ICology: PRSA Connect Part 3

Ep #22 - Angela Sinickas, Corey Wagner & Ally Bunin

This is a break from the traditional episode listeners of ICology might be used to. I attended and spoke at this year's PRSA Connect, PRSA's annual employee communications event.

While there, I thought it would be great to catch some audio from a few of the speakers. 

This is the final episode in a three-part series of interviews I conducted while at the event. In this episode, you'll hear from

  • Angela Sinickas, CEO, Sinickas Communications
  • Corey Wagner, co-founder & CEO of Bananatag
  • Ally Bunin, chair of the PRSA Employee Communications Section & past guest

ICology is available on iTunes as well as many other platforms and apps. Or you can listen to the media player above. 

Episode Transcript

Chuck: This is ICology, the podcast dedicated to interesting people doing interesting things in the world of internal communications, and some other stuff too. This episode is the final installment in a series of interviews conducted at PRSA Connect. If internal comms is your passion, this is your podcast, listen in.
This is the final installment of conversations I had with internal comms leaders at this year’s PRSA Connect conference in Dallas. Nine interviews were conducted, and this is number seven, eight, and nine. If you haven't listened to part one and part two yet you'll want to after hearing this one. In this episode I talked with Angela Sinickas from Sinickas Communications on data and measurement, Corey Wagner, Co-Founder of Bananatag on email, and Ally Bunin, Chair of the PRSA employee comms section board and general IC diva. We pretty much talk about everything else. All the interviews were conducted in hallways or common areas so you might hear some background noise, doors being shut, maybe carts being wheeled behind, but it’s not distracting from the conversations. Hope you enjoy the information being shared.
Chuck: All right, so I'm here with Angela Sinickas. Just finished up the morning keynote here at PRSA Connect, how did it go?
Angela: I thought it was a really lively audience with great questions.
Chuck: And started early, and you got into a little bit of math, which is maybe a little bit uncomfortable for people, but you and I are both understanding that communicators need to sort of put on their big-boy pants a little bit when it comes to math and step up, and understand the data and what it means.
Angela: Yeah, I think there's a couple of things here. Most of the math that most people in business do is pretty much addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, which all of us should've mastered at some point by eight grade. In business we don't have to do geometry or algebra or statistics, any of that. So most of what we’re talking about is percentages or dollars, and percentages sometimes throw people off. But the way I look at it is if you can imagine draw a percentage symbol, then put a dot in the middle of each of those circles, and all of a sudden you have a face. Because percentages are simply telling you about people, and we know people.
Chuck: One of the questions the gentleman brought at the end, which I thought was a great point to bring up, is this sort of belief in the internal comms world that supervisors are the end-all, be-all as a communication source for employees.
Angela: Right, and I think that's because they are very well read, and they've read some very well promoted information based on a really badly done survey. This was done back in the '80s where the question on the survey was, "Where do you want to get all of your company related information?" And given all the choices, people did choose the supervisor. So the communication about that was accurate, but think about it, it's the dumbest question ever because nobody wants to get all of their company information from just one source.
When I do surveys and I ask, by topic, on different information topics, "Where do you currently learn about it, where would you prefer to?" Supervisors and team meetings come up as one of the top sources only on maybe a third of the topics, if that, and a lot of times it's even less than that, because they only want them on things related closely to their job. For strategy they want executives, for things like customer satisfaction or competitive information they want it from the experts of that field or financial results, experts from that field, not their supervisor.
Chuck: And then when communicators are out there looking for data, obviously surveys is a big part of it, so what are some bigger mistakes or areas you think communicators need to improve when it comes to surveying employees?
Angela: Well, I think one of the things is making sure that the questions we're asking are ones that will be actionable. Because it's one thing to ask something that interesting, but if you can't act on it then it shouldn't be asked. You have to really anticipate if people answered each question positively or negatively, what have you learned, because one of the things is we often use the wrong scales. Agree/disagree is a lovely scale, but it's sometimes the wrong scale.
So if you're wanting to find out if people are getting too much, too little or the right amount of information some way, that's the kind of scale you need to use. Are you getting too much, too little or the right amount? If you make it agree/disagree you're never going to find out, and if you're saying, "Are you getting the right amount of information? Agree/disagree?" Well, if a lot of people disagree you don't know if they're getting too much or too little. So it's really making sure that you anticipate what have you learned depending on what answers you might get, and that's going to solve a lot of the problems in survey design.
Chuck: And it was a great Q&A session, and I thought one of the other questions one of the attendees asked was around saying that their executives believe that their employees are over surveyed or they're survey fatigued, and I thought you had a great answer to that.
Angela: Well, I think people are over surveyed if they continue to fill out surveys and never hear either what the results were or what people did with the results. If you were to do a survey every day, and every day tell people what you learned and what you’re changing, they'll take every survey they see because it makes a difference.
Chuck: All right. Well, thank you, Angela.
Angela: Thank you so much, Chuck. Bye-bye.

Chuck: All right, I'm here with Corey Wagner, the Co-Founder and CEO of Bananatag. I've seen you guys at some other events, some ALI events, IABC World Conference last year, but this is your first time at PRSA Connect. Why did you guys choose to be a sponsor of this year's event?
Corey: We had a few customers who were here, and we just thought it would be a great learning opportunity and to meet some people here. It's been great being here and learning the different things about challenges that big companies are having with internal communications. As we scale right now, we're about 30 people, but we are noticing the same issues in our company today, issues with culture and engagement that we're try to solve. And so learning from some of these companies, and also seeing how big of a problem this is for them and the resources that they have at their disposal. That's been something that's been really interesting that we want to help solve as well.
Chuck: So what would you say even though you are 30 people, and you said there might be companies of 3,000, 30,000 people, what would you say at your 30 level what's your biggest internal comms challenge as a leader in the organization?
Corey: We have a couple of offices so there's a bit of a challenge bringing both the sides on the same page with communication, but even within our offices we noticed that as we separate into separate office rooms and things like that, different people end up hearing different things. So keeping everyone engaged and really coming to work knowing that they are part of something, why they're there, that there's opportunities for growth, that's really important, and getting that message across has been really tough. So it's really keeping that culture as we scale has been tough already, and so were really trying to focus more on it, even at 30 people.
Chuck: Now Bananatag is in the email space, which is always a bit of a popular topic, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for not so good reasons in internal comms. Just briefly describe how you guys approach email.
Corey: Sure. So we were sort of from a data background so we like to get analytics and that on email, and really figure out what’s working and what isn't. So we help you measure your internal communications, but in a way that you don't need to learn an outside service because we found that was really difficult. Learning a new thing takes a lot of...there's a lot of inertia there. So we let you track your email right from your email client, and then you actually get data on how many people are opening and whether people are clicking through so you can start to measure whether or not people are going into your intranet, and that's all really helpful data that lets you figure out your communication strategy and improve it.
Chuck: What are some of the different email clients that you work with?
Corey: Currently we support Gmail and Outlook, as well as Notes.
Chuck: Okay. And then, there's always these articles that want to say email is dead or email is dying, and we're always so quick to kill off technology that's been around either just because people are tired of it or basically they've sort of abused it. So how to do guys view email's future?
Corey: Yeah, it's an interesting question, definitely something that comes up from time to time, it was actually just in the last session that we were in. In that case they surveyed employees, and they said it was the way that they want to receive their communication is by email, but they also don't like all the emails that they're getting. So it still comes up as a number one form of communication that employees are asking to be send to, but we definitely are big believers in different channels because you don't reach everyone with just one channel.
I think email is going to be around for a really long time, and I still think it will be one of the main forms of communication. I think people should use other ones at the same time, but it's definitely going to be around, and definitely something people should try to get these analytics on to figure out can we reduce the number of email and improve the engagement with our email by doing that or do we maybe need to send more email. I'm sure not everyone has that problem, but we've definitely seen companies have some success by tracking and seeing that if we send less email we actually get more engagement from our employees.
Chuck: What are some of those key metrics that communicators should look at to determine success of their internal emails?
Corey: So opens are a great first metric to use to see whether or not emails are being clicked on and read. But the thing that we always tell people is driving the metrics on link clicks is, if you link back to your intranet, seeing how many people are actually clicking those articles, going back to areas that you want them to go to, that's a huge thing because it shows engagement and it shows that they're actually interested in the things that you send. The other interesting thing about that is, you can send a lot of email and get a lot of opens, but depending on the structure of even your IT, it can affect your open rates, how many devices people have, that type of thing. So we definitely try to push the link clicks, it is a very real, very accurate metric that shows engagement more than just that someone looked at it.
Chuck: When you look at that sort of multi-channel approach, I think it is smart when you sort of leverage the strengths of one channel to drive traffic to another where, as you shared, people will often complain that they get maybe too much information in an email, but if that email could be shrunk down by then linking to more relevant information for them, that would probably help email's cause quite a bit. Corey, thanks for being here.
Corey: Thanks for having me.

Chuck: I'm with Ally Bunin, employee comms section Chair, PRSA Connect celebrity, Communications Leader out of the northeast for healthcare. Just finished your keynote, how do you think it went?
Ally: I thought it was really great, lot of great energy, really thoughtful questions. A lot of people, I think, are struggling with digital communications and employee engagement, and I think it showed by the amount and types of questions we got afterwards.
Chuck: Why I think the reason yours went so well is because, A; it was very practical, people saw things that they could use and take back. You were able also to talk about successes, and also talk about some of the failures. So what were some of the highlights in your mind that you wanted to make sure got across to people?
Ally: Well, I think no matter what industry you're in, I think all of us have struggles and challenges in engaging and communicating with the workforce, and I think what people tend to forget is that employees are just like you and me, and they crave instantaneous access to information, they want it really simplified, visual, easy to get to, and, of course, on their mobiles. So I think that this is the biggest next frontier for us as communicators, "How to we solve those problems?" That's really what we need to be focusing on. That, and, of course, the quality of content, and making things accessible.
Chuck: One of the points I like that you brought up is you talked about that the employees are going to have natural biases over which channels they naturally gravitate toward. And I feel that a lot of times communicators, we have our own biases over which tools we like to use. So how do you as a leader of a team, how do you balance between those tools that communicators like to use, and the ones they don't, but the ones they don't might actually deliver a lot of value?
Ally: That's true. I think, as I said to someone in the keynote, get the basics right, do a really great job with your content, and make sure that the basics are there, that it's accessible and easy to use, and then you can start trying out some of these tools. Technology is really important, staying modern is really important, but if your half-assing everything, and you're not great at any one thing, you really don't have a business case for trying out something new.
Chuck: And this is going back probably about a year ago, I wrote an article about companies using Instagram in new ways. I remember I highlighted your company about how you are really focusing on highlighting employees as part of your Instagram channel. How has that evolved over time?
Ally: When we started using Instagram in the beginning we were messaging to our employees through Instagram. It's a complete reverse now. They're messaging us basically what they are doing in their day-to-day, they're showing us their pride, they're showing us what they're doing on the front lines, taking care of people. So it's a complete reversal, and they figured it out really quickly, the channel is about them not us.
Chuck: I think that it shows a great marriage and mixture of internal and external serving very much the same purpose where you've got employees that are part of that channel, who are paying attention, but you could have patients and families who are paying attention to that channel. What do you see? You said mobile is on the forefront, any others that you see as trending or some that communicators need to begin looking at?
Ally: Well, in addition to a mobile app, or any kind of mobile ready solution, I do think that different pieces of social media are becoming more and more important. There's a lot of talk about enterprise social which may have a place, but again, you want to kind of go where the employees are, and if they're already on social networks, you should figure out which ones are manageable for you. I mentioned a closed Facebook group is really easy to manage. In fact, we don't even have to manage it now that it's set up. Instagram is easy to manage so long as you're having good quality photos and things. I know Snapchat is becoming more popular. I think Twitter has a place certainly. We're looking at text messaging, voice mails. So different things, different ways to connect with people using mobile.
Chuck: What role in your mind does face-to-face still play?
Ally: Every business, no matter what business you're in, it's still a human business. It's run by humans, it's run by people like you and me so you can't lose the human touch ever, and you always have to offer face-to-face, high-touch types of experiences. Particularly for new hires, particularly for front line leaders, and particularly for executives, you have to be face-to-face. Leaders have to know how to engage face-to-face with people and have real, genuine conversation and dialog, I think it's extremely important. I think the tools we've talked about really augment face-to-face, and town hall meetings, and all kinds of one-on-ones, and rounding, and all that kind of stuff. That's never going to go away, it's critically important.
Chuck: And as section chair, so last year there were 125 people at the event, now we've got 205 people at the event, 36 states, somebody from Canada. How do you think the event's going so far?
Ally: I think the event has really grown by leaps and bounds because people are really starting to understand the specialty of employee communications. Not that it's so much different than communications per se, but I think so many companies are struggling with the topic of engagement, and people really are trying to figure out how they can solve some of those challenges. So to me to see an additional 100 or so people here wanting to learn and craving information speaks about the importance of employee engagement to any business. So I'm really pleased with the turnout, I think the quality of speakers is fantastic. I think the caliber of individuals who are here is fantastic, and I think that we have a stand up field. I think employee communications has really come a long way so I'm really pleased to see that.
Chuck: Great. Thank you, Ally.
It was great chatting with today's guests, appreciated them taking the time to talk with me there at PRSA Connect, as well as the previous six interviews I conducted. If you like the style definitely try it out at other events I attend, but before those events happen, please put Connect 17 on your radar. The exact dates are not final, but I do know it will be in Denver next June. Make sure you hit subscribe on iTunes or your preferred listening platform so you don't miss any future episodes of ICology, like the next one with Stephanie Davis from Laughology. And if you really liked what you hear, a five star review is always appreciated. If internal comms is your passion, Icology is your podcast. Thanks for listening.