- Strong internal communication tools are paramount to delivering targeted and relevant information to remote employees everywhere.
- These five tech platforms are proving to be major players in the employee communications software market, which is expected to grow to $1.6 billion in the next five years, Research Dive predicts.
- The platforms innovatively mirror the way people consume content outside of work with internal social media, hyper-personalized content, and built-in engagement analytics.
- "The need for this type of solution has definitely been validated," Smarp CMO Bruno Bin said. "The ecosystem is so complex for communications technology that these platforms do different things in different ways. It's a really tough place to navigate."
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
In the never-ending battle to get employees' attention, the look and feel of communications inside large companies now mirrors the external campaigns that marketers use to engage and sell to customers. The approach has given rise to a new category of employee communication software.
"Internal communications and employee communications needs to be more like the external world," said Bruno Bin, CMO of internal communications platform Smarp. "There's a huge demand now for employee communications, and the primary goal is to make sure employees get information that's targeted, relevant, and timely at the individual level."
The employee communications software market accounted for $527 million in 2018 and is expected to grow to $1.6 billion over the next five years, according to research firm Research Dive. The field is crowded, with a tool existing for every potential communication pain point for every type of worker. However, here are a few major players that stand out for their visibility in the marketplace, innovations, and likely staying power.
Smarp, headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, delivers curated information to its customer's employees by customizing the content that each user sees or receives.
By integrating with a company's digital assets — including intranet, email, Slack, or Yammer — Smarp is able to tailor content for each employee by their location, division, role, expertise, or other key factors. Then, it delivers the customized content over email, mobile app, social media feed, newsletter, or other channels.
Smarp's technology also allows employees to suggest new content or provide material that can then be shared across the organization or with specific groups. Smarp's "content booster" capability helps companies expand their reach and foster conversations internally and, in some cases, externally, too.
Since launching in 2011, the platform reported serving around four million employees worldwide through customers such as Amazon, Marriott, KPMG, and BDO.
During the pandemic, clients that used Smarp for crisis communications were able to adjust content in real time, Bin said. Multinationals, for example, whose employees experienced COVID-19 phases at different points in time, were able to communicate policies pertaining to their specific locations.
Using AI-enabled content and aggregators, Bin added, employees received news and policy updates relevant to them, while Smarp's analytics helped communicators adjust the content, formats, and processes for particular groups.
"One client might see the London team likes video content better," Bin said, describing a typical scenario. "If you want the London team to engage with safety information, then we need to create videos. That's one actionable insight."
Bin said the company's pipeline of sales prospects in the first quarter grew by 400%. When lockdowns were announced, Smarp saw a 160% average increase in new users each week, while first quarter sales rose by 91% year over year.
"The need for this type of solution has definitely been validated," Bin said. "The ecosystem is so complex for communications technology that these platforms do different things in different ways. It's a really tough place to navigate."
New Zealand-based SnapComms specializes in providing targeted tools, templates, and widgets to meet specific audience needs. Its solutions range from lock-screen messages to tickers and quizzes, depending on a customer's immediate needs and goals.
Since its founding in 2007, SnapComms said it's risen to serve 2.5 million paid enterprise users in more than 75 countries. Between March and May 2020, traffic to SnapComms' website was twice the average for the prior 12 months, said General Manager Philip Nunn, and its average sales doubled compared to the end of 2019.
With employees not opening emails or visiting intranets as much as leaders would like, SnapComms saw an opportunity to both reduce email overload and drive traffic to existing content on a company's sites.
"What we've all seen is the need for people to communicate effectively, quickly, and consistently," Nunn said. "But you need a way to cut through that noise, to get information to the right employee, at the right time, in the right way."
SnapComms specializes in pushing information right onto desktops, mobile devices, and digital billboards. To reach employees, clients release critical information through pop-up alerts, scrolling tickers, wallpapers, and screensavers.
The company developed nearly 30 content templates during the pandemic, such as work-from-home equipment survey checklists and hand hygiene illustrations as screensavers, Nunn said.
Having boilerplate content that companies could then customize helped leaders communicate about critical subjects quicker, Nunn said.
"The employee has a lot of power in terms of what they want to read," Nunn said. "They're used to snackable content. If your proposition doesn't look like that, then it's not going to be read."
Workplace from Facebook first launched in 2016 with the same posting and commenting features people used on Facebook. At the time, Yammer by Microsoft led the pack for enterprise social media.
Since then, Facebook's employee communications platform has evolved, much as its parent company has. It now provides groups, live video broadcasting, video and audio calls, and personalized news feeds.
Each customer owns its employee data, reporting tools, and content, said Julien Lesaicherre, director of global sales and customer success at Workplace from Facebook.
"Think of Workplace as a fast-growing startup within Facebook," Lesaicherre said. "Workplace is a comms tool for businesses wrapped in social DNA. We're leveraging the best of Facebook. We adapt the code and security foundations for Workplace."
Workplace also provides a knowledge library, HR compliance tools, and polls and surveys. For companies with offices around the globe, captions in multiple languages, translations, and caption editing are also connecting colleagues better and more frequently.
"It's something we're really proud of because what we want to do is break down the silos between people," Lesaicherre said. "Internal communications has never been so important. That's the message we hear both from internal communications people and CXOs [chief experience officers]."
In response to the pandemic, Lesaicherre said Workplace prioritized connecting frontline workers with other members of the organization through its platform. For workers who don't have email addresses, for example, Workplace provided unique codes they could use to access the platform.
Some companies that needed to connect remotely moved quickly to deploy Workplace within days to thousands of employees, Lesaicherre said. That led to Workplace hitting five million paid users at the end of the first quarter, up from three million in October 2019.
Workplace has since rolled out Workplace Rooms, which is similar to Zoom Rooms, and voice and HD video calls. It adapted the Portal videoconference tool, which has a smart camera that moves with the speaker, for Workplace in June. And it plans to adapt Oculus for Business to provide VR-enabled connections with coworkers.
When Slack first came along in 2013, it fit tidily into the workforce collaboration category. Quickly enough, Slack became the place to go for water-cooler conversations and tidbits usually shared between colleagues bumping into each other in the office. Conversations combined with collaborations have turned Slack into the default employee engagement tool for many companies, from large enterprises to small businesses.
With shelter-in-place orders, in addition to colleague-to-colleague interactions, groups that typically communicated in email or in person are also using the platform more. Leaders are using it to post announcements or explain key changes. Mission-critical departments, such as facilities and security, have created Slack channels to post vital information or answer questions.
Slack wrapped up the year's first quarter with more than 90,000 net new organizations on its free and paid plans, the company said, and its revenue hit a record $201.7 million for the quarter, an increase of 50% year over year.
As the workforce went virtual, people connected to Slack for more than 10 hours per day, the company reported. Time spent actively using Slack per day went from 90 minutes at the end of Q4 2019 to 120 minutes by the end of Q1 2020.
"It's powerful to see how quickly, easily, and seamlessly Slack has become our 'office' — regardless of where in the world our employees are based," said Amanda Atkins, director of internal communications at Slack. "All the communication, collaboration, announcements, discussions, brainstorming, and even social interaction that may typically happen in an office setting can fully happen in Slack."
Across the globe, Slack users have used emojis 80% more than they did before shelter-in-place orders went into effect, Atkins said. Another popular feature is the Workflow Builder to automate routine processes, of which 10 million have run.
In June, Simpplr nabbed a top spot in Forrester Research's report of the top 12 intranet platforms that matter most. It signified that the six-year-old Silicon Valley company's bet on building a cloud-based hub for all "top-down" information has paid off.
"We looked at communications stack and we realized that while email and Slack are great, they're noisy places," said Sam Keninger, Simpplr's vice president of marketing. "You need a space where you control and curate the message, and you make it universally accessible to everybody."
Keninger said that it's critical for employees to consume and acknowledge the messages coming from senior leaders because the content covers essential material such as health and safety protocols and specific requirements for working virtually.
"When you need compliance or to know the company's stance on Black Lives Matter, 100% readership matters," Keninger said.
Companies have used Simpplr to advance those communications at a greater pace than ever before. Compared to the same period in 2019, the level of activity on Simpplr platforms has doubled, the company reported. The company also saw a 20% to 40% uptick each month since March of people using its intranets.
Simpplr has also been fast-tracking deployments for companies that reached out in need of a solution immediately, he said. Topa Equities, for example, had a daylong sales cycle and went live a few days later.
"I truly believe that we went through a one-way door in March, and we're not going back," Keninger said. "If I'm the CEO, the first thing is to please my shareholders. The next important thing is to communicate and engage my employees."