In internal communication, it is often assumed that we need to reach and engage the largest possible number of employees with our communications and this is reflected in measurements that focus on things such as page views and open rates, rather than outcomes and impact.
This approach of attempting to communicate with all colleagues equally, however, is often counter-productive in delivering the intended outcome of a communication.
It fuels the increasing drive to sanitise content and simplify messages so that they reach and are understood by all corners of the organisation.
Many of these messages, however, require detailed content inside of a credible context for colleagues to be able to adopt or act on what is being said. So, the push to reach as many employees as possible and ‘get everyone on the same page’ often does more harm than good.
A much more effective and efficient approach is one which involves identifying influential employees and focusing efforts on these individuals.
Instead of communicating with everyone in the organisation, you communicate with a handful of influencers and mobilise them to facilitate the flow of information across the organisation; spreading from the influencers to other employees through their formal and informal influence networks.
In reducing the number of people targeted by communications, it enables you to increase the depth of content and provide tailored context. Moreover, messages and intentions actually spread just as wide as they do through broadcast communication, and the added credibility of the message coming from these influencers helps move beyond basic awareness and understanding, towards active adoption.
Identifying influential employees
One of the most common examples of this approach in internal communication is the use of leaders and managers to champion messages. These employees are generally viewed as credible sources of information and can play a key role in contextualising messages for their teams. But while leaders and managers can positively impact how messages land, they do not always deliver the most effective outcomes.
Internal communicators should instead focus their efforts on the true influencers within the organisation – colleagues who, irrespective of their level, are respected by their peers and considered to be trustworthy and credible. These employees are usually natural communicators who have strong relationships with people at all levels of the business and are passionate ambassadors of the organisation.
Once identified, these influencers should then be given sufficiently comprehensive information that they can digest and then share onward, providing context for other colleagues and making the information more relevant to them.
Many internal communication professionals have adopted this approach and developed networks of influencers, more commonly known as communication ‘champions’ or ‘ambassadors’, that they have utilised for either a specific project or on an ongoing basis.