Communicators: Give 'em what they want

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Much of what people put on social media is of the “throw it on the wall and see if it sticks” variety, which has worked to great success for many an Internet meme, such as the the video that started the Harlem Shake craze. Let’s face it: everybody wants to “go viral.” However, for corporate internal communicators, the old writers’ rule of knowing your audience and tailoring your message to that specific audience is as important as it’s ever been -- perhaps even more so, with so many communication channels vying for your employee’s attention.

One thing the SAS Internal Communications team knows about our audience is that SAS employees enjoy learning about one another. So, we created a number of intranet series that focus on individual or small groups of employees. Examples include On the Job and On the Side, which give employees the chance to learn about what their coworkers do at and away from work. An On the Job profile by one of our most popular employees (and our only 4-legged one!) even made it to an external blog post.

On the Side has become so popular that it has spun off additional series: On the Stage and In the Game, for performers and athletes, as well as Volunteer Profile for employees’ charitable endeavors. It’s not uncommon for our employees to have relatives – spouses, children, in-laws, etc. – also on staff, so in another people-focused series we use photo galleries to spotlight employee families.

As corporate communicators, we clearly have a responsibility to engage and educate employees about the company’s products and its business. However, messaging that might be spot on for an external audience of customers and prospects might not work as well for our employee population, made up of a wide range of roles and backgrounds. Hence, we have created a video series in which subject matter experts explain – using plain language and real-world examples – complex business concepts, technologies and products. Rather than relying on simple “talking heads,” however, the videos also include images and graphics that engage and entertain the viewer.

To help employees understand how our customers use SAS solutions, we produced a series of scripted video vignettes that demonstrated, in a lighthearted way, how a SAS employee might explain to a non-employee different ways SAS is used. Video is proving to be a very versatile and popular tool for communicating with employees, and over the last couple of years we have been expanding our video repertoire considerably.

Although we are internal communications, it doesn’t mean that all of our content is internal in nature. We often build communications plans around external events that we think would be of interest to SAS employees. For example, a majority of our employees have strong math and science backgrounds, so each year we plan a variety of fun activities and interactive intranet features around Pi Day (March 14). This year also happens to be the International Year of Statistics, so throughout the year we are running various statistics-related features on the intranet. Sustainability and the environment are also important to SAS employees, so we typically give extensive coverage to Earth Day events and information. In fact, we often produce content related to the external interests of our internal audience.

These are just a few of the ways we seek to engage our employee audience and we’re constantly looking for new ones; nowadays, a simple newsletter just won’t cut it. We’d love to hear from other internal communicators about the ways you engage your employee audience, so leave us a comment about how you give ‘em what they want.

P.S. The truth is, we’re not above shamefully latching onto an Internet meme, like the time a “Thriller” flash mob took over the SAS 35th anniversary party. Who knows, maybe there’s a “Harlem Shake” video in our future?

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About Author

Karen Lee

Senior Director Internal Communications, SAS

Karen Lee joined SAS in 1984 as a technical marketing representative. In the past 28 years, Karen has successfully merged her technical savvy with her communications know-how to foster a sense of trust and engagement among SAS’ 13,000 global employees. In her current role as Senior Director of Internal Communications, Karen has embraced social media to find new ways to connect employees with one another and with company leadership. She has done this by challenging SAS executives to communicate with employees via individual blogs and live, virtual “chats.” In 2011, her team spearheaded the effort to create an internal social media network known as the Hub, which has created virtual communities for best practice sharing, idea generation and work/life balance. Within two weeks of its launch, the site had more than 3,000 registrants and continues to grow. Karen modeled her team’s structure around a 24/7 news cycle, covering company events with real-time updates on the global intranet site. Gone are the days of “holding the news” until the next day’s publication. SAS employees hear news as it happens. Even with a wired employee base, however, traditional communication channels are not overlooked. Karen established regular “coffee with the CEO” sessions several years ago in which front-line employees are able to interact with and hear about the direction of the company from its CEO in an informal setting. Before being named Senior Director of Internal Communications, Karen was Director of Communications Support for SAS' Research & Development Division. In this role, she found innovative ways to communicate with a traditionally introverted employee population. Using a variety of communications vehicles, such as podcasts and employee expos, she improved information sharing among customers, management and developers. Before becoming a SAS employee, Karen was a SAS customer, using the software for capacity planning in her job at Official Airline Guides. Karen has a bachelor's degree in computer science from Eastern Illinois University. Originally from Westchester, Ill., Karen currently lives in Holly Springs, N.C. Outside of SAS, she enjoys spending time with her family, enjoying the outdoors biking, running and traveling to find new adventures.

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