When I’ve introduced myself to colleagues as the internal communications writer, I’ve often been told, “Sorry, I never read your emails.” And yet somehow, these same people showed up for the company events, signed up for their annual benefits package, and completed their required compliance trainings. That told me that my internal communications were still effective. Even if folks weren’t reading every word, they must have been able to glean key information from my content. Here’s what I believe made my emails effective.
Crystal clear email subjects – Knowing that sometimes this is all that people will read, I make sure my subject lines provide an exact brief summary of the message, making a particular point to highlight any required action and due date.
- There’s Cake in the Breakroom!
- Benefits Sign-up DUE TODAY
- REMINDER: RSVP by Wednesday, Dec. 4 for the Holiday Party
Smart use of capitalization – While it’s not polite to shout everything in all caps, putting a few keywords in capital letters is helpful to draw attention, as shown in the examples above. Capitalization can also be helpful within the body of your email, to draw attention to headers, sub-headers, links, and bulleted lists.
In addition, you may decide to put capitalized tags in your subject lines, which people can use to organize their inboxes, such as SECURITY ALERT, INVITATION, ACTION REQUIRED, FOR APPROVAL, and so forth, followed by a colon and then any additional needed details.
Easy-to-find links – If you want people to click on a link or a button, it needs to be where they can find it. Don’t bury your links at the bottom of the page. They need to be high up and very obvious. I like to make my links imperative – Watch the Video, Click Here to RSVP, Sign Up Now, Download the App – so that people know exactly what I want them to do. You can also set links apart from the body text by leaving space before and after them and putting them in a larger font size.
Skimmable copy – Effective internal comms should be easy to understand, even if people don’t read every word. Knowing that people are reading fast, you should put key information in headlines, bullets, capitals, and bold so that people can pull those details out easily. Headers and sub-headers act like signposts to help people find the information that matters most to them.
Brevity – The shorter the message, the greater the likelihood that it will be more fully read and understood. That said, sensitive topics still need to be addressed carefully; you need to provide enough context to put people into the right frame of mind or mood. Be brief, but not blunt or rude. Also, try to keep paragraphs shorter, so that people can digest your message in smaller bites.
If you want to provide more in-depth information, or want to show a video message, put that content in a secure shared location, such as on a company intranet, and then link to it. This will help keep your file size down.
Focus on benefits – Sometimes, there’s no bright side to bad news, and it’s not good for morale to sugarcoat the truth. However, in most cases, focusing on the benefit to the employee (or reader) will help the message go down a lot easier.
For example, once I was asked to write an email explaining that alternate prizes were being offered because we ran out of rooms for the annual sales reward trip. Instead of focusing on the problem, I focused the message on the benefit – “For the first time ever, you can choose the reward that works best for you: the company trip, a separate trip for your whole family, or a cash bonus.” The response was completely positive and enough people chose the alternate prizes that we never had to turn anyone away from the company trip.
FAQs – It helps to anticipate questions people will have, especially if your email is about a policy change. These can be added at the bottom of an email, or even attached in a separate document if they are lengthy. FAQs show people that you understand them and that you have nothing to hide. They also help forestall a flood of questions coming back at you or the department head.
Contact information – At the bottom of your communication, always have a designated person or inbox where people can send their questions and comments. Otherwise, you risk people asking the wrong person and getting the wrong answer.
Good design – Having a good-looking design for your internal communication helps support your company’s brand internally. It sets the tone of the email, giving it a more “official” feel than a plain personal email. In some cases, you may want to have different templates for various types of communications, which help people quickly understand the purpose of each message and who it is coming from. In every case, your email design needs to be simple so that it doesn’t take up too much storage space. You don’t want your email to be so full of bells and whistles that it takes forever to download or gets blocked by file size limits.
Editorial review – Finally, every internal communication that goes out on a companywide basis should be reviewed by a trusted editor. Even your best writer can become blind to mistakes when they are working in a rush or just having a bad day. And no matter how important a person is, whether they are the CEO or an intern, they lose credibility when they send out an email that contains errors. Over time, sloppy internal comms can make the company as a whole feel unprofessional, hurt morale, and even affect employee retention. Having a review process in place protects everyone from not only embarrassment but also from potential problems that a misunderstanding could cause.