Employee communication in 2013: 13 predictions

Employee communication in 2013: 13 predictions

January 03, 2013   Category: Predictions

Happy New Year, everyone! I spent time during the holiday break researching trends in technology and communication—and thinking about what they mean to those of us who communicate with employees. Here’s a look at what’s ahead:

1. Face-to-face will become even more important
In this technology-laden world, we crave person-to-person contact, especially when the topic is complicated and meaningful. (Even Millennials seek actual human interaction, according to a survey by Ipsos Media CT’s Motion Picture Group.) The upshot? We’ll need to ensure that face-to-face is a key part of our communication mix.

2. Meetings will be (must be!) made better
Meetings are an essential communication form in organizations—whether face-to-face in a conference room or virtual via web, video or teleconference session. Yet meetings are universally reviled: For example, nearly 45% of leaders and managers believe that meetings accomplish nothing, according to a ManageElite survey. So 2013 will be the year we’ll fix meetings to make them more compelling and meaningful, at least for the big-impact sessions (town halls, leadership forums, internal conferences) we manage.

3. Email will be revitalized
Last year marked email’s 30th birthday, and, like many who reach that milestone, email’s not as fresh and fabulous as it used to be. There’s no doubt about email’s importance—among other roles email plays, it’s actually the largest digital social media platform, accounting for 80% of all social interactions—but many smart communicators know they need to rethink how to use email. What will be out? Pushing everything through email. What will be in? Using email to invite employees to participate in more vibrant and interactive channels.

4. Mobile will matter much more
Repeat after me: “I need a mobile strategy.” More than 27% of Americans get their (external) news on mobile devices, according to the Pew Research Center. Globally, mobile users are expected to outnumber desktop users in 2013. And, according to Inc. Magazine, the amount of time we spend on mobile devices is up to 84 minutes a day—twice what we spent just two years ago. So employees will increasingly expect you to provide information “to go.”

5. Tablets will change the way employees read
More than 30% of U.S. adults own a tablet/e-reader, up from 2 percent just three years ago, according to eMarketer. Even more significantly, a Poynter study demonstrates that tablets not only impact the way users interact with news, they change the way users read: more scanning and jumping from place to place, less linear reading from beginning to end. So tablets will have more far-reaching implications for how employees consume information, requiring communicators to recast our content.

6. Multiplatform will become the order of the day
I just mentioned two prominent channels, but it’s essential to expand our thinking to the interplay among many forms of communication. Retailers are learning the hard way that consumers are increasingly using multiple devices to shop: As reported in the New York Times, a shopper may “use a cellphone to research products, a tablet to browse the options and a computer to buy.” IBM data, for example, demonstrates that one-quarter of visits to e-commerce sites occur on mobile devices, but only 15 percent of purchases do. We need to build internal communication that allows employees to easily jump between devices and channels.

7. IT will be your new BFF
Good news about Trends 3, 4, 5, and 6: Your colleagues in Information Technology are working on the same issues. For example, IT spending is being fueled by smart mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, e-readers) which will grow by almost 20% in 2013 and generate nearly 57% of the IT industry’s overall growth. IT has budget and a keen interest in being at the forefront of new ways of working. So if you haven’t bought lunch for your IT colleague, you should do so immediately.

8. Compelling content will become your differentiator
As channels become less differentiated (Who even knows the name of your intranet or news vehicle?) and devices become interchangeable, the only thing that matters is content: fresh, unique, useful, personal, compelling content. That means, your success will depend on your ability to create, curate or facilitate (by managing social media) content that employees are attracted to.

9. Executives will overcome their fear of social media
This year will be the tipping point—the moment when senior leaders finally see more value in social media than risk. (A 2012 Gartner study still showed a 50/50 split between positive and negative.) In fact, the ice is beginning to crack, according to an IBM global CEO study, which indicates that executives “predict that social media will become the number two way to engage customers in the years to come.” Dust off that social media proposal that never gained approval; 2013 will be the year when you’ll get the go-ahead.

10. Words are dying. Visuals will rule.
The fastest growing social media platform is, of course, Pinterest, which is consistently achieving four-digit (that’s 1,000%!) increases in usage. And Pinterest is just one example of how images and visuals dominate communication: 95% of marketers believe visual content is critical. On Facebook, posts including photos generate 100% more engagement than the average post. As every English major (including me) needs to know: Writing is on the wane. Visuals—photos, video, infographics, etc.—are the communication method that will pack the big punch.

11. You’ll test narrowcasting
Most employee communication follows the broadcasting model: send the same content to everyone. But too much of broadcasting is irrelevant to recipients, so they simply ignore it. What’s on the horizon? Narrowcasting, defined as tailoring communication to smaller, more selective audiences. (Think texting instead of tweeting.) This is a big change, so we won’t see widespread adoption, just the first baby steps.

12. Play will become business as usual
I refuse to use that dreadful word “gamification” but there’s no denying how ingrained gaming has become in our lives: For instance, 71% of Americans play video games, and 47% of gamers are women. Whether we spend time on a game console or not, “play” is an experience we value and often expect. The question for communicators: How do we create the same opportunities to be a part of the action, in a fun, engaging, absorbing way? 

13. You’ll measure everything
No, you weren’t a math major and yes, budget and time are both limited. But 2013 will be the year when you integrate measurement into everything you do. That’s because you’ve seen the light: Only by measuring can you assess what‘s effective and demonstrates the value of your work. You might start small—web trends and post-meeting surveys count—but in 2013 you’ll turn the corner to become a measurement maven.

Have a great year, everybody!


Definitely agree with the narrowcasting content point. Companies now need to regard themselves as media producers. You no longer have the luxury of waiting for mainstream media to report on your stories, you must do it yourself. That means transforming internal (and external) communications staffs into newsgathering teams producing real-time news stories in text, audio, video, and photo form and delivering it on a daily basis to audiences. Otherwise, no one will know what you are up to.

Steve: Thanks for your comment. "Newsgathering" is a great way to describe the role that communicators must play; so is "reporting" (an old-fashioned term that needs to become new again.) Ask yourself the question, "What fresh content are we creating that employees can't find anywhere else?"

Very insightful comments, Alison. I especially agree with your first prediction that face-to-face communication will be even more important as a means of explanation and translation of business issues by team leaders, not to mention empathetic listening in an increasingly impersonal workplace. High tech absolutely requires high touch.

Thanks Alison, those predictions all strike a chord with me. On the point of Visuals, I wonder how that growing demand for image sharing will manifest itself in internal comms over the next 12 months. I can't find many people using Pinterest for this at the moment, for indstance, presumably because it doesn't accommodate private boards.

Hello, Roger. Hope you're well. I know that you've long been a proponent of high-touch communication as a way to truly engage employees. I hope that my prediction comes true, and that organizations embrace the advice you've been giving for decades.

Bob: Thanks for your comment. Visuals are an interesting challenge for many of us—there are many obstacles, including skills, budget and the fact that senior leaders are still attached to words. Your point about Pinterest is well-taken, but here's one more prediction: Pinterest will offer a "private" product in 2013 for organizations (just as so many providers (like Microsoft and IBM) are doing. After all, corporate represents a considerable potential for revenue. Let's see if my prediction comes true!

Alison, Your predictions line up quite well with what I'm seeing in the field. Great summary. I differ with you somewhat on your optimism about partnering with IT. Not only do they remain recalcitrant partners in many of the organizations I've worked with, but they also lag on the technical knowledge front in terms of social media platforms and applications. In some cases, we've simply bypassed them altogether I'm afraid. That said, I'm hoping that they - and the CEOs - become more open-minded about changes in communication.

Great post, Alison. Your sixth prediction particularly hits home for me as I'm actually working on a post (for my personal social media blog) on transmedia story telling. I like prediction number eight, too. Maybe my next blog post will be on content creation? Thanks for the inspiration :). Cheers, Emine K.

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