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July 30, 2015

Internal Comms Tools: Exposed

July 30, 2015

IABC World Conference

I recently had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the IABC World Conference, which is mainly geared towards corporate communicators, and in many cases, internal communicators, i.e. comms teams that are focused exclusively on a single audience: employees.

While this wasn’t a new concept to me, I hadn’t heard many firsthand case studies or stories of internal communications efforts for huge brands before. Most of my experience has been exposure to SmallBox clients and friends that use intranets and collaboration software, of which there are way too many options to choose from.

No, this was a whole new ballgame, my friend.

I was dazzled by stories of huge companies like Walmart building a custom employee app that sends daily personalized content to the “associates” (employees) via push notification. Tools like Yammer, Slack, Chatter, Hipchat were the talk of the town yet I quickly realized... there is a huge problem plaguing this industry: adoption.

We’ve found that rolling out new communications and project management tools across a small company like SmallBox can take some time, however just imagine the effort and budget required to stimulate employee engagement at one of the largest retailers in the world. Woah!

What are these tools, even?

To help give some perspective, I created a few categories of internal communications tools:

Collaboration - probably the first type of this software to become widely adopted, these tools focus on organizing teams and communication online for a very specific purpose: project management. Common examples include Basecamp (which we use), Trello and Asana.

Intranet - these tools include functionality geared towards file storage, access, sharing and communication around...well...files. Sharepoint is the most widely used tool in this space but there are a few new ones that are emerging as “Sharepoint alternatives” such as Igloo and Jostle. Heck, Google Drive can even count in this category.

Social Networks - these tools have been gaining popularity very quickly as general social media adoption has increased beyond the youngsters. There are even subcategories:

  • Chat / Real Time - Most of the tools mentioned below have a real time chat feature to allow for instant gratification. The days of knocking on the cubicle wall are over!
  • Advocacy - This is a brand new concept: using an online tool to foster brand advocacy or engagement. Imagine your team being spoonfed fresh, personalized content on a daily basis. Welp, it exists. A few examples include Social Chorus and Influitive.
  • Sharing - Tools like Chatter and SocialCast do many things, but the core concept is similar to Facebook: driving engagement by giving the team a platform to share company related content, conversations, etc..
  • Inbox Killer - Getting too many emails? Me too! Apps like Slack are trying to help you eliminate email overload and long email threads by keeping team communication consolidated outside of the inbox. Amen!

Mining for Culture

The common thread between all of these tools? Increased communication also leads to increased engagement amongst teams. It’s a natural byproduct. However, I believe another real opportunity is to mine internal communications for marketing and cultural opportunities.

Let’s use an example: at SmallBox we’ve actually designed our own tool to test some new angles of our culture-powered marketing philosophy. Within the tool there are “rooms” that can be created and team members can “star” to see the activity and contribute:


Of course, one of the first rooms is called Listen To This, which encourages sharing of new music. Not only is this fun, but it’s also a possible blog or social post for SmallBox and team members. Sharing new music allows our team to contribute to the brand experience for each other and those that follow SmallBox on social channels. Win/Win/Win (especially for the artists!)

All this to say, these tools are really just a mechanism for team engagement. However, there’s a powerful culture and marketing opportunity to be had. Which tools does your organization use?

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