Communicating purpose isn’t just something that is reserved for your external communications. When it comes to purpose, it could be argued that your most important audience to reach is actually your employees, or what I like to call your tribe. After all, they are the people who will be asked to align with and abide by that purpose and to communicate it to customers and the public.
Internal communications tools like emails, private intranets and even onboarding training can all communicate purpose, but one challenge with all of these tools is that they don’t sustain ongoing engagement. Companies have struggled for years to find ways to engage around the idea of purpose. Too often, companies spend time and resources doing work around purpose, but buy-in never extends beyond the executive suite either because the stated purpose doesn’t really fit with the tribe’s lived experience of your company (i.e., what you say and what you do don’t line up), or because the purpose is not communicated effectively over time.
Here’s a better solution for communicating purpose to internal teams: internal media hubs. Read on to learn more about what an internal media hub is, how it can benefit you, and some examples of how others are using hubs to engage and motivate employees whether they’re down the hall or around the world.
What’s an Internal Media Hub?
What is a hub? A hub is more than a blog or a webpage. It’s a place for organizations to share their stories and define what makes them tick. An internal hub is a place to engage with your tribe and allow them to engage with each other. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a place where purpose is communicated on an ongoing basis.
If an internal hub sounds similar to an intranet site, you’re right that the concepts are similar. Both involve putting content online for employees to browse. The difference is in how that’s done. Where a company intranet provides an opportunity for the organization to push information at employees, a hub exists as a place to develop community. Employees can contribute to a hub in ways they cannot with a static intranet site. A media hub is also more robust and engaging than a simple intranet. It can be accessed from any device, it invites participation, and it can provide a multimedia platform where company videos, podcasts, notes and other content can be shared.
A few other key differences between an internal media hub and your old static intranet include:
- Content oriented around purpose. Orienting your content around purpose doesn’t mean you have a bunch of articles talking about purpose. It means the content supports “why” you do what you do, not just the how or the what. In practice this means the content ties in to purpose in some meaningful way.
- The site and content are branded. Your media hub is more than just a private website for sharing memos and policies with employees; it should reflect the idea that you are curating content for, by and about your tribe in a way that fits clearly with the goals you want to achieve. Think of it as an internal online magazine that supports and promotes your purpose.
- Crowd-sourced stories from around your company. Your hub should deliver insights from around your company, not just your leadership team. Crowd-sourced or community sourced content has multiple advantages: it’s less expensive to produce, it delivers multiple points of view from around your company, and can highlight and help solve problems. Another added benefit? Employees are naturally more engaged with stories about themselves and their peers, especially when they themselves have an opportunity to contribute.
- A hub is multimedia and multiplatform. Because more than half of website visits now come from mobile devices, your internal media hub should be available across multiple platforms to allow your tribe to visit at the times and locations that are most convenient for them. And to maximize engagement, the hub shouldn’t consist solely of text content. It should be able to handle images, video, audio, text and more.
Why Do You Need A Hub?
A hub is essentially a gathering place or online water cooler where employees can gather at a time that’s convenient for them to engage with your organization’s purpose and culture. Internal media hubs respond to some key organizational needs by helping to promote and develop the connections to your organization and other employees that often goes missing, especially as growing numbers of employees work remotely, in field offices or from home.
A few of the benefits of internal media hubs include:
- Giving employees a voice – Especially important in companies where employees are widely distributed.
- Creating community – Internal media hubs facilitate developing relationships between employees, managers and executives regardless of their location or place on the corporate totem pole.
- Engage over time – Email has a short shelf life; intranet sites tend to be text heavy, top down and boring. Hubs are available over time, across multiple platforms, and provide a more consistent home for your message.
Employee engagement matters when it comes to productivity, quality and several other measurable workplace benefits. A 2012 poll by Gallup indicated that employee engagement resulted in 21% higher productivity, 22% higher profitability, 37% lower absenteeism and 10% higher customer metrics.
Whether it’s learning about events going on around the company, recognizing and rewarding employees for their achievements, or facilitating communication between executives, managers and employees, a hub is a place where those connections and greater engagement can be made.
How are Companies Using Internal Media Hubs
Each company has a unique purpose; internal media hubs can reflect those purposes in unique ways.
At Levenfeld Pearlstien LLC, a Chicago-based legal firm, the company’s InfoHub is used to disseminate news and information about what the firm and its partners are doing including: marketing activity like speaking engagements and content, real time information about clients, charitable commitments, recognition of attorneys and other employees and niche services areas they excel in individually and as a firm. The site supports the firm’s mission of providing unparalleled client experience by also providing a place to aggregate legal updates and information about educational events all in one place.
“We place equal importance on reaching all of our key stakeholders – clients, the public, and internal audiences,” says Andrea Maciejewski, Levenfeld Pearlstein’s Director of Client Development. “Internal communications is frequently overlooked, and that’s a critical mistake, because well-informed internal audiences are more productive and can be an organization’s best brand ambassadors. Our internal hub allows us to engage employees by promoting their activities and wins, and delivers an efficient means of information sharing and trust building. When your tribe trust management and each other they are far more productive – arming them with information allows them to serve better, sell better and be most engaged.”
Levenfeld Pearlstein is not alone. Companies as diverse as World Kitchen, makers of famous household brands like RevereWare, Corelle and Corningware, and aviation services and supply chain firm AAR use their internal media hubs to communicate purpose internally and motivate their tribes across the miles. Internal media hubs can be especially beneficial in large companies like World Kitchen and AAR where employees are spread out across the country or across the globe since they can help employees separated by large distances feel more connected and engaged to the company’s purpose
“AAR’s media hub, called myConnection, reinforces our purpose and values with stories about how employees across the globe are living the values and fulfilling the AAR purpose,” said Kathleen Cantillon, Vice President of Strategic Communications at AAR. She continued, “Since the content is about their colleagues, employees are more likely to read the stories than if it was just copy about ‘why values matter.’ We also use the hub to share photos of employees getting checks for submitting ideas that have been implemented to reduce costs and make money, as part of our Ideas Matter program that directly supports our values,”
Of course, there are challenges that must be overcome in order to get the most from an internal media hub. One of the biggest hurdles is adoption. Just because you build an internal media hub doesn’t necessarily mean that employees will use it. That’s why it’s important to encourage employees to contribute content and participate. After all, one of the major differences between a hub and a static website is the sense of the community that hubs can engender.
Another major hurdle is cost, but there are many cost effective platforms, including WordPress, that can be used to build your hub at a reasonable cost. And by allowing employees to create and contribute to the hub, content creation costs can be minimized while also increasing employee engagement with the site. It’s a win-win.
Once you’ve done the work of honing in on your purpose, one of the most important steps your company will need to take is finding ways to communicate that purpose to your tribe across time and distance. Internal hubs provide a means of doing this that is both cost effective and engaging.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.