Intranet or Email Newsletter: Which is Best for Employees?

There are many ways to communicate with employees these days, but which ones are the best for your business? Frequently, as internal communications professionals review their options, they ask themselves where their time would be better spent: the company intranet or an email newsletter. However, that’s a question that should rephrased. Instead, let’s consider, how can an intranet work in conjunction with an employee newsletter?

When done strategically, your company’s intranet and email newsletter should complement each other like peanut butter and jelly (or peanut butter and chocolate for the jelly-adverse). They each have strengths that the other doesn’t possess and abilities that are unique—a perfect marriage.

The Pros of an Intranet Site

Having an intranet for your company should be the foundation of all your other communications efforts. It should serve as your business’ primary, internal hub for company information. You own it and that is huge.

An intranet site can be bookmarked, accessed easily, and can even be the homepage your employees see when they log on to their work systems each day. Intranets are a great place to house materials employees routinely need, like vacation request forms, annual review checklists, IT protocols, emergency procedures and other reference items. A well maintained intranet can serve as useful digital library. Don’t know where to find something? Look on the intranet!

A strategically developed intranet can also empower you to act quickly when information needs to be shared. When something important happens and needs to be conveyed immediately, chances are you’re not going to tell the powers that be that they have to wait until the next newsletter comes out in three weeks, are you? These are the times you’ll be glad to have a place where you can quickly publish the information you need to get out there.

In short, a good intranet should be like a popular supermarket. Everything you could possible want is there, of the highest of quality, and always in stock. 
The Pros of an Email Newsletter

A beautifully designed and user-friendly electronic newsletter can be a powerful vehicle by which to deliver your content. Since it’s sent via email, your employees will have the information served up to them whenever you choose to share it.

A good email newsletter platform will also have rich analytics that are way more sophisticated than any data you can collect from an intranet site. You can determine open and clickthrough rates, article popularity, and you can see which employees are engaged (based on job title, office location, department, and more). You can also introduce interactive features such as likes, ratings, and commenting.

A newsletter can link back to your company intranet when appropriate (e.g. for those times you may need to host and share a video). And, whereas an intranet serves as a repository for all your company news, an email newsletter allows you to pick and choose the content you want to get front and center for employee consumption.

Another benefit to using an email newsletter for content distribution is the ability to modify your messaging. For instance, you may want to create alternate versions of each issue so you can delete, add, or revise certain information for different satellite offices or regions. Or, for example, you may want to modify the newsletter you created for U.S. employees slightly to send to employees in the Asia office.

Marrying the Best of Both Platforms

To make the most of your communications outreach, it’s important to exploit the strengths of each tool at your disposal. An intranet and an email newsletter have the most value when they work hand in hand, not as two disparate platforms. For instance, your newsletter could feature an article on a new sales incentive program and then link back to your intranet for updated sales forms and rate cards.

As you plot your communications goals, look at the vehicles you are able to employ. Consider the messaging you need to disseminate and determine what is the best approach. How can you marry your messaging to utilize both your intranet and your newsletter in your distribution plans? What information should be layered throughout both platforms? How can you make both tools valuable on their own, yet indispensable when linked together?

Once you answer these questions you’ll be well on your way to having an impactful communications plan that will serve you, your employees, and your company leadership in a meaningful way.

This article is part of a five-part series. The other four parts are linked below:

What is the Best Layout for Your Employee e-Newsletter?

Whether you’re launching a new email newsletter for your employees or revamping an existing one, considering the layout is just as important as determining the content strategy.

Before you send out your internal e-newsletter, it’s crucial to analyze the visual components in your template. According to Hubspot, 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. That means you should approach your layout as thoughtfully as you do the articles you publish. What’s good for one company may not be good for another, so don’t use the cookie cutter approach when it comes to your layout.

Before you finalize a design template for your email newsletter, ask yourself the following questions:
Is there one specific audience for your newsletter or a variety of audiences?
For instance, when publishing an internal e-newsletter, ask yourself if the content applies to the entire employee base. As an example, an HR notice about vacation accrual will apply to everyone on staff, whereas a new incentive program for the sales team may only be of interest to eligible employees.

Depending on the number of audiences you have, you may want to segment your content in a visual manner. Consider whether you want to use one, two, or three columns in your layout. Using multiple columns will aid you in visually breaking up the information.

Think about your company news and its intended audience in a strategic way. This will be the main driver behind the layout you ultimately choose.
How much content will you include in each issue?
It’s important to know upfront how much content you want to include in each employee newsletter. Will there be recurring columns (e.g. a message from the president)? Do you want a meeting or event calendar in every issue? Will each department have its own section for news?
Although a digital email newsletter gives you greater publishing flexibility than a print newsletter, continuity is still important. For instance, try to choose a page count and stick with it. If a newsletter is two pages one time, and seven pages another time, that may confuse employees (who, in turn, may not look past page two since they think that is the end of the newsletter).
What will be the frequency of the mailings?
It’s vital to pick a publishing schedule that you can adhere to. This will help you plan your content and, ultimately, select a newsletter layout that meets your needs.
For instance, if your CEO likes to communicate with employees regularly and wants to have a monthly column, you can add a sidebar on the front page for his/her message. However, if a he/she prefers to communicate less frequently and you choose to go with a quarterly distribution, it’s important to realize that the president’s message just might have more content to it (since it covers news for three months instead of just one). In this case, you might have to devote an entire page to the president’s message in each issue.
What is the nature of the content?
Will your e-newsletter include lots of full length articles? Will it have tips and suggestions in the form of bulleted lists? Will a calendar be created so employees are aware of important meetings and functions? Will there be several recurring columns from department heads so they can communicate with their teams?
These are all important questions to ask as you review your layout options. Your answers will help determine the way you customize your email newsletter.

Do you want to incorporate recurring images or icons?
Will you use the same banner each month for the company’s sales stats? How about the same icon to announce employee anniversaries? And, of course you’ll always want the president’s message to always include a headshot, right?
Think about the elements you want to include in each issue of your newsletter (and remember the importance of consistency!). Create a checklist so you don’t forget any of them. This list will be a critical part of your planning as you determine a layout that best meets your needs.
The questions you ask yourself early-on will serve as the discovery phase of the process. The answers you come up with will help determine the number of columns you want to use, banners you need to create, applicable icons, color usage, font selection, and more.

Remember, publishing your electronic employee newsletter involves more than just collecting the content. The way it looks is just as important and impacts its success. Analyze what you want to say, how frequently you want to say it, who needs to say it, and the amount you want to say. Then, you’ll have the information you need to create a good newsletter layout that intrigues your readers—and keeps them coming back for more.

10 Tips for Using Images in Your Company’s Internal Newsletter

History is full of quotations that tout the power of visuals. Among others, there is the “a picture is worth a thousand words” adage and, of course, the old Chinese proverb, "Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand.” If you’re not showing people what you want to say, you’re missing out on opportunities.

According to MDG Advertising, articles with relevant images receive 94% more views than articles without images. That’s one of the many reasons infographics have become so popular in recent years. Don’t you want 94% more of your audience to connect with your content? If you’re in a communications, marketing, or human resources role within your company, I bet you do.

Whether you’re producing an employee newsletter or an executive blog (or even an external publication), it’s critical that your audience walks away with a clear understanding of the messages conveyed. In the case of an internal e-newsletter, your audience is the employee base and it's important that they understand what’s happening within the company, how it’s relevant to them, and why it matters.

As much as internal communications professionals would like staff members to read every single word that's written, chances are there will always be the employees who scan your content. Make sure your visuals are effective so even those who glance at your email newsletter will understand the takeaways.

You don’t have to have a professional designer on staff to create effective visuals. It just requires some thoughtful decision-making and a few, helpful tips.
  1. Work in conjunction with your template. Select images that complement your layout and existing color scheme. Pick an image that uses one or several of the same colors that are already within your design.

  2. Pay attention to the details. Alignment and repetition are key design components that will help readers scan your email newsletter and easily comprehend it. Try to make all your images the same width and use auto resize options in your email application. This type of continuity will create a more professional end result and will make your newsletter easier for people to read.

  3. Don’t be afraid to crop or alter the pictures you use. Zoom in to focus on something specific within the photo and minimize the background. Drawing the reader’s attention to focus on one item, and getting rid of other things that may clutter the photo, can be an effective way to transform an average image into something great. Use the image editor of your email application to make things easier.

  4. Choose a good photo from the get-go. Instead of taking time to improve a mediocre photo, why not just select a stronger photo at the very beginning? Choose images that have fewer elements rather than ones that have too much going on in them. Select photos where it’s easier to grasp the subject. You want something memorable and eye catching.

  5. Opt for quality. Only use high-resolution images when you’re producing professional publications. Don’t ever use fuzzy images, especially logos. If you need to use your own logo, be sure to get a high-quality image from someone in your marketing department. A sharp, crisp image makes all the difference in the world. If you need to use someone else’s logo, you can usually find what you need on Google. Simply go to Google Images and type the company name followed with the word "logo." Right click the image and save it. 

  6. Be current and relevant. Avoid old-school illustrations and amateurish, animated gifs that do not blend in with your newsletter layout. They will be eye catching, but will cheapen the look and feel of your newsletter.

  7. Don’t become complacent. Unless it is a recurring column, change your images from issue to issue to keep the newsletter fresh. Utilize a large image for the top story to increase engagement.

  8. Think outside the box. If you don't have a picture of the specific subject you’re discussing, you can use an image that is more conceptual. For example, if your article is titled “5 Steps to Creating a Better Marketing Plan,” you could use an image of someone walking up some steps. (In this article you're reading, I used pencil tips to represent the 10 tips I'm sharing. In this other article, I used a "Just Married" sign as I wrote about the coupling of an intranet with email newsletters.)

  9. Develop a list of photo resources. There are lots of stock image libraries out there to help you find what you need. You can purchase a nice image for $10 or less in most instances and there are plenty of free options out there, as well. If you’re sending your email to the entire company (or an external subscriber list), you want it to look great; spending a few bucks is money well spent.

  10. Pay attention to the details. Always use the best file type to meet your needs. If you plan to use company graphics or icons, make sure to get a PNG, transparent high-res image to ensure it will work on every background color.
Think about images early on in the editorial planning process. Visuals are an important part of any professional communication and should never be an afterthought.

By incorporating relevant images, you’ll make your email newsletter a more powerful communication tool that more people will want to read. And isn’t that something worth boasting about during your next annual review?

This article is part of a five-part series. The other four parts are linked below:

What Layout is Best for Your Company's Internal e-Newsletter?

Intranet or Email Newsletter: Which is Best for Employees?

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Using Advanced Analytics to Improve Your Company’s Email Newsletter

You are producing an email newsletter for your employees and sending it out regularly. Congratulations! Now, it’s time to figure out if it’s a success or not.

Publishing and distributing your email newsletter is only half of the equation. To produce a good newsletter that enhances employee engagement, it’s critical to analyze how well it is being received. This is where open rates, click-throughs, and other demographic information comes into play.

Hopefully you’re using an email platform with advanced analytics. Sure, most platforms have some sort of analytics tools, but most only scratch the surface. If you want to improve your email newsletter as you go, you’ll want to invest in a platform that allows you to fully understand what is resonating with which employees.

It’s important to remember that open rates can vary quite a bit depending on your IT setup and environment. You’ll want to talk with someone in your IT department or the customer service rep at your newsletter service provider to better understand the dynamics.

Breaking Down the Stats

Once you have a decent open rate of at least 60%, then it’s time to look at your click-through rates. If your email newsletter tool allows you to organize your content by categories, you may be able to compare the click-through rates between different types of content or between articles. For instance, are people reading the employee profile each month, but not the CEO’s message? Are they more interested in the employee benefit information than the events calendar? Did they like the article on the company’s new sales approach more than the article on the board of directors meeting?

If your email platform has this feature, it’s also very helpful to link demographic information to your distribution lists. This will allow you to measure the open and click-through rates for different groups of employees. Are the manager-level employees reading your content, but the rank and file isn’t? Is the office in Cleveland opening, clicking, and reading the newsletter, whereas the office in Cincinnati completely ignores it?

Having access to advanced analytics, and using them, will help improve your newsletter. Creating reports with this information can also be extremely useful to company leadership and/or the HR team. 
Using Data to Measure Engagement

If the manager in Cleveland is rallying the troops, getting employees on board with the company’s new direction, and making them excited about the future, isn’t that a leader who’s worthy of some acknowledgment? As for the head of the Cincinnati office, well, sounds like he may need some counseling on how to motivate his team. That’s data-driven feedback that his supervisor is likely to find very useful.

Remember, engagement directly affects productivity. And a robust company email newsletter can be a powerful tool to get all your employees on the same page—following the same mission.

Depending on the communication goals of your company, its culture, and your executive leadership team, creating reports on how employees are reacting to the content could be extremely useful. Chances are that many SVPs would like to know which of their managers aren’t creating a climate of engagement. This is especially true if your company is altering its course, has been recently acquired, or there is any sort of large scale change happening.

Analyze and Improve

As you analyze your stats, you should ask yourself questions as you go. Is your content targeted enough? Should you have a different email newsletter for the less responsive groups? What’s the percentage of your audience who get the email newsletter on a mobile device (and is your content optimized for mobile)?

To make your email newsletter a real asset, it’s important to look at the stats after each mailing. Identify the areas for improvement and make adjustments. Each issue should be better than the last.

Company newsletters are no longer the frivolous pieces they used to be years ago, filled with baby announcements and birthdays. They are now strategic communications tools that help keep employees motivated, informed about important company initiatives, and get everyone rowing in the same direction.

If your company realizes the importance and power of an employee newsletter, invest in it fully. Be sure to utilize an email newsletter platform with rich analytics, otherwise it’s like baking a cake but not putting the frosting on it. The frosting is what turns something good into something great.

This article is part of a five-part series. The other four parts are linked below:

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25 Questions to Help You Choose an Email Newsletter Provider

There are lots of tools out there to make life easier for communications professionals. The tech-related barriers are coming down more and more each day, allowing "regular people" to manage sophisticated projects with little to no technical experience.

It used to be that you needed advanced training to publish anything digital. HTML coding was a requirement and without it you were out of luck. Fortunately, that is changing.

For those internal communications professionals who are tasked with creating an email newsletter for employees, there are many platforms to consider. However, as is the case with most everything in life, all things are not created equal.

Oftentimes, people will start their research by looking at more basic options such as MailChimp. Yes, you can email newsletters through this platform. However, the analytics are fairly rudimentary and may not empower you with the data you need to improve your newsletter. Plus, you can only choose from pre-selected templates so your customization options are limited. Other platforms such as Constant Contact and Emma are similar, offering simple features that scratch the surface in terms of data and design.

A more advanced email newsletter platform will give you access to rich statistics, personalized design, and in-person customer service. When trying to find the best solution to meet your needs, be sure to consider these questions first:
  1. Will the provider create a custom-designed template for me that addresses my unique goals or am I limited to generic templates that other companies are already using?
  2. Can a newsletter be created for me that takes into account my company’s brand and design guidelines to ensure our corporate identity is preserved?
  3. Do I receive training when I sign up to use the platform?
  4. Is training self-service or will a person walk me through the process and show me what I need to know?
  5. Will I be able to talk to a real, live person at the email newsletter company after my initial sign up?
  6. Will this platform allow me to create landing pages?
  7. Can I publish a microsite?
  8. Can readers rate my content?
  9. Am I able to automatically create a table of contents for my newsletter or do I have to do it manually?
  10. Are employees able to comment on the content?
  11. Can a “like” button be added to published content?
  12. Does the email provider require me to add their logo on my company newsletter?
  13. Will I be able to determine the amount of time users spend on each landing page and/or article?
  14. Can my newsletter include a “printer-friendly” option?
  15. Will past newsletters be automatically archived, with the ability to search for previous articles?
  16. Am I able to group articles into categories (for easy design and search)?
  17. Will I have to format each issue of my newsletter or can I just copy and paste text that will format for me automatically?
  18. Can my mailing list be automatically synced with the email newsletter provider’s platform?
  19. Does the provider offer advanced demographic reports (e.g. open rates based on job titles, locations, departments, etc.)?
  20. Can I delete the unsubscribe button so my employees are unable to opt out from receiving company news?
  21. Am I able to publish surveys through the platform?
  22. Can I create forms via the platform?
  23. Will employees be able to submit article suggestions through a form within the newsletter?
  24. Will the newsletter company be able to accommodate special requests or create customized solutions to meet my needs?
  25. If I require assistance along the way, will I be able to get it or am I on my own?
When you start asking these questions, you’ll be able to quickly determine what platform only offers basic services and which one is advanced enough to help you achieve your goals. Take the time to do your research and remember that mediocre solutions won’t help you achieve extraordinary results.

This article is part of a five-part series. The other four parts are linked below:

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