Reaching our frontline workers with our internal comms has, historically, been something of a challenge. Many of them work across different shift patterns, some of them in far-flung locations, and they don’t always have access to the same hardware and technologies as their managers and colleagues in support functions.
However, a good comms strategy and the right tech’ will help every business overcome this first hurdle. So, assuming we have the tools and channels in place to reach all our people, how do we create content that will hit its mark and engage those who tend to be furthest removed from the source, and often have the least amount of available time to consume what we have to say?
Here are five basic but fundamental rules that should help you get your messages heard by those at the metaphorical coalface.
1. Get straight to the point
You will not have the attention of your frontline workers for long. They are very busy people. They are also far more likely to be concerned with that particular day’s priorities and challenges than the big picture topics and corporate messages that you are sending their way.
In journalism, writers are often taught to write using the inverted pyramid format. They start with the most newsworthy and critical information at the top, before tapering down into the other important details and ending with any other background or supporting information. It’s pretty much the opposite of how authors and other creative writers write, as they tend to set scenes, introduce characters and their backstories, and give all sorts of descriptive colour to their stories way before getting to the main points of their tale.
With the inverted pyramid, you are starting with your conclusion so that your audience gets the most important information first. That way, you’ve got your critical points across, even if some of your audience switch off or stop reading before the end of your post.
This is how you should approach your comms to frontline workers. Keep it short and simple, and cut to the chase. And then, once you’ve finished writing it, go back and see if you can edit out any non-essential details.
2. Ask yourself “So what?” and “Now what?”
It’s important to understand the reason for your comms before you start to write it. What do you want your audience to learn from it? And what do you want them to do, and how do you want them to feel as a result of it?
When reading back through your comms (whether it is to be sent as a written piece or delivered via video), ask yourself “so what?” and “now what?” throughout. If you can answer these questions, then your content has meaning and relevance, and it should serve its purpose. Does your piece make clear what is expected of its audience? And how will it make them feel? You may not have room for lots of pleasantries, flowery language, or detailed background, but how it will make them feel is important and should influence the language you use.
3. Keep it conversational
It’s an all-too-common mistake for companies or individuals to default to an unnecessarily corporate tone of voice in their written comms. The truth is: this turns most audiences off, and none more so than your frontline workers. Conversational is the way to go. It can still be informative, authoritative, and professional, but it conveys respect and relatability, and it comes across as more authentic. It also helps to build trust, as Harvard Business Review has known for years. And besides, because of points one and two, you won’t have time for corporate!
Whether in print or spoken on video, just use language that you’d use in (respectful) conversation with friends or family.
4. Use reader-friendly text formatting
Just as you’re keeping your language simple and you’re getting to the point, you want to keep your sentences and your paragraphs short. A big block of solid text is uninviting, off-putting and can be hard to read. A few short, snappy paragraphs with plenty of empty space between and around them will be far more enticing to your audience.
And, if you have a choice of typefaces and other formatting options, just keep it simple – no wacky typefaces in different fonts, please. Most people find sans serif fonts (such as Arial or Century Gothic) easier to read on screen than serif fonts (such as Times New Roman or Courier). Images are always a great addition if they help the reader to understand what’s being said (or otherwise enhance the piece for them), but don’t make your text hard to read by placing it on top of, or wrapping it either side of, an image.
We all know not to over-use capital letters. Aside from the “shouting at your audience” thing, many people find reading all-caps text harder than the standard upper-and-lower-case formatting.
5. Keep videos short
We’re big fans of using video to convey messages here at Comms Guru HQ. It can provide a personal touch and authenticity that the written word will rarely deliver, and it is easier to consume for the busy frontline worker.
However, just as your written comms should be carefully structured and brutally edited, your video messages should follow the same rules. That personal touch and authenticity must not be delivered by a gentle, ambling prologue to your main points.
We usually advise our clients to think of pop songs when writing and recording their video messages: three minutes max’! However, it’s no secret that pop songs are getting shorter because of the way they’re now consumed. Streaming -and the need for instant gratification- have meant that intros have shrunk to next-to-nothing, and shorter tracks that start right on the hook or the chorus are the flavour of the day. So, apply this formatting to your videos for frontliners too. If you can get your message to under two minutes, you’ve far more chance of your audience watching to the end.
The importance of our key messages reaching our frontline workers – and these registering with them – cannot be overstated. It can be the difference between success and failure, and make or break an organisation. Follow these five tips and you'll be well-positioned to get your messages heard and understood.