even the best internal newsletter won’t actually address the core issue by itself. For many leadership teams who are unfamiliar with the full range of their communication team’s extensive playbook, the internal newsletter is to internal communications what the press release is to external-facing communications—the elusive silver-bullet solution.
Now, I’m not saying internal newsletters are always a bad idea. They can be an effective tactic in certain situations, especially as part of a robust internal communications strategy. However, it’s important to recognize that an internal newsletter takes quite a bit of research, planning, leadership buy-in and, most importantly, time to drive real results throughout the organization.
Research Your Audience Needs
Before you can set up an internal newsletter plan, it’s important to take the time to more deeply understand what your organization’s employees want, and even need, from a newsletter.
First, who’s your audience?
Are your employees deskbound, non-deskbound with minimal access to email (think clinicians or those in manufacturing, production, transit or construction), or a mix of both? For deskbound employees with regular access to a computer, sharing a newsletter via email or on an employee intranet page is your best bet. Plus, taking this approach can even generate important analytics about your readership (more on that later). Non-deskbound employees may not have easy or regular access to computers or email, making it more effective to share a printed copy of the newsletter in employee breakrooms or during team meetings.
Second, what do your employees want or need to know?
Perhaps they are interested in learning more about the employee benefits your company provides or important reminders about upcoming holiday breaks or busy seasons. An internal newsletter also provides an opportunity to do spotlight pieces on your individual team members, highlight recent wins, and recognize individuals or teams who put in extra effort to accomplish a goal.
Setting up an employee survey is an easy way to learn what your employees want to know and to build interest in your internal newsletter prior to launch. Surveys can also help build trust—if you can show that when you ask employees for opinions, you listen and put ideas into motion, they start to feel like they are heard and that their thoughts hold value within the company.
Developing an Internal Newsletter Plan
One of the best ways to determine if an internal newsletter is necessary or has a chance of being successful is to develop an editorial calendar. This will allow you to assess how much content you already have and/or need to create, establish a distribution schedule (i.e., weekly, monthly, quarterly), and develop a plan for how you’re going to collect or develop that content.
Internal newsletters can cover a wide variety of topics and provide a valuable opportunity to engage participation from multiple departments across your organization. If you’ve set up an internal survey to learn more about what your employees want, you probably already have a good starting point to work from.
You can also take a close look at your own inbox. Are you receiving frequent emails from the IT team or reminders from the HR department? Perhaps your finance team is sending out regular reminders about expense reports. One major benefit of implementing an internal newsletter is that it can be used to capture those frequent emails from different departments into one place, resulting in less clutter in the inbox and, likely, a greater likelihood that those multiple emails don’t get lost in the shuffle.
Consider setting up time with each of those different departments across the organization to discuss the newsletter and how they can become a regular contributor. Often, deciding on a department contact and setting up a schedule for newsletter submissions can help fill in that editorial calendar more efficiently.
You may also find your HR team to be a good partner across multiple fronts. In addition to providing regular updates, chances are they have some budget set aside for employee gifts. If so, including interactive content, such as contests and surveys, with the promise of a gift for the person who answers first or even a raffle for participation, can help increase engagement and readership.
If you have a design team, be sure to loop them in to help you create a clean, cohesive and branded template for your newsletter. Your employees will be more likely to take the newsletter seriously if it looks professional and polished—not like something a group of middle school students designed for journalism class. When considering design, leave space to include photos of your employees—people like seeing themselves represented, and may be more likely to contribute content as a result.
Finally, once you have your design and regular contributors lined up, it’s time to consider analytics. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”—and results are, of course, an integral part of the newsletter development process. For digital newsletters, click maps allow you to see how employees are responding to your content. For instance, what are employees reading versus skipping? Are the emails being opened at all? Based on this data, you can adapt your content accordingly. These metrics are also helpful to assess employee engagement and may help you to make a case with leadership about adjusting frequency, content and length—or even whether the newsletter is really worth your time.
Leadership Buy-In is Crucial to Success
Leadership plays a particularly crucial role in the success of an internal newsletter. Perhaps most importantly, it provides a not-to-be-missed opportunity for a regular leadership message. Not only does an internal newsletter allow leadership to share important company news and employee recognition, but this format also provides a forum for leadership to share a bit about themselves outside of their corporate personas—ultimately helping to build trust and comradery among employees.
For example, an organization’s CEO could share a story about going to his or her child’s sports tournament or how the past weekend was spent working in the yard. Maybe a favorite team lost the big game, or the CEO recently attended a grandchild’s birthday party. A willingness to share personal, relatable tidbits helps to bridge the gap between the executive suite and employees.
Leadership buy-in is also crucial because the process of building and maintaining an internal newsletter is time-consuming and will likely have an impact on your capacity. Have an open dialogue with your manager to make sure you are on the same, realistic page about how to manage the project alongside your regular workload, which responsibilities need to be prioritized and, based on that, if it’s actually feasible or will require additional assistance from another team member in order to execute successfully.
Internal Newsletters Take Time
Speaking of time, internal newsletters take a lot of it. It takes time to build an editorial calendar. It takes time to stay on top of content deadlines. It takes time to collect, write, edit and place content into your newsletter template. It takes more time if you need to have the content reviewed and approved by one or multiple other individuals within your organization. It takes time to review analytics—an important part of the process to see what content is hitting the mark and how many people are actually opening your emails. And it takes time to build and, most importantly, maintain that audience.
So, let’s circle back to the original question… Are internal newsletters the proverbial silver bullet or a waste of time? Well, that depends. If you’ve done your research and planning, established buy-in from leadership, determined that you have enough content to feed and nurture a regular newsletter, and have both the time and support to maintain it—then yes, an internal newsletter can be worth it. Just keep in mind that, once implemented, it may take a few issues to finesse your approach to build readership.
You won’t really know how your internal newsletter will perform until you try it out. It may hit the mark by improving engagement (silver bullet!), or—after a few months of poor analytics—you may decide it’s time to go back to the drawing board to brainstorm different approaches for reaching your audience. Even if your newsletter is a flop, it was still worth the effort to test it out.
That said, if you’ve found that employees aren’t interested in the idea of a newsletter, you don’t have enough content to maintain a regular distribution, or—perhaps most importantly—you lack the time or resources to do it well, an internal newsletter probably isn’t your best option for building employee engagement. And, based on the time you’ve put in already, you’ll have a list of compelling reasons to prove that point to your leadership team.
Bottom line: Don’t just jump in. Take the time to think through the process to decide if it’s the right path for your organization before investing your valuable time and resources.