Want inspiration for how to kick your internal communication up a notch? Take a look at the trends happening all around you. Alison Davis, CEO of Davis & Company is back for Season 2 to chat with host Alyssa Zeff about some interesting trends and how they impact employee communication.

Episode transcript: 

Alyssa Zeff:
Welcome back everybody to Season 2 of Employee Buzz. I am Alyssa Zeff, your Jeopardy loving, Broadway junkie, boxer-in-training host. I'm here with Alison Davis, founder and CEO of Davis & Company. Alison, can you tell our listeners something they may not know about you?

Alison Davis:
Well, maybe in a minute, but first, I want to know boxers or briefs?

Alyssa Zeff:
No boxing, like I'm going to beat people up, boxing.

Alison Davis:
Oh good, all right, all right. Well, I'm continuing to fight the good fight on trying to transform town halls everywhere. That continues to be my 2020 goal.

Alyssa Zeff:
Awesome. Very exciting. Well, I appreciate you being here to kick off this season. You helped us kick off our first season, so it's great that you're here again. You and I recently worked together on an infographic, which was a lot of fun.

Alison Davis::
A lot of fun.

Alyssa Zeff:
And it was ”20 trends internal communicators need to know for 2020.” Well, it would be great to sit here and chat about all 20.

Alison Davis:
Nobody has time for that.

Alyssa Zeff:
Nobody has time for that. Commercial side note, please go to our website and check out the infographic if you'd like to see all 20, but today we're going to focus on a select few. And I think what we've chosen to focus on are ones that revolve around channels because our listeners and internal communicators control or influence a lot of these channels. I think this could be very helpful and insightful for them.

Alyssa Zeff:
The first trend I want to talk about is decluttering. You and I have both done a lot of decluttering in our homes recently.

Alison Davis:
Yes, we have.

Alyssa Zeff:
Following Marie Kondo or whoever we choose to follow to declutter. But what's interesting is if you look at the trend of decluttering, and I saw a quote that really jumped out at me from an expert, "In an age of overconsumption, getting rid of unnecessary items can bring people a sense of personal relief and pride." And that's when this really jumped out at me for communication as well because I think communicators need to think about decluttering what they have. We've been privileged that there are so many great tools for communicating, and a lot of people say, "I need that, and I want that, and I want that," and that's great, but then you kind of lose impact of all of them.

Alison Davis:
Well, and it's actually interesting because just as in our own personal lives, it's much easier to add something than to take it away.

Alyssa Zeff:
Yes. And I think my advice would be to do an audit. Use the information, use data to figure out which channels are most effective, and then those are the ones that you keep.

Alison Davis:
Yes. And I mean the burden I feel like it’s on us communicators to relieve the burden of employees. If they're overloaded, it's partly our fault, and we need to think about how we can make their lives easier and clearer and less-

Alyssa Zeff:
Decluttered.

Alison Davis:
Decluttered, yes.

Alyssa Zeff:
Excellent. Okay, so let's assume that we've decluttered, and now we're left with the best channels, the most impactful channels, the most effective channels. Let's talk about the trends that are out there that could help communicators make these channels as effective as possible. We'll start with email.

Alison Davis:
Boy, love it, hate it, right?

Alyssa Zeff:
Probably both.

Alison Davis:
And it's interesting because in the doing the research for these 20 trends, I found a lot of things that continue to say email is about to go away, and yet email is not going to go away. And in fact, 95% of organizations are using email, and 63% of communicators say they don't see email going away. So email is here to stay, at least for the time being, so that means we've got to do a better job of using email.

Alyssa Zeff:
I think we could say it could use an extreme makeover.

Alison Davis:
We could say that.

Alyssa Zeff:
To give email an extreme makeover, I think we need to reduce the content. I think a lot of the challenges that our clients face is trying to put too much into one email, which means that it's lost on employees completely. And one of the best things to do is to make it scannable, make it visual. People think that email is just words, but visual emails are very well received.

Alison Davis:
Well, and I think we can think of email... We just talked about decluttering, anyway that you reduce the content of one email or you reduce the number of emails is a win. You're not going to get to zero, but if you could reduce by 25%, for example, the number of words, that would be great, that would be helpful for people.

Alyssa Zeff:
I just spoke to a client recently who is really making a concerted effort to not use email as a standalone channel. And what that means, it is purely a vehicle to help drive traffic to their other channels, whether it's to a news hub or to an intranet or to a video. It's just a gentle reminder, which keeps content very small and also helps improve the impact of the channels where the content really lives.

Alison Davis:
That's a great idea.

Alyssa Zeff:
All right, another channel that could use an extreme makeover is video.

Alison Davis:
Yes indeed.

Alyssa Zeff:
No one wants to watch another talking head. What's hot, what's going on in video these days? What are the trends?

Alison Davis:
Well, I mean, when we look outside in the world of video, there's just some exciting stuff going on. And I think one of the things to remember is our internal video needs to be as dynamic as what you see on YouTube. And part of the one trend that's really interesting is what they're calling live video, which sounds a little bit of an oxymoron, but what it means is the ability for people to watch events as they're occurring live. You can think of sporting events, you can think of, political debates, anything like that. And internally, that's really cool because there are so many things that we could be streaming live. We don't have to wait. We don't have to do all that extensive editing, it could be our CEO is speaking at a conference, you can watch him or her live.

Alyssa Zeff:
Yeah. I mean, or if you're hosting an event internally, don't just think about the people who are in the room. You can assign somebody to quote, "live stream" and open the audience to all of your employees regardless of whether they're in the room. You know, I think the social tools that we all use that you're talking about, Facebook, Instagram, they all have these live components now, and it's extremely popular. Every time I open Instagram, it's like, "So-and-so is live, so-and-so is live, so-and-so is live." And clearly, it's working.

Alison Davis:
And I think in order to do that in internal communication, we need to get over this sort of perfection problem. I just watched a video of a friend of mine as he was cross-country skiing. It was very fun, but it wasn't very polished, and that's what we're used to as consumers, and we need to get more comfortable with that in internal.

Alyssa Zeff:
So what's another trend you're particularly excited about?

Alison Davis:
Well, I'm always excited about print, quite frankly. And I know that makes me sound a little old fashioned, but I was very heartened to see in our research for 2020 trends that print books for example, are still going strong. In fact, 6.5 billion books were sold during the past 10 years as compared to only 1.8 billion eBooks. People are still liking the print experience. So one of the things I would encourage communicators to think about is what's the role of print in their mix? You talked about it, we have a mix, we have a choice of different channels, different vehicles. How do you inject some print into that mix?

Alyssa Zeff:
You know, we did some work for a healthcare company with some very creative use of print at a manufacturing facility with some really cool cutouts and a lot of fun. That's certainly an obvious use for print when you're dealing with a workforce that doesn't have access to digital all the time to have these visual reminders. But it was also more than that, it was engaging, it was clever. The idea that people see something, they walk past it, it's in front of them, I think it really resonates with employees.

Alison Davis:
Well, and it's interesting because a number of years ago we did work for a technology company. One of the things that we discovered is people who are staring at a screen all day actually prefer print, too, if they're going to have to learn about something. So print is certainly great in an environment where you have people who are non-wired, but it's also great as a relief to how we spend our time, which is a 100% screens.

Alyssa Zeff:
Absolutely. And one that we always see is a real great place for print is benefits because of home mailers because this is a point where spouses are often involved in the decision-making and engaging them often means sending something to the home. They like it opening, looking at it. They may go to a website to choose or get more details, but that print, that touch, that look at it, it's definitely an area where print lives.

Alison Davis:
Yep, it does.

Alyssa Zeff:
So email, video, print, those are some pretty classic vehicles that have been around for a while. But I'm kind of excited with trends with a little bit newer channels. So one that came up in our research are podcasts, which podcasts are literally making a lot of noise these days. Fifty-one percent of U.S. consumers, that's 144 million people, have listened to a podcast. In addition to that, 62 million listen every single week. So they tune in week after week.

Alison Davis:
That's pretty amazing.

Alyssa Zeff:
Those are numbers that you can't really ignore. So I think that as communicators, you have to recognize if people are doing this in their personal lives like we've talked about with so many other trends, it will resonate for them at work as well. What are your thoughts on that?

Alison Davis:
Well, and I think it speaks to, we talked about video a couple of minutes ago, it speaks to the fact that we don't have a lot of people who enjoy reading these days. Reading seems like a lot of work. So if employees can get some helpful information in another way, they can watch a video, they can listen to a podcast, that's great, that appeals to them. And so I think podcasts really speak to this idea that you could be in your car or you could be multitasking or whatever you're doing. And I think one of the things that's so appealing to people about podcasts is you get to hear people talk, it's person to person as it were. So I think that it just has some really interesting potential in internal communication today.

Alyssa Zeff:
I do too. And the advice I would give is don't feel as it's another channel for the same information.

Alison Davis:
Right

Alyssa Zeff:
Identify it for what it is. A great model is Trader Joe's. They started an employee podcast that was sharing about what's happening around the company, but they ended up including advice like how long things should stay in a refrigerator. And it became so popular that it's now an external podcast as well for their customers. And I think what it shows is it's got to be interesting for people. Don't give me my business results, don't give me the strategy update, because I can get that in a lot of places. Talk to me, let's have a conversation. Tell me something interesting. Keep my interest.

Alison Davis:
And I think conversation is really important to that because people do want to hear from leaders, from experts, from peers and the ability to listen, like we're doing right now. The ability to listen to people having a conversation and sharing information that way is very appealing to employees.

Alyssa Zeff:
That is a great transition. The last trend I want to talk about is conversation, specifically the rise of collaboration tools such as Yammer, Slack, Workplace, etc. What do you think the implications are for communicators with these tools?

Alison Davis:
Well, it's interesting because I've had so many conversations with clients over the past several months about them asking an existential question, what's my role in Yammer? Or what's my role in Slack? Or what's my role on any of these platforms? And it is true that these platforms can just sort of go along by themselves, but they have so much potential when communicators think of them as one of the tools in their toolbox. And I really urge communicators to think about the fact that we have a very important role in terms of encouraging employees to communicate with each other via these tools via other things. You know, we're no longer just information producers, or certainly should not think of ourselves only as writers. We are producers, we are creators, and we are facilitators. So the question becomes how do we tap into all of the knowledge that's in the organization and encourage people to ask questions, answer questions, raise objections, share ideas, all of that has such value.

Alyssa Zeff:
I love that idea of positioning ourselves as facilitators of conversation and facilitators of dialogue. You know, I understand that's hard for communicators and especially communicators like me who are control freaks. You kind of have to let go of a little bit of that fear and let go of the control and let it happen. Because if it feels forced, it's not going to work, if it feels like it's over-monitored or edited, it's not going to work. But there's so much good knowledge throughout an organization that we as communicators don't have in our heads and enabling people to share that information is so great. The other thing that's really powerful is as communicators; we can watch these conversations and get a great idea of what's on employees’ minds…

Alison Davis:
Yes.

Alyssa Zeff:
..based on what the conversations are happening, what questions they're asking. It gives us great concepts for the communication that we do have to create because we want to answer their questions.

Alison Davis:
Yeah, and I'm glad you admitted you're a control freak nature.

Alyssa Zeff:
I don't want to talk about it.

Alison Davis:
But I think it's very interesting because a lot of the things we talked about here today, in order to be successful communicators and leaders have to lose control a little bit, they have to let go. I will not sing the theme song from the original Frozen, but-

Alyssa Zeff:
Thank you.

Alison Davis:
Thank you, thank you. But you know, I started with talking about town halls. The best town halls are not completely scripted or not completely controlled. The best videos are not. The best anything you can think about that we've talked about. If it's a little bit more spontaneous and authentic, it has a lot more value to people.

Alyssa Zeff:
Absolutely.

Alison Davis:
And if that's a big change, it requires some thinking, some negotiating maybe with some others in the organization. But it's really an important thing to think about.

Alyssa Zeff:
These are very exciting trends that mean a lot to us, and as communicators, I think we really have an opportunity to shake things up.

Alison Davis:
Yep. And if you like these trends, there are 14 others on our infographic, so we really invite you to check those out.

Alyssa Zeff:
Definitely. As always, it is great to chat with you. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me again on Employee Buzz.

Alison Davis:
Thanks for inviting me over.

Alyssa Zeff:
Thanks for joining us on Employee Buzz, where we laugh and learn. If you like what you're hearing, go to your podcast platform, iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or Google Play to rate and review.