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The only 5 internal communications tools you need in 2021

by Jamie Bell No Comments

We’ve read enough extensive roundups of “the 20+ internal communications tools you need” and could add to your tech stack…but to be honest, that sounds like an absolute nightmare. There’s no way a full-time internal communications team could manage the implementation and day-to-day use of almost two dozen different pieces of technology.

Plus, over-relying on a variety of internal communications tools is a great way to have the complete opposite effect on what you’re trying to accomplish: you’re risking both overloading your employees with information and/or creating huge inconsistencies. In that kind of environment, you have to wrestle with the reality that either (1) your employees are totally going to miss the message because they didn’t know where to look, or (2) you have to manually copy/paste and post the same information in every channel (uhm, no thanks). 

This is such a hugely frustrating and highly common issue in large, medium, and honestly, even pretty small organizations. It can wind up being total chaos, with important company updates and team highlights thrown across a ton of different channels: newsletters, Google docs, private messages, emails, meetings, video recordings (you’ll never find that again), texts, email threads, you name it.

Here’s the thing: we believe that every company can put together an intentional, effective internal communications strategy with just five tools…and all of them should feel really familiar to your employees and super easy for you to use.

#1: A tool for sending email


We’re all in a seemingly endless pursuit of inbox zero, and many of us have strong feelings about email etiquette; but the fact remains, your employees are checking their email, and the best way to communicate with an audience is to meet them where they’re at!

Of course, there isn’t a business on the planet that isn’t using some kind of tool for email. Either you’re going straight through the email service itself (Gmail/Outlook), you’ve upgraded to email marketing software (Mailchimp/Constant Contact), or you’ve opted for an internal communications platform that offers email as a channel (hello!). 

If you’re going to do internal emails right, it’s important to choose a great tool. Running your team and/or company communications directly through Gmail and Outlook provides zero visibility into the effectiveness of your messages, and managing different distribution lists within that can be really, really painful (and almost impossible if you have more than 100 employees). Your messages are probably largely text-based (which isn’t very engaging) and don’t have a lot of formatting, or you’re attaching a PDF with the newsletter or the mission-critical information you’re trying to communicate. 

The second best thing is to use email marketing software. Many of these offer basic analytics (open/click-through rates), and come with some templates to help you create more engaging, dynamic content. You’ll be able to see what messages are resonating with your audience, and tweak your strategy accordingly. 

You’re probably familiar with them, but here are a few of the most common & well-reviewed email marketing tools: 

That being said, email marketing software has a specific set of downsides when it comes to internal communications. After all, they were built to communicate with prospects and customers, not your own employees, and the end goals are entirely different (which messes with your metrics). With email marketing software, employees can also unsubscribe from your messages (!), and segmentation is still incredibly difficult. Plus, if your email software doesn’t sync with your HRIS system (and none of them do), you’re still stuck managing a custom distribution list or continually working with IT to do so: removing employees who have left, adding employees who have been hired. 

The absolute best email software for internal communications is just that: email software for internal communications. 😉

There are three options in this space: 

All three of these are purpose-built for internal comms, have more engaging designs, offer analytics, and provide better management of your employee emails. Workshop and Bananatag both sync with your people data so you can create targeted messages and always have up-to-date distribution lists, and both provide multi-channel communication options; Contact Monkey only integrates with Gmail and Outlook. Bananatag and Contact Monkey both also offer a version of their platform for salespeople; Workshop is the only one that is built solely for internal communications.

Choose any one of these three options, and you’ll be set up for success as far as internal emails go! 

#2: A tool for texting employees

Texting your employees about company updates can feel a bit controversial at times, but when done intentionally, it can be one of the most efficient and best-performing pieces of your internal communications strategy. (Here’s a guide on how to use it well!)

SMS is one of the most engaging forms of communication; in consumer marketing, recipients are 4x more likely to open and engage with an email. Overall, internal emails have higher engagement than marketing emails, but employees are still 50% more likely to open a text message than an email.

When trying to cut through the noise, SMS is the best way. You don’t have to train employees on a new solution because it’s a channel they’re completely familiar with, and they almost always are going to have their phone nearby. That means that for companies with a more distributed workforce, your message can still be delivered at the right time…whether they’re at a desk or not. 

There are quite a few specific use cases where texting is likely the best channel to reach your employees, regardless of what industry you’re in. For example: 

  • Office closings & weather notifications
  • IT network outages & status updates
  • Construction updates
  • Emergency/safety notifications
  • HR/Benefits deadlines

As far as tools and software solutions go, there’s a variety that offer employee-facing text messages, but they often have very different approaches. The right one for you will likely depend on your industry and what you’re hoping to accomplish.

Simple push notifications: If you want to simply inform your employees of a new update via text, Workshop is the way to go. We offer SMS as a distribution channel for your internal communications, so whenever you have a new message to share, you can simply check a box and send it straight to their phones, with a private link to the full update.

 

Robust employee text messaging platforms: If you want to have back-and-forth conversations with employees via text, and/or you’re looking for a really robust set of SMS-focused features, there are quite a few options. It can be a pretty significant investment for just one communication channel, and they can be really overwhelming, 

Here are a few options to look into: 

#3: A tool for instant messaging

Use Slack

For day-to-day, back-and-forth communication, we’ve never found anything better. At scale, Slack can certainly be overwhelming, but it works incredibly well for instant messaging and one-on-one conversations.

We always recommend that you set up some solid communication norms (and utilize a few of our favorite Slack hacks). The easiest way to think about it: if the message doesn’t have to live for more than 24 hours and you don’t need a 100% read rate on it, Slack’s a great place to put it. 

If you are browsing for an alternative to Slack, Hubspot compiled this list for all of us! 

Another note: A few internal communications platforms also integrate with Slack, so you’re able to schedule and share your messages via that channel, as well. Both Workshop and Bananatag offer this feature. 

#4: A tool for asynchronous communication (that isn’t email or Slack)

With the massive shift to remote and hybrid work in 2021, every company should be adopting more forms of asynchronous communication.

Simply stated, asynchronous communication is when two (or more) people can communicate without the need to be “present” at the same exact moment in time.

There are countless benefits of adopting an asynchronous tool: 

  • It allows more time for thoughtful and/or well-researched responses
  • It reduces the amount of time spent in meetings
  • It doesn’t interrupt your focus (like email & Slack)
  • It removes the need to sync up across time zones
  • It’s less stressful/urgent
  • It can provide more transparency

Asynchronous communication works best when the entire company is aligned on how (and where) to communicate, and when you’re using as few channels as possible to communicate.

We don’t consider email and/or Slack to be truly great asynchronous tools. As far as email is concerned, the channel isn’t exclusive to internal communications; your employees’ inboxes are also filled with marketing messages from other companies, emails from prospects/customers, sales pitches, and miscellaneous subscriptions. Your internal email has to fight with that entire mix for your employee’s attention.

Slack is great for instant messages, but it’s incredibly noisy to work with. Most Slack channels don’t have any set norms or expectations; maybe your organization has “locked down” the #general channel for important announcements/specific people, but that’s the gist of it.

You can certainly make Slack work for async communication, but when both the #emergency channel and #puppy-photo channel and DMs from your boss all light up the same way, it’s hard to get a real feeling for priority. In fact, both email and Slack have no sense of hierarchy; you can’t tell if that message is actually important (which is why people resort to writing things like “URGENT” in email subject lines or ALL CAPS MESSAGES WITH FIRE EMOJIS!!!!!).Lastly: one important tenant of asynchronous communication is that there is no immediate pressure to respond. Both email and Slack conversations often inherently come with that pressure, however (unless it is explicitly communicated otherwise).

That being said, you can make email and Slack work fairly well for asynchronous communication, but you have to set them up that way and wrestle with all the nuances we outlined above. However, an asynchronous tool for internal communication can be a much better solution. It can completely change your company’s productivity, and give you the opportunity to fully embrace a remote-friendly culture.

The way we like to frame it: if you go on vacation for just a couple of days and come back to the office, where would you go to catch up on the important information you’ve missed? That’s your async tool. 

Here are a few tools that can work for asynchronous internal communication: 

…and, wouldn’t you know it: Workshop! Sure enough, we believe so deeply in asynchronous internal communication that we built it straight into the platform. At any point in time, employees can access their company’s Workshop to see all of the historical updates they’ve been sent; so even if they missed the email, and the text message, AND the Slack message, they have a central place to see all of the important messages they may have missed. 

#5: A company intranet or knowledge base

Your company is in a constant stage of change, and it’s important that your internal communications strategy includes a place that can function as a single source of truth for the organization.

That’s where a knowledge base (or intranet) fits into the toolset. It’s the go-to location for your employees to find the everyday resources and documentation they need to do their jobs well. As far as internal communications go, it’s a place of real permanence and where all of your official policies, procedures, programs, PDFs, training materials, events calendars, company milestones, and the employee directory can live.

After all, every department lead knows that there’s a bunch of quick links that they continually get asked for, or questions they are asked time and time again…no matter where they share them or how organized they might be. The company intranet, when set up well, can provide a place to keep all those resources and FAQs front-and-center, and cut down on one-off requests to find files or quick answers.

Here are a few of our favorite knowledge bases: 

If you’re looking for a larger intranet solution, Sharepoint is by far the most widely-used, followed by Facebook’s Workplace. There are quite a few other options to look into, as well, and some companies opt to build their own in WordPress or through a custom development firm. 

What about project-based communication?

To be honest, I think of project-based communication as a completely separate thing. There’s a measured difference between communication that’s meant to get the work done, vs. communication about the project as a whole to a wider audience.

If you’re talking about the day-to-day, collaborative communication between those who are actively working on the project, I have always preferred that it stays as close to your project management software as it possibly can (I’m a big Asana fan).



There are instances where the people doing the work are spread across multiple departments, and putting everything and everyone in one project management tool isn’t possible. In that case, I do use Slack. When a project requires a lot of collaboration across departments and a firm deadline, I’ll create a specific channel for it in Slack to keep the team informed of the progress and kept in the loop about any decisions. (You can opt for another tool, but just don’t spread it across a bunch of different channels; your best bet is to choose a single place to communicate project progress.)

If you’re talking about informing stakeholders and/or other employees about the project, we create a specific, tagged update for it in Workshop, or loop it into that department’s updates. This gives us the ability to push the update to Slack and/or email, or have the option to even text employees when a huge new product is launched. (I’m also easily able to attach marketing materials to the update, so I don’t get bombarded with requests for screenshots or sales sheets).  

Can I get away with 3 tools?

If you’re keeping score, you’ll notice that you can technically use just three tools to complete your internal communications stack: 

  • Workshop, for internal emails, texts, and asynchronous updates (the only internal communications tool that does all three) 
  • Slack, for chat/instant messaging (and Workshop can push messages to here, too!) 
  • Guru (or any another knowledge base/intranet)

Sounds like a simple, streamlined, straightforward set of solutions to me. 🙂



The next step:

Learn more about Workshop and request a demo here!

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