The Gatehouse Blog

Storytelling in the age of collaboration and productivity

As the intranet goes social and turns into a collaborative platform, it loses its traditional role as a news channel. Vodafone Germany’s Head of Executive and Internal Communication Steffen Henke argues that internal communicators should keep in mind that content is still king and focus on creating impactful and resonant content for today’s tech-savvy and tech-innate workforce.

Vodafone is a major player in the German telecommunications market. Headquartered in Düsseldorf, Vodafone Germany employs a 14,000-strong workforce based in offces, retail stores and call-centres nationwide.

Where did all the content go?

When I started my career, internal communicators were considered as in-house journalists and the intranet as the main platform for content and news. With the emergence of Enterprise Social Networks, the purpose of the intranet has shifted toward collaboration and productivity.

As the Digital Workspace grows in function and capability, many of us, internal communication practitioners, still feel a sense of nostalgia and actively ignore the Digital Workplace revolution, viewing it as the sphere of IT as opposed to their scope of responsibility. On the other side, IT and Collaboration project managers tend to only focus on the tool and largely ignore the importance of content.

When you look at definitions of the digital Workplace’, you’ll find a lot about productivity and efficiency, but nowhere near enough about the actual content disseminated on these platforms. In this time of perpetual change and digital transformation, the creation of high-quality, relevant and target- specific communicative content is more important than ever! It’s vital for both IC and IT to work in unison to develop platforms and content that facilitate the engagement of today’s media savvy and tech-innate workforce. It is no longer enough to scribe our little ‘news’ sections on the intranet and call it a day. Ultimately, the creation of content is, in fact, the core remit of any IC department.

Three channels, One Digital Workplace

At Vodafone, our Digital Workspace is comprised of three distinct channels: the intranet, Yammer and an employee app. Our intranet is a landing page devoid of any news content. Its purpose is productivity and we see it as, essentially, a personalised ‘jumping-off point’ for our employees to access policies and engage with other communicative platforms, rather than a news hub in its own right. Yammer is our social network where people can discuss with colleagues and collaborate, making it the platform for all user-generated content.

Our app is the main channel in our internal communication mix, as this is where all the content we produce goes. The platform has both an internal and external layer, and aggregates content feeds such as press releases, social media or videos. It allows us to customise content to specific target groups and to reach our employees immediately on their smartphones thanks to push notifications.

Of course, all three channels are connected – people can access the App from the intranet, or comment on news stories published in Yammer or see Yammer feeds on the intranet.

A new tone of voice

Making the App our main platform for internal communication content has been quite a radical move, but it’s also changed the way we think of content. There is a tendency for internal messaging to come across as serious, text-laden and overly formal. Some might even say boring? Writing for a mobile platform means that you have to adopt a different tone of voice. We opted to incorporate humour into our overarching narrative; reducing jargon and shifting the perspective of the stories told, as top-down messaging from executives is often alienating and very rarely engaging. For the most part, we keep text short and use visuals, film and even memes to replace large swathes of text and appeal to the sensibilities of our audience. Of course, as in any corporate institution, there are topics that simply have to be spoken about because they are important to the company, but we try to balance these with topics that we believe will be of genuine interest to our employees.

“There is a tendency for internal messaging to come across as serious, text-laden and overly formal. Some might even say boring? Writing for a mobile platform means that you have to adopt a different tone of voice.”

It is vital that internal communication aligns with global media consumption trends. Messaging should strive to be succinct and clear; and tone of voice malleable dependent on the platform utilised and the audience targeted.

In the past, we have been guilty of bombarding employees with endless messages often speaking at and not with them, but in this day and age, where audiences demand co- ownership and interactivity in the content they imbibe, we, as professional communicators, need to be cognisant of this shift, and dare I say it, excited about the shape modern internal communication is taking.


 Biography: Steffen Henke

Steffen became part of the Vodafone Germany family four years ago, joining as the company’s Head of Executive and Internal Communications. This appointment came after many years of Henke holding numerous high-level IC leadership positions, including that of Regional Head of Communications at a multinational chemical company.