For many companies and internal communication professionals, their employee communication project is the first time they will have created a digital and real-time communication channel that targets all employees, many of whom have never before been targeted by an internal IT project. So the big question is: How is it done? How did DHL, Brink’s and Audi manage their projects, and what’s the secret to their success?

This blogpost will help answer the most important questions that arise when launching a new employee communication platform.

1. Pre-Launch

Internal communication is at the center of every company and the platforms that companies use are as diverse as communication itself. But no matter what kind of project you're starting, think of it as building a house: you have to start with the foundation, and the foundation of every internal communications project is its strategy.

Content Strategy

A new employee communication platform should be selected carefully and can make a huge difference for the company and its employees. But success depends on answering two central questions once the technical and legal foundations are complete: Who is the audience of the new platform and what do they need most from it?

Companies like RHI Magnesita, Viessmann and Telekom have proven that employee-driven content is at the center of every well-running employee communications platform. And local, employee-driven content, even more so. Because unless the substance of the platform is relevant to the employees, adoption and engagement rates will remain low, making it impossible to reach the company goals set for the new channel.

Staffbase 8C Model

The above model shows the two sides relevant to the success of the employee communication project: employee-driven content and company-driven content. Each side can be divided by centrally and locally managed content. The 8C Model is comprised of the use cases that will drive both the relevance of the platform as well as the business goals. What the pyramid also shows is that employee-driven content is the foundation for everything else.

What is employee-driven content?

The first C stands for Curiosity. This is content that matters to employees. The content they will look at because it’s helpful or it can’t be found anywhere else. Use cases could be the cafeteria menu and well-crafted company news.

The second C stands for Convenience. Employees might be able to find this content elsewhere, but the app lets them find it faster and manage their tasks faster in return. Use cases could be shift plans, chat groups, and employee self-services.

The third C stands for Contribution. This is the part where employees can voice their opinions and become part of the mission of the company with their ideas and opinions. Use cases could be surveys, “Ask Anything” forums, and a local social wall or group.

The last C stands for Carrots. Carrots are the perks and parts that create financial benefits for employees. Use cases could be the employee benefits pages and games that offer prizes like the Christmas Calendar.

What is company-driven content?

Company-driven content is based on the business goals that the new platform is attempting to achieve. These goals could be increasing revenue, accelerating change, improving communication, or increasing employee retention.

The first C stands for Company. This is content that matters to the strategy and mission of the organization. It’s the part that has measurable results and improves leadership as well as customer experience. Use cases could be company-wide news or a CEO blog.

The second C stands for Change. This is the content that helps communicate and enable change within the company. Digital transformation, new products, and new services, as well as new markets, are communicated within this section. In reality this content is mostly presented in the form of news items and via Push Notifications.

The third C stands for Channel. This content includes operational updates, onboarding guides, safety rules, quality guidelines, customer experience principles, and team KPIs. The goal of the company here is to improve targeted parts of its operations.

The fourth C stands for Career. Learning and professional development as well as employer branding are at the center of this type of content. Use cases could be events and pictures as well as offers for seminars and sharing company values.

Information Architecture:

Once your content is set it’s time to think about information architecture. IA is the art of organizing a shared space, often filled with news and information, to increase usability and relevance. A central part of launching a communications platform is therefore to think about its architecture and to decide on the structure for presenting content to its users.

For the platform to become a success the content structure needs to reflect the structure of the company. In order to map out this structure, concepts such as Spaces and channels can be helpful. With Spaces, administrators can create a dedicated space (or area), appoint people to be responsible for it, and assign content to a specific user group for that particular space.

Space administrators are authorized to autonomously manage all of the content in their space, while app administrators maintain sole access to user data and global settings. This allows for the efficient creation of news, menus, events, and forms—with an overview in the admin interface. Spaces are especially useful when targeting different locations, but they can also be used for different departments.

Spaces Concept

The more granular the setup of the platform, the more relevant the information will be for the employees. A good example of such a structure is provided by Deutsche Telekom. Telekom set up different channels for every one of their teams, and while this was a massive undertaking, their employee app is now used by 96 percent of their target audience because each employee is able to find daily information relevant to them and they can make contributions to their team channel, too.

For more information on the different roles that need to be defined in the app, download our full step-by-step success guide.

Technical and Legal Foundations

The technical and legal base is the framework that will define the scope of your project and in large part decide whether it's successful or not. When it comes to the technical foundation, one of the most important points is how to onboard users who will bring the platform to life. So let’s dive right in!

User Onboarding:

The onboarding process for your communication platform greatly depends on your company setup and the features or infrastructures you already have in place. The aim is to find a method that is both manageable for the communications team and easy for your employees.

In general there are five different methods to consider:

Onboarding Decision Tree

All you need to know about introducing an employee app: Find our definitive guide here.

Distribution of the App:

Your employee communications platform needs to be available as a download for every employee. If at all possible, it should be made available on their private devices in order to have the greatest reach. The easier it is for employees to access, the more likely they will be to use the channel. How the platform will be distributed greatly depends on the setup that is already in place, as well as the content it contains and your target group.

In general, there are three possibilities for distributing the platform:

a. Distribute the App via the Public App Stores

Distribution via an app store account is probably the most common method for apps in the communications and HR department. One advantage is that the stores are well known to employees. This means it’s easy for them to find the app. In addition, updates are automatic, reducing the workload of the project team. The app can also be made available to applicants or alumni.

b. Download Page Distribution

One way to avoid using the public app stores is to distribute your app via a download page. This method is fast and risk free and provides the same entry point for all users. In addition, there is no dependency on the Apple app store reviews and adherence to its guidelines. The app can also be made available to applicants or alumni when the download link is shared with them which makes this method very inclusive.

c. MDM Distribution to Enrolled Devices

Another method to get the communication platform to an audience is to roll out the platform over an existing MDM (Mobile Device Management) setup to all enrolled devices. This is another risk-free and fast publishing process that automatically installs the app on employee devices. It’s more flexible than the app stores in terms of requirements and allows for automatic updates.

Branding and Customization:

Another central aspect is the branding of the platform itself. The branding helps employees to connect the platform with the company and a consistent Corporate Identity helps people to recognize the brand as well as to identify with it.

Branding starts with the six different app graphics:

  • App Icon: The app icon is shown in the app stores and also in your app’s menu. Once the app is moved to the home screen following the initial download, the app icon will be visible on the home screen of the mobile device.
  • Launch Image: The launch screen is shown on the mobile device when launching the app for the first time and every time it is subsequently opened. The launch image takes up the whole screen, and is visible momentarily while the app data loads.
  • Login Page Logo: The login page logo is displayed during the signup and login flow. The logo is shown in the upper part of the screen until the signup or login is complete.
  • About Page Company Logo: Your company logo is displayed at the bottom of your “About” Page. This logo can be different from the one on the login page and your app icon; for example, it could be a real company logo. There are no restrictions to color, transparency, or shape.
  • Push Icon for Android: When a Push Notification is sent, Android devices show the small Push icon in the notification bar and notification drawer. When the user clicks on the notification in the notification drawer, the app opens and the push icon disappears.
  • Android Feature Graphic: In the Google Play Store, each app is required to have a feature graphic. The feature graphic is displayed on Android devices on the top of the screen when the app profile is opened in the store.

Apart from the app graphics another central aspect is the branding of the platform itself. For your platform be sure to stick to the corporate brand, work with designers that understand your brand and company culture and work with a responsive design. Also, consider the UX and make each step and link easy to understand for the user group you defined. Remember that some of them might not be as technically adept as you are! To make access easy for your employees put the most important use cases on the first page so that they are easy to find and don’t forget to work with appealing media formats to drive engagement!

Design Screens

Approval of Stakeholders:

Before launching a new employee communications platform, the approval of all stakeholders is crucial. Stakeholders, in this case, could include the workers' council, the IT department, the employees themselves, management, and the data security officers, as well as the purchasing and HR departments. One or even several meetings introducing the project and explaining its goals and use cases can help to get everyone on the same page and avoid problems at a later stage.

Security is especially important during this phase. For more information on security best practices for a communication platform, read this whitepaper.

Legal Documents:

Legal documents allow the company offering the platform and the user within the platform to describe the rules of interaction between them. The extent and type of the required documents very much depend on the country in which the service is offered and the country where the employees work. For the US the terms of use are important; Europe in comparison has quite strict laws regarding the privacy of personal data.

Both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store require that a privacy policy is in place when submitting an app through their platform.

Generally, the following two legal documents should be provided:

  • Privacy policy: The privacy policy states how personal data is stored and handled, as well as the users' rights in regard to seeing and deleting this data.
  • Terms of use: The terms of use describe the purpose of the platform, show whether usage should be voluntary or mandatory, provide an internal contact person, state the desired communication principles, and determine the obligations and responsibilities of the user.

2. Launch

Launch strategies can look different depending on the company and the project. When choosing the right strategy for your project consider the following criteria:

Reach /Accessibility: How many people within the organization can be connected within 24 hours? What communication channels where used up to now? The launch strategy is highly dependent on the accessibility of the employees. If every employee has an email address the launch strategy can involve digital marketing material such as an email countdown. If, on the other hand, employees get their news over a black board in the production hall flyers and posters are needed.

Target group: Is the platform going to be used by part time employees, new recruits, the management level or non-desk workers? Depending who the launch strategy is supposed to reach different messaging and launch material can make sense. Older employees might need bigger incentives and more training to download and use an app, employees in production plants won’t be reached via email and alumni might need different login data than the rest of the workforce. Consider the target group and mold a launch strategy that fits their needs.

Company structure: Does management have a direct line to each employee? Does every employee speak the same language? The bigger companies get the more thought through the launch strategy has to be. In smaller companies the information about the new project can be handed directly from the product team to the employees. In bigger companies the product team has to train the branch managers so they can give the information on. Champions programs as well as in house trainings can be a great way to ensure adoption in larger, international companies.

Make your employee app a smashing success.

During the launch, it’s crucial to spread the word about the new tool. Employees need to know when, why, and how the new channels will affect them. Ideally, they will understand the tool’s benefits, something which will greatly drive adoption.

A popular way to announce the new platform is to work with launch giveaways. The German brewery Paulaner raffled tickets via the app to a Bayern München soccer game. Iredell Health from North Carolina gave out T-shirts, and Horizon got their employees started by handing out little boxes filled with chocolate along with a printed QR-Code for downloading the app.

Launch Material

3. Strategic Growth

The long term aim for the project is to grow. But growth is only possible if the app has a relevant purpose. Relevance increases reach and wide reach will allow you gain broad insights that can be put to practical use.

Extending an employee app

In order to increase relevance, the scope of the project needs to widen. Most internal communication projects start out as a news platform, the main and most essential use case. In order to increase relevance, the following steps can be taken:

First, the app can be extended by adding interaction and services for the employees. At this step, a phonebook and a messenger could become part of the app. The chat is normally enabled after a short test period and only once the communications team can assess how the employees use the app and ensure that the terms of use are generally accepted.

Secondly, the information architecture of the platform can constantly be improved. Spaces help to add new locations and reflect changes that the company undergoes. Whether it’s a big merger or something smaller, like a new location, it must be reflected in the structure of the app. Ongoing maintenance is also important because the platform will quickly look outdated otherwise. Adding new locations can either work via a new Space or a new channel, depending on the information architecture.

In addition to new locations, it might also be necessary to add new languages to the platform. The company language would normally be English, but it might make sense later to add Spaces in location-specific languages. In addition to the content itself, comments might also could need to be translated. Each plugin might also need to be available in multiple locations, meaning that automatic translation could be a huge time saver.

Multilingual App

Thirdly, the platform should be extended with integrations. Links and embedded pages can be an effective way to increase relevance for employees and develop the platform to a point where they know they can easily find all of the tools and services they need. One of the use cases added during this period can be HR services. For example, leave requests and sick notes are HR services that are often added to the platform after a brief test period. These use cases work especially well when introduced in a training session and they can really increase engagement as they’re designed to make the employees daily lives easier.

See what different forms of integrations there are and how they work in the Staffbasics episode, “Extending Your Employee App with Integrations” below.

Finally, the platform should ultimately evolve into a communication hub or front door intranet. Adding new use cases, integrations, and locations will develop the platform into the one place where employees can find everything, and it will enable communicators to measure results and empower company goals.

Front Door Intranet / Best of both worlds

For this development to happen also consider seasonal plugins! They are great for driving employee adoption. A Christmas Calendar, for example, can be a fabulous opportunity to involve all employees via gamification. Daily quiz questions can ask about company culture or provide fun facts—or they can help to inform employees about business initiatives. The plugin will display the top performers, allowing admins to offer incentives to the winners. Why not launch a quiz on the new benefit program to get employees involved?

Also, user group meetings throughout Europe and the US bring internal communicators together and provide a space to exchange ideas and best practices from different industries. Annual events such as the Staffbase Voices give internal communications professionals around the world the opportunity to discuss changes in the industry as well as new inventions, product developments and case studies from outstanding platforms. Joining these events can not only be inspiring, but it will also allow professionals to stay on top of product developments and new industry trends.

You Can Do It!

Remember that your project is a long-term venture! Be aware that constant improvements are not only possible but essential to the success of your app, and that inspiration will come from within your organization as well as from the outside world. Keep your eyes open and learn from the mistakes, it’s a rewarding journey!

We have seen hundreds of companies across the globe do it and we know: You can do it, too! Find our definitive guide here.

Staffbase CTA

If you have any questions or would like more information about internal communication with an employee app, please feel free to contact us or check out the following articles in our blog: