WRITING FOR INTERNAL COMMS
5 COMMON MISTAKES
When writing for internal communications, it’s easy to forget that employees may or may not take the time to read what we write. Internal communications are subject to the same attention span and taste levels that employees bring to all the media they see all day long. Just because we put communications out there — whether we’re writing for intranet pages, benefits guides, policy manuals, emails or even posters — doesn’t mean employees will give it the attention we might hope.
To have the best shot at connecting with employees, try to stick with a person-to-person tone of voice. Imagine that you’re sharing the info with a friend or colleague to help you avoid sounding like a corporation talking to an employee-number. Authenticity is important, as is serving up the content in a format that makes it easy for employees to quickly get the information they need.
At Tribe, we sometimes create writing style guides for companies’ employer brands and often rewrite existing copy for internal communications projects. Here are five common mistakes we see, and a few thoughts on how to avoid them:
DON’T GHOSTWRITE IN THE DARK
CEO’s and other top executives are understandably too busy to write all their own stuff, so ghostwriting is a necessary evil. But you can emulate someone else’s voice more authentically when you’ve actually spent time with them. If you don’t know the person you’re ghostwriting for, ask for an interview and record it, so you can pay attention to speech patterns and word choices later. You could also refer to videos of them at speaking engagements or employee events, like town halls. Look for markers like the superlatives they employ. For instance, do they say “awesome,” “brilliant” or “superb?”
DON’T WRITE SOMETHING YOU WOULDN’T SAY
If you wouldn’t say it in such a stiff or formal tone, try not to write it that way either. The goal is to communicate clearly, not to impress or intimidate. When developing internal communications, try to write, as much as possible, in a conversational style. If you were just explaining this topic to someone in person, how would you say it? Instead of writing “utilize,” you might just stick with “use,” for instance. But keep in mind the characteristics of the brand you’re writing for. For some brands, the use of “whom” might be appropriate. For others, it would feel stilted.
DON’T SOUND LIKE A SCHOOLTEACHER
Even when you’re giving employees instruction on open enrollment registration or explaining a new policy, imagine yourself speaking to someone on your same level. There’s no reason to talk down to employees. Most people are more receptive to communication that’s presented as useful information rather than a string of bossy commands. If you find yourself, for example, repeatedly using the word “should,” that’s a clue that you might be veering towards the crotchety school marm voice as opposed to that of the respectful colleague.
DON’T BURY THE CALL TO ACTION
If the point of the communication you’re writing is to get employees to take some action, let them know what that desired response is, right up front. Don’t make them wade through several paragraphs to figure out what they need to do. Likewise, don’t bury the most important takeaway from your communication. If the big news is the launch of some new technology that’s a game changer for your business, make that news the headline and explain it quickly in the first few sentences. Any information about what led up to this breakthrough can come in the paragraphs that follow.
DON’T EXPECT THEM TO READ EVERY WORD
We know employees aren’t going to read the entirety of everything we put out there, but sometimes we lose sight of that fact. People are busy, and if they’re not particularly interested in the topic, they will either skim it or skip it. Encourage skimming by breaking up your text with subheads that help explain the section that follows. If someone reads only the headline and the subheads, will they still get the gist of the communication? You might also consider using pull quotes of interesting comments, which might entice someone to read more.