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Measuring Success in Internal Communications

Written by

Amanda Berry

Published

December 14, 2021

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From a leadership or business standpoint, measuring internal communications (IC) is the most critically important part of internal communications (IC), as it directly points to your product’s value. Measurement through technology, data, or even personal observation, gives you holistic visibility into the adoption of your communication technology or platform. You get to see what tools, functionalities, and applications are being used or not used. When a product is not being used properly, the company is not getting the full return on the investment (ROI).  Since the role of internal communications directly impacts company goals and employee behaviors,  you want to know as much as you can about its adoption and use.

According to Simpplr’s research on the State of Internal Communications 2021, close to 19% of internal communications practitioners do not measure their IC efforts. There is a danger when you don’t measure your IC product use. Adoption and usage is a significant health indicator. Without positive engagement, the health of the user is not good, and it is not proving its value. What happens to technology that doesn’t show its worth? Whether on-prem or a SaaS product, anything that does not demonstrate an ROI inevitably disappears. 

Measuring and showing IC’s worth gives you leverage to advocate for budget, staff, tools, and other resources. When used correctly, metrics show how IC directly impacts employee productivity, operational costs, employee satisfaction and engagement, building culture, and organizational agility.

What do you want to measure?

There are three common types of metrics you should use when reporting on the success of your IC program: health metrics, impact metrics, and business outcomes. However, there is an immediate need to establish a baseline for all metrics. All chosen data points of measurement need a baseline to help you track your IC’s impact. It will aid in understanding how employees engage with the communications, if at all. To establish that baseline, you must consider what questions you want to be answered from the revealed data. 

For instance, if the data is based on the goals of the communication and what tools your organization uses, set goals or objectives and key results around what you will need. Once you have accomplished that, the data from the analytics, metrics, and insights tell the story of how internal communications are performing. Your goals should outline what success looks like for your internal communications efforts. Whatever they are, make sure it is measurable, and you have a threshold that defines the line of success. Examples of goals:

  • 98% of employees will open the newsletter by the end of the quarter
  • 82% of employees will complete and pass the phishing scam training course by the end of the month

Health Metrics 

Health metrics are critical to the success of your project or business. You must monitor consistently to give you insights into health risks and a snapshot of the reach of the content. You will be able to identify when the user’s experience is improving and how to continue your proactive work.

Some of the most common health metrics are:

  • Adoption rates and number of active users 
  • Open rates (unique and total), unique click, and total clicks 
  • Number of page visits  
  • Number of events you hosted (i.e., town halls) 
  • Number of messages sent (i.e., leader videos, newsletters)
  • Number of attendees at events

The health metrics you use should be outlined as a part of an overall framework with predetermined outcomes and goals. Understanding these back-end health metrics improves your chances of success and will help evolve your communication strategy. 

Impact Metrics

Measuring impact is different from measuring general health-based metrics, which help understand reach but don’t include the impact the content has on driving employee behaviors. Campaigns can be engaging but not drive action.

Before you send out a communication, ask yourself, “if this communication is successful, what does success look like?” Your metric targets might be health-based, meaning your success is tied to the number of employees who opened the message or visited an intranet page. However, your goal should also include impact metrics that focus on changing employee actions or behaviors. Impact metrics look to explain how the employees understand or take action. 

Some examples of impact metrics include:

  • Engagement survey metrics
  • Subject matter comprehension assessment or surveys
  • Post-event assessments or surveys and metrics

Impact metrics are determined by how you define success. Using the example above, let’s say 93% of employees opened the communication about a phishing training event (health metric) but only 30% of employees registered by the deadline (impact metric). Is that successful? 

Health and impact metrics paint a more vivid picture of communication efforts. But is this enough for measuring IC success? (Spoiler: No, it isn’t.)

Business Outcomes

While tools and behavior impacts are vital to bringing to life the story of IC efforts and success, I would argue that this is only a part of the story. To get a full measure of success, we need to include metrics beyond reach and behavior. Ultimately, it’s all about the impact on business outcomes. In other words, if your IC solution is costing you a small fortune to keep and maintain, but it’s not having an impact on your business, having good adoption metrics doesn’t matter. 

Here are four essential business outcomes you will want to include in your internal communications story that directly impacts employee productivity and operational costs.

  • Cost to maintain IC tools – There is a cost involved in maintaining IC tools like a company intranet, including costs of hardware and software, employee time, and resource time. One such example happened at an organization that was updating its on-prem intranet platform. The update took eight months with three IT resources, and a project management team. Additionally, content contributors from every department had to check the validity of their content.

It is not simply the expense of running and maintaining tools. There is a cost with getting IT, HR, EE, and possibly PMO involved in maintaining and updating IC tech. You may also include time spent planning meetings, performing updates, and project management’s time and effort. Most information technology departments and project management offices use time tracking tools that would help make gathering this data easier. You will want to use a time tracking tool to gauge how much time and money is spent maintaining your current tools, software, platforms, or devices.

  • Time spent creating, posting, and sending content – Similar to the cost of maintaining IC tools, you will want to track the time you and your team spend on creating comms in the tools and publishing the content. These would include building a knowledge base and intranet pages, creating newsletters, posting content for others, and training people to do those tasks. Those costs add up. There are numerous free time tracking programs, or maybe your company already uses one, and you can get an account to start tracking your time. It is a critical metric because it’s yet another potential hidden cost to the business. Moreover, not all IC platforms allow easy creation, posting, and distributing content.   

For example, I used an IC tool to send leader and department emails and publish the company newsletter. The tool was “free” because the marketing team had a license. Given the time needed to build and send these communications, they were anything but free. One of my team members spent approximately 10 hours creating a newsletter in an HTML editor. The IC team used the same tool to send company-wide messages from leaders and departments. The WYSIWYG editor was super buggy. Often, it would bold and italicize text at random, change the font for some of the text, and not use proper padding around the content. The tool would add extra line breaks when bullet points were used in the text. I would be on the phone with the Marketing team for up to five hours a month to resolve just to send a single message from a leader. This “free” product costs my team up to 30 hours a month to complete relatively simple tasks. The time could have been spent on more value-added tasks.

  • Information Technology (IT), IC, and Human Resources (HR) support – Now is the time to tap into your collaborative relationships with your IT and HR counterparts.  For example, you should be able to search their support ticket system to understand how much time they are spending helping employees do various actions such as completing tasks in the tools or finding content online. Identifying excess busy work can help you create strategies to mitigate actions that take time away from what they should be focused on. If IT and HR service centers aren’t tracking these tasks as IC-related in their system, they should start doing this. Tracking how much time they spend on IC-related tasks will influence your strategy. If you have an IC support email account or channel where people can reach out, use that information as a part of telling the support story.
  • The amount of time employees spend looking for information. Suppose you randomly selected 25 employees at all levels from across your company. If you asked them to find the employee directory, org charts, pay schedules, business strategy, newsletter archive, and company holiday schedule, would they all know where to find this information? How long would it take them to find it? Will the content be accurate? Conduct user testing to figure this out in your current systems. 

Business outcomes are critical measures for reducing operational costs, increasing employee productivity, and reducing frustration. Having a centralized hub of employee information is essential to cut down the time it takes to look for data. Having that content searchable is important. If you have a single source of truth, the content needs to be searchable and arranged so that employees can intuitively find it. If you have a knowledge base or intranet, I would recommend card sorting testing and information architecture testing to assess intranet navigation  

You might have great health and impact metrics, but the business cost could be over $100,000. Is that success? In comparison to lack of engagement, siloed information, poor communication, and loss of users, $100K may be a small amount. You need to start creating metrics strategies, baseline data points, and executing on measuring your product usage. Even if you start with simple feedback, at least you know something you didn’t before. The more data you can reveal helps you develop better strategies and measure your growth. Most of all measuring usage gives you insight into how to improve your internal comms strategy and your technology. 

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