Employee communications teams are under tremendous pressure to effectively convey important, time-sensitive content to employees, sometimes with little time for planning or advance warning. With tight budgets and even tighter time pressures, most comms teams have not added resources, but are simply working harder and longer to meet critical demand.  And as most corporate practitioners have told us, while it's great to be so mission critical, the current pace is simply not sustainable over the long haul without better internal communication tools and processes.

Knowing that your intranet won't meet today's needs alone, a relatively new breed of solutions has emerged that communicators are increasingly adding to their toolbox-- apps designed specifically for employee communications.

A good employee communications app will improve communications effectiveness, increase awareness, boost employee engagement and save communications teams' a ton of time.

But not all apps are the same.  And some might even add to your workload rather than reducing it, or confuse employees rather than engage them. 

So what do you look for when shopping for a new app? There are key  features that you'll want to include, and pitfalls to avoid. Read on for details.

1. Key Features to Consider

When considering employee communications apps, there are four key feature areas that all apps should provide - features that make your communications more effective and engaging, increase awareness and access to content, and save you time to produce and distribute content.

  • Content distribution: Look for apps that provide better ways to distribute content – faster, easier, more effectively and across multiple channels. Think about how apps can help to overcome the bottlenecks in your processes and the limitations of your existing solutions. The app should enable you to publish to multiple channels with the least amount of effort - preferably with 1-click, eliminating the need to recreate/publish the same message in multiple channels, and having to keep distribution lists manually updated. Features that allow you to use automated content broadcasting help to solve these bottlenecks, save you significant time, and make better use of multiple distribution channels - beyond the intranet and email -  to reach employees. 
  • Content curation provides the capability to pull together disparate content - from multiple sources - and display that content on a single page (such as a single source of truth on a topic).  Apps that provide automated curation save the most time and ensure content is always up -to-date. The advantage of automation means that as soon as content is created, it will appear on the curated page without any manual intervention  - nobody has to monitor new content, copy and paste, or keep track of  publishing schedules.  Also look to see if the app can curate content from both internal and external content sources. Curation makes disparate content more relevant for the end users. 

  • Content promotion enables employee communications to push their own content to appear directly on intranet sites, Teams and Yammer feeds, that are under the control of, or managed by other departments, groups or work teams. This enables the employee communications function to get their content seen well beyond their own channels, without requiring any manual effort by the owners of these other sites/channels.

  • Analytics. The holy grail of these apps is their ability to provide content owners with detailed insights into the effectiveness of content, and user behaviors when engaging with the content. The range of available data should be broad, but also provide the means of interpreting the data that are meaningful specifically for employee communications purposes - so content publishers know what to do with the data. 

2. Ideally, Use an App That Runs on a Platform You Already Have

If your company, like 90% of the Fortune 500, is already using Microsoft 365 (formerly called Office365, which includes apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, SharePoint, Teams),  it’s much easier, quicker and smoother to use an employee communications app that runs in Microsoft 365, rather than having to deploy an app on a new or separate platform, and they integrate with Microsoft or operate separately.

Using an app that runs in Microsoft365 also avoids the need for IT, Legal or InfoSec to vet the app in terms of security, ownership or risk because the app uses all the security and authentication already in place from Microsoft.  That said, using an app that's not on the Microsoft365 platform can be more trouble than it’s worth - especially in terms of security, compliance, new user log-ins, integration setup and testing, and content manager training and support. 

More reading: Employee Engagement Ideas Using High-Tech Communication

3. The App Should Be Intuitive to Use

Today's breed of enterprise/business apps are far more consumer-like than every before. The user experience extends well beyond the end-user experience and also includes the experience of the content publisher and admin users, and the seamless nature of the app's functionality itself.

One of the biggest hurdles to deploying new software is the learning curve for content managers and end users, and any changes to security and/or authentication required of  users. Make sure to ask your communications app vendor how they handle new customer onboarding and what, if any, changes would be required by end users.  Obviously, when it comes to usability and authentication, less is more. There should be a robust pre-installation process to ensure that all issues are addressed and necessary support to help train your team on the use of the new app. For end users there should be nothing required, no training or orientation. The app should be intuitive enough to just work.

If your communications team needs additional training, make sure to check how long it typically takes to learn to use the app. A month to two to four month ramp up is far too long a timeframe. Two to four weeks is more like it.

4. Don’t Overlook the Importance of Advisory Counsel and Support

A good app vendor provides tutorials, a knowledge base and dedicated support staff. It is critical to make sure you get questions answered quickly. The last thing you want is the CEO needing an emergency communication to be sent in an hour and you need help with the app.

Superlative vendors are also capable of providing high-level strategies. They can help you set up the governance of the content, as well as tags, terms and other architecture that will allow your employees to find your content more easily.  It may seem easy to do yourself, but when you have multiple pages, owners and content being produced all over the company, combined with permissions and other user-specific settings, it can get extremely complicated. A guide with experience is incredibly helpful.

Innovation abounds

After many years of focus on intranets as the primary digital transformation tool of choice for employee communications, a significant level of innovation has poured into this space in the past few years, providing significant opportunities to transform the way in which employee communications is managed and operated. Add to this the nature of these new apps - being very flexible, easy to procure and deploy, and far less costly and complex than new intranet software or large enterprise software solution - and employee communicators have many options and opportunities from which to choose.

With these points in mind, buying a new employee communication app should be far easier than buying a new intranet platform. 

Velaku provides Employee and HR Communicators with digital solutions for Microsoft 365 to help them engage their employees easily, quickly and more effectively.  From pre-packaged digital experiences for common communications scenarios to automation tools that speed up the creation and distribution of content, combined with robust support and guidance, Velaku helps you leverage the platform you already have.  To learn how, click here.

Especially now, you can’t afford to stop the car to change a leaky tire. It’s much faster and easier to deploy an app that integrates seamlessly with your existing platform than an app on a completely new platform.

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