In the game known as telephone, one person whispers a message to the person next to him, and the story is then passed along until the last player announces it to the group. Each player tries to convey the message faithfully, but inaccuracies accumulate, and the result sounds quite different from the original.
When businesses start new initiatives, some find themselves involuntarily playing telephone. That the game has no winner tells you how crucial it is to properly plan internal communications.
Indeed, internal communication may be easily taken for granted, but before marketers can put their creative thinking caps on, they need to organize workflows and knit the group together through tools and processes. Pam Didner is a marketing consultant, speaker, author, and a recognized thought leader on the subject of global content marketing. As she writes in her recently published guide How To Develop a World-Class Internal Communications Plan, such preparations are “extremely important for the long-term success of a business.”
I asked her about the basic process to creating a communications plan for global content, and here are the five stages she suggested.
“Gather feedback from internal stakeholders,” says Didner. “Understand their needs as input to your internal communications plan.”
Within a business, information may become altered because something doesn’t work (like whispering instead of talking in the telephone game) but also because of the diverse abilities, needs, or even biases of the stakeholders. Different people will have different expectations, and knowing first-hand what those are boosts a company’s efficiency. The best way to have a meaningful conversation is to listen better.
The process described in Didner’s guide involves, at this stage, creating the interviews, conducting them, and publishing a summary. As a general guideline, interview between two and four people, “selecting them from the leadership team, first-line managers, and individual contributors.”
The next step (once you’ve conducted interviews and know what people are thinking) consists of “crafting an internal communications plan and identifying goals and objectives.” The initial findings serve the group to set their own goals and strategies. Then they need to come to an understanding with other business units as to the best way to help achieve the overall objectives.
Speaking at Content Marketing World in 2016, Didner said that instead of letting ourselves be overwhelmed by the concept of “global,” we should define it from the client’s perspective. Instead of “Twenty countries, this is so much work!”, we should just think of global as “headquarters and local working together to plan, market, and execute content marketing.”
That’s why good communication is vital to effective managers. When I interviewed AJ Huisman, founder of Y Content, he told me that getting a local team to buy into a strategy means we have to get them to believe in it first. What better tactic than to ask them what they need?
Speaking about internal communication, Huisman said:
“Global clients, global teams, and global strategies are a delicate balancing act, just like a relationship. It’s about respect, guiding one another, accepting each other’s imperfections, push and hold back, pick fights, taking risk, creating and having trust, always alternating between ordering people to do what you know is best, or letting go and trusting the local teams to do what’s best in their region.”
“Create a detailed roll-out plan, and understand the channels to leverage for outreach,” Didner says.
The milestones she proposes include:
In the particular case of content, marketers are already acquainted with the difficulties of aligning field teams in different regions around a single global content strategy. When I asked other experts about this problem before, all agreed on the prescription: a global content strategy starts with a shared plan.
Karen Guglielmo, content marketing manager at Iron Mountain, went through the process of the company becoming a global marketing organization, and she couldn’t insist enough about the need for detail. She strongly recommends that marketers rely on a consolidated calendar. “Across marketing, we have a number of group calendars where people can put initiatives and the content they’re sharing,” she says. “We also use the Skyword Marketing calendar to communicate and share, and actually we’re starting to do these content bazaars (content events) where we’re sharing the content that’s getting created and the content that’s coming down the pipeline with others.”
“Implement your plan. Make sure there are key takeaways for different forms of communications,” says Didner. “For instance, town-hall meetings, all-hands, monthly e-mail, quarterly updates, etc.”
Companies can’t leave communication to the whim of the moment. They need to put processes in place to ensure they hold frequent meetings and provide local teams with content kits adequate for every need.
When I asked Guglielmo about the execution stage, she stressed the importance of a consistent process to avoid confusion from the way work varies in different regions. “In one region, you may have a review process that involves different teams; in another location you may have a review process where you don’t have to get anyone to review it, [and] you can publish it directly.”
At the end what counts, said Guglielmo, is “to make sure that everyone is going to the same place to get the same story.”
Image attribution: Raw Pixel
According to Pam Didner, the last step is to “gather feedback and comments via survey and interviews. Then optimize as you go.”
Your company-wide communication must function like a two-way process where all opinions count. Measurement is always a cyclic process where results and feedback bring about further action and that should include, of course, the final target of the message, which is always the customer. As Didner tweeted:
It’s important not to let improvisation erode the message. We want the information that originates in headquarters (or from the global or social teams) to pass through a line of people unaltered. This way, internal stakeholders, unlike folks playing party games, feel they’re taking part in a useful conversation. Follow the steps instead of the whispers, and make sure that, when the last player announces the story they heard, nobody is left open-mouthed.
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Featured image attribution: London Scout