The Gatehouse Blog

State of the Sector in North America 2019 – Channels & Tactics

 

Welcome to the 2019 State of the Sector – North America edition! We are passionate about research, and the State of the Sector is just one of the pieces of research we produce every year. In 2019, we received more responses, from even more countries, than ever. We’ve cut and spliced the data many ways, and have discovered some fascinating trends specific to internal communications in North America, which we’ll be covering in a three-part blog series. Read on to find out more! No time? Click the image below to take a look at our full infographic summary!

And if you want even more insights into the latest trends and best practice in internal communication, don’t hesitate to sign up for our knowledge bank. In the meantime, happy reading!

Who responded?

Over 100 internal communicators from the United States and Canada responded to this year’s State of the Sector survey. Respondents hailed from 26 different industries, with the most highly represented being Healthcare (19%), Local and Central Government (10%), Technology (excluding hardware) (8%), Banking and Finance (excluding insurance) (7%) and Education (7%). Headcount of the organisations respondents work for also varied greatly: Whilst one in five (19%) work for an organisation of 500 people or fewer, 14% say their organisation employs over 50,000 people!

Channel usage

Face to face

There’s no doubt that face-to-face channels are incredibly effective: all but one of the nine channels we polled respondents on is considered very or fairly effective by over 70%. But usage is not as widespread as one may think. Just one centrally-managed channel is in use in over half of organisations: conferences and roadshows. It should come as no surprise that this particular channel is the channel of choice for North American practitioners: they present the perfect opportunity to unveil, promote and clarify an organisation’s strategic objectives, and four in five believe they are effective.

“Just one centrally-managed channel is in use in over half of organisations: conferences and roadshows.”

An even more effective channel, in communicators’ eyes (84%), are communication champions / ambassadors (although only two in five use this kind of network). Perhaps unsurprisingly, given internal communicators’ high level of involvement in knowledge-sharing and collaboration, brown bag sessions organised for this purpose are also widely considered effective (75%). The least effective face-to-face channel is informal get-togethers, although a considerable 62% do still consider these useful.

How EFFECTIVE are your face-to-face channels?

 Print

As with face to face, there has been a continual decline in the usage of print, in favour of digital channels. Posters and banners remain a staple in two thirds of organisations (64%), but fewer than one in three make use of any other channels, and nearly a quarter (22%) say they use no print whatsoever. This isn’t because print is ineffective: on the contrary, close to two thirds of those who use this type of channel say it is effective. But there is a shift towards using more digital, as evidenced by the fact that ‘improving digital channels’ is one of North America based IC practitioners’ top priorities.

“Nearly a quarter (22%) say they use no print whatsoever.”

How EFFECTIVE are your print channels?

Digital

Digital channels are proliferating – both in and outside of work. So, it’s no surprise that IC functions have scrambled to get in on the action. From the early days when emails and intranets were first introduced, these channels have continued to grow – and they now enjoy unquestionable status in most organisations. Nine in ten (91%) use email announcements on a regular basis, with 81% stating they use an intranet platform for internal communications. Some more modern channels are also on strong footing: video, for instance, is in use in two thirds (65%) of organisations.

Then, there are a number of channels with a smattering of users: a third have internal social channels (33%); 17% use mobile apps; one in ten record a regular podcast (10%); and 1% have introduced a chatbot… There are lots of digital channels to choose from nowadays, and it’s difficult to know which is/are the right one(s). In theory, all could be great – and indeed most are rated positively by those that use them, the only exceptions being podcasts (with a 33% approval rate) and intranets (liked by just 53%). But in practice, digital channels present some issues – and these are all the more apparent in North America.

How EFFECTIVE are your digital channels?

Take mobile apps: though 67% consider these effective channels, in practice, they are only actually downloaded by an average of 44% of employees. Another great example is social channels: 64% say these are effective overall, yet twice as many people who think they’re the future of communications think they could really just be killed – and nobody would miss them!

Which of the following best describes social channels in your organisation?

Yes, digital channels can be great, but be careful not to get sucked in by them – as stated previously, 57% of communicators in North America now consider internal technology that’s unfit for purpose a barrier, and one in ten (11%) think there are too many channels in their organisation. Perhaps the lack of a channel framework in many organisations has created a situation in which it is unclear what channels exist and for what purpose… In any case, the 41% who stated previously that they plan on improving digital channels in the year to come may be onto something!

“Digital channels can be great, but be careful not to get sucked in by them – 57% of communicators in North America now consider internal technology that’s unfit for purpose a barrier, and one in ten (11%) think there are too many channels in their organisation.”

Leadership and management communications

Leaders and line managers alike are key players in internal communication, despite not formally reporting into the function. This is primarily because of how visible they are: line managers in particular are said to be visible by 97% of communicators! There are noteworthy differences between the different groups, however.

Executives and other senior leaders make the decisions for the business – for this reason, they are aptly placed to drive strategic messaging that is relevant to the whole organisation. They should, in theory, be well enough equipped for this: 82% of internal communicators say Executives are the management group they provide the most support to, whilst senior leaders are their second priority audience. And only around one in ten practitioners say these groups are poor communicators.

Line managers are much closer to frontline teams – so have a responsibility, and many opportunities, to make organisational messages relevant to their reports and really bring them along on the journey. The problem is, they often don’t get sufficient support to do this properly: four in five communicators (78%) say line managers are their lowest priority when it comes to providing assistance – despite the fact that only 28% think line managers are any good at communicating!

“Four in five communicators (78%) say line managers are their lowest priority when it comes to providing assistance – despite the fact that only 28% think line managers are any good at communicating!”

This is by no means a trend specific to the US and Canada – but the extent to which it prevails across the North American continent is staggering: globally, around two thirds position executives as their number one priority and line managers as their lowest priority, compared with four fifths in North America! Whilst this may have a positive impact on the relationship the IC team enjoy with leadership, it is doubtless not the best for employees…

In your opinion, how visible and approachable are the following groups to your frontline people?

In your opinion, how would you rate the following groups as communicators?

Part three…

We’ve seen in this post that, just like at a global level, digital channels are making things harder for internal communicators, whilst line managers are not being given the support they deserve and need. In part three, we’ll summarise the key themes and provide our expert recommendations to improve internal communications in North America. Read part three here! If you missed it go back and read part one on strategy and planning here.