Leveraging video as a strategic internal communication channel

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A colleague just wrote a great blog piece at Melcrum.com on measuring the impact of video comms http://bit.ly/19MOOJB . And it made me consider the work we did on this a couple of years ago. It’s unquestionably true that video is not a new channel for internal communications.  And yet, as we’ve spoken to numerous internal comms leaders and their teams over the last months, it’s clearly become a channel that’s experiencing something of resurgence right now. The interest that Melcrum’s Strategic Communication Research Forum members initially showed in this topic prompted us to dedicate three months of research resource towards a “re-exploration” of the medium – and, as we have discovered, with good cause. Both our qualitative, case-study and interview-based research and the quantitative survey we conducted of just under 1,000 communicators from across industry and geography suggest that video is an increasingly hot topic at this point in time; 66.4% of the communicators surveyed reported that they regularly or on an ‘ad hoc’ basis use video to support internal comms.

The traditional “head and shoulders” shot of a senior leader reading a script into the camera does still exist – but video as a medium has evolved significantly from that point, thanks, in no small part, to the growing ease with which organizations are able to deliver video content online. This rise in popularity is perhaps also influenced by the external resurgence of video and new opportunities to communicate via the channel on a global level, with an ease that has never before been possible.

Data shared by that YouTube shows that over 24 hours of video is downloaded every minute, and even global leaders now leverage that platform to connect with the world in recognition of the huge message-distribution channel that video platforms represent. Barack Obama had a “live stream” interview, and subsequent video recording, posted in February 2010 which went viral almost immediately.  

As video becomes an increasingly popular tool for external communications, then, it’s perhaps not surprising that it seems to be an increasingly popular tool for internal communications. Indeed, when asked in our survey about their experiences with internal video, 53.6% of respondents agreed that employees now expect to see video internally because of wide use externally, whilst 92.4% agreed that visual communications are becoming a more important part of internal communications.

As our own companies become increasingly global and explore new ways of working (teleworking, flexi-time, home-offices, and so on); as our workforce diversifies both in terms of how employees receive and absorb key messages, and the channels via which they choose to do so; and as we grapple with economic constraints that force shrinking travel budgets (meaning less face-to-face time with teams in different locations) while also making employee engagement more important than ever before – video can often seem like an increasingly viable channel for internal communicators to explore. Indeed, in our recent Melcrum survey on social media beyond just video (completed by around 2,000 global practitioners) our findings showed that just over half already use online video in some shape or form. And in our more recent survey, specific to this study, 69.8% said that they could envisage their organization devoting more time and budget to video in the future.

We ordered our findings into five ‘ chapters’, reflecting our belief that there are five factors that communicators need to carefully consider in leveraging video as a valuable channel for comms within their organizations:

  1. Purpose: How can we evaluate when video will add value to our overall communication strategy? What’s the business case for video and how can we build it? How can we counsel internal customers on when to use video and when not? And ultimately, how should we think about developing a plan for video?
     
  2. People: How should we define our audience and decide when video is an appropriate channel to deploy? How can we think about a segmentation-based approach to maximize the impact of video investments? How can we support distribution and access if the goal is to reach a global audience?
     
  3. Production: What are the key criteria for an effective video, and what can be done to ensure consistency of quality and high impact? How should those steps differ for corporate versus UGC videos, and can the two mediums be blended to reinforce our messages? What technical issues should be considered? How can communicators best work with external suppliers and/or internal IT teams?
     
  4. Practice: What creative examples and options exist? What tactics for embedding video into other channels are appropriate for different organizations? What governance issues should be considered? What examples of videos can we get access to, to inform our own planning in, and development of, the channel.
     
  5. Proof: How can we validate the investment of time and resource required for video production – both in-house, with an agency partner, or with employee-generated content? How do companies track usage and outcomes? Does the ROI justify expense?

Our research suggests that these 5 factors form the stepping-stones to successful use of video in internal communications. Our aim with our recent study, then, was to provide thinking, case studies and advice from our interviewees as well as actionable tools that can support any company in these five areas.

It’s fair to say, however, that our research showed that the manner in which video is used currently varies dramatically. From that head shot of a senior leader to user-generated content (UGC) created by employees for employees, to “two-minute training” films and one-on-one or studio interviews with leadership to explore corporate strategy through employee questioning, there’s a lot going on out there. In our study, we sought to profile how companies are using all of these formats (and others), and offer tools, tips and measurement methodologies to enable others to evaluate or use all or any of these approaches in their internal comms strategy.

Perhaps one of the most powerful business cases for a channel like video is that its emotional connection and face-to-face element can make some of the more intangible elements of corporations more tangible. Take values, for example. It can be difficult for employees to truly engage with a company’s values; to see any real connection between those stated “morals” of the organization and their day job. Video can bring a more human element to company values, especially if we can leverage UGC to bring those values to life – employees talking to other employees about what it means to them to be part of Company X or why they believe so strongly in the corporate mission based on their own experiences. We found examples of companies in very different industries and geographies enabling that very real connection to happen across the workforce, through video.

At the same time, our exploration of video has caused us to acknowledge that some challenging questions still remain about the overall effectiveness of the channel and how it can support specific business and communication goals. These are vital considerations given the costs often associated with developing video content and the fact that many of us work at organizations in which a significant proportion of the workforce do not have frequent access to online resources. Our hope is that our research findings also provide some useful guidance on how to address these not-insignificant concerns.

For example, several of the case studies in the finished study focus on how companies are moving beyond purely online video to think about DVDs, corporate TV channels, and other video-related mediums that enable those who don’t have access to computers and the internet in their jobs to have the same experience as those who do. It’s also been great to see companies leveraging these video-related formats to build powerful toolkits for managers to use in team meetings to facilitate dialogue and engagement. Time and again, we’re asked by companies to help them establish some consistent level of competency in comms for their front-line management teams. Not to criticize those individuals, but they’re not always hired and promoted based on their ability to engage or engineer dialogue within their teams. For those for whom getting the right message out in the right way can sometimes be a challenge, video can take some of the pressure off. Someone else can deliver the message in a compelling and (often) entertaining way, whilst managers can focus on the “so what does this mean for us?” conversation that can take place live after a viewing. We spoke to several retail companies, for example, for whom this approach has been very valuable in providing an extra support resource for managers, and ensuring that the right messages are getting through to employees who don’t have time on the shop floor to explore the intranet or absorb a newsletter. They need something more – and video, in combination with live team meetings, can deliver that.

Perhaps equally as interesting, we also surfaced many ideas on how UGC (user-generated content) can offer a more cost-effective – and sometimes more impactful – form of internal communication. Some companies are increasingly asking employees to capture their own stories and perspectives on video; leveraging the emotional impact and credibility in showing employees how people ‘just like me’ are coping with a new strategy or change programme, or  how they’re incorporating a new product into their processes. Some organizations have even gone as far as to invest in light production training or resources such as flip cams for interested employees, who can serve as reporters for the organization; capturing key messages or events to share around the world in an ‘amateur’ medium that can often be much more compelling and authentic than a professionally-created ‘corporate’ production.

Ultimately, the main focus of our study was to explore how online video can be deployed as an effective global channel for internal communications; how to select the right tactics; how to create content with maximum impact; how to measure accessibility, usage and outcomes of video; and encourages communicators to think about the channel as just one support mechanism within an overriding communication strategy. It was fascinating to cast our net beyond communication practitioners, and also speak to IT business partners, external video agencies and other stakeholders to understand what they need from internal comms to make video work for the business, and also what they think we need to focus on to make video work – full stop! In that same spirit, I’m closing out this article by sharing some of the key tips we discovered on our research journey.

At the heart of most of the conversation we had around video – whether speaking to communicators, IT partners or ‘video experts’ the notion of truly understanding the audience before starting off down the video road – of bringing some notion of segmentation to the planning table – was key. This insight informs the business case, the creation of content, the production overall, the distribution of the final product, and even the measurement tactics we can adopt to understand its impact.

Companies around the world and across industries are adopting increasingly sophisticated means of understanding customer and market needs and preferences. While we may not always have the investment or the resources to be quite as scientific when it comes to internal communications and our internal audiences, it’s undoubtedly crucial to have at least some understanding of the people side of things.

Getting a sense of who we’re aiming at and why is obviously central to any messaging we might be creating – whatever channel we choose. But given the potential costs of video and the possible barriers we could face in distributing a relatively hi-tech communication methodology, it’s extremely important when it comes to video.

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