When one of my daughters learned that I was a blogger for Fast Company, she thought it was very cool. But then she asked me, "Dad, did you even know what a blog was, did they have to explain it to you?" Of course, she was just joking. After all, she knows how hip and cool her Dad is, right. Ok. Who’s joking now? Truth be told, I was familiar with blogs, but became more intimate with them about three years ago when ING launched its first internal blog titled, Rough Drafts.
I often tell folks how proud I am to have an Internal Communications team who not only understands, but also executes on making communications to our internal stakeholders "easier." They understand that employees are talking differently and that they are often times considered more credible sources of information than our own CEO. This was one of the drivers for creating the internal blog. Initially, Rough Drafts’ purpose was to discuss our brand — "easier" — and build a sense of community among employees. It transformed into much more. How did we do it?
We worked closely with our business partners in Legal, Human Resources and Compliance to get approval to even have an internal blog. We developed a clear governance process outlining how to blog, terms and conditions for employee engagement and comment approvals. For example, we don’t allow anonymous postings, and the weekly blog is monitored by Internal Communications. As our business partners stated, "We don’t hate the idea enough to kill it," so we were set to move forward with Rough Drafts.
Who would write the blog? Our Internal Communications folks didn’t want an executive or communications person writing it. Instead, our initial blogger was an employee from Finance who was interested in the communications field and eager to volunteer. After the first year, we would sponsor a contest and allow employees to vote for their Rough Drafts blogger based on sample blog posts.
Let’s fast forward. We launched Rough Drafts three years ago, and it’s still going strong — stronger than ever. Participation has steadily increased with over 3,000 views per week. Reading is interacting, and we appreciate the lurkers as well as the commenters. Comments on the blog have also increased; we’re averaging 20 per week. We’ve also seen a 50 percent increase in our blog poll responses.
I’m told that a lot of companies have tried to launch internal blogs, but that it didn’t work out. Here’s why I think we’ve been successful:
- The author matters a lot. We haven’t used an executive or official communications person as the primary blogger. On occasion we have executives participate as guest bloggers which tends to increase the credibility of the blog and the executive.
- Writing style maters (respectful irreverence). Because the blogger isn’t a communications person or an executive, it doesn’t read like it was written by one. We use intriguing titles to pull readers in such as: "E-mail restrictions? Well call me a banana monkey." This blog was about employees no longer being able to access personal e-mail accounts from work.
- Be willing to take on sacred cows. Employees really believe the blog is THEIR medium and not a corporate mouthpiece. The idea of an internal blog can be scary. We found that our peers at other companies did some lobbying with their business partners just as we did to make it happen. Guess what. Our worst fears didn’t come true. Employees know how to behave and realize what’s appropriate in the workplace.
- Balance business and fun. Lighter topics help engage employees who are less willing to go out on a limb with an opinion on a business issue. It also helps garner more eyes for topics you really want them to read/talk about later.
- Be patient and consider professional help. Sometimes a post may be a dud. Sometimes readership is low. That’s okay. Just keep at it.
Our employees are so connected to Rough Drafts that they don’t really see it as a corporate communications vehicle. It has helped our business in many ways. We are reaching managers and high performers, who are considered the most influential, hard to reach audience within organizations today, having a completely open and authentic dialogue about issues of business impact. We have seen our employee engagement scores improve, and we are able to reinforce corporate communications messages through a voice of the people. In fact, depending on the blog topic, commenters are helping one another understand the company’s position in ways that we couldn’t accomplish through some of our mainstream communication vehicles.
Did I mention how proud I am of our Internal Communications team?