Using Content to Retain Knowledge Within Your Business

Given the aging workforce in the United States, an employee nearing retirement may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of losing knowledge within a business.

Truth is, knowledge can walk out the door at any time, leaving an organization scrambling to rebuild a key position to what it once was. Tweet this

Businesses that proactively plan the transfer of knowledge for key positions reap benefits beyond a faster recovery from an unexpected employee loss, including:

  • Better onboarding for new hires
  • Overall increase in productivity
  • Faster ramp-up during employee transfers or promotions
  • Time freed up for busy subject matter experts as knowledge is transferred down
  • Identification of skill gaps or redundancies as they look to replicate the best and brightest across the organization

There are a variety of ways to share business knowledge, from less-formal tactics such as mentoring and job shadowing, to using technology to capture employee knowledge, to more purposeful programs that identify and document certain practices.

Regardless of the chosen method for knowledge transfer, information gleaned can only be shared and useful for the future if it is recorded, and that is where content comes into play.

Turning Content Into Shareable Knowledge

As with most successful activities within a business, achieving effective knowledge transfer requires a plan. While the process will vary some for every business, it should include the basic steps of identifying what to capture, how to document it, how to gather it and where to share it.

1. Identify Knowledge to Capture

Some areas of greatest priority for knowledge transfer may be obvious, such as the case of planned retirements, while others may take more digging to determine.

To help identify knowledge to document and transfer, take a look at:

  • Key subject matter experts
  • Employees nearing retirement
  • Company goals and the generational “backlog” to achieve them
  • Profit-driving products and processes within the business
  • Fast-growing departments
  • Silos and one-person areas of expertise

The knowledge transfer consultants at The Steve Trautman Co. use a matrix that helps organizations analyze their available knowledge and understand which areas are most at risk of being lost.

“Our Knowledge Silo Matrix helps the organization ask its managers who does what best,” says Sonja Gustafson, director of marketing. “From the examination of these key experts will arise skillsets that may need to be transferred.”

Image courtesy of The Steve Trautman Co.

Businesses may also consider soliciting employee questions to identify key knowledge gaps. If you already have an employee Q&A, forum or blog mechanism in place, scouring it can offer a wealth of ideas for knowledge that may need to be more formally captured.

2. Determine Best Content Format

There is good news and bad news when it comes to content. On the bright side, the choices are plentiful, but on the other hand, that can make more difficult the job of choosing a medium.

Consider this list of some popular content types in today’s workforce:   

  • Blogs
  • Case Studies
  • Ebooks
  • FAQ Lists
  • Fliers
  • Online Forums or Q&As
  • Podcasts
  • Presentations
  • Training & Procedures Manuals
  • Videos

Further complicating the matter is that there is not necessarily one solution: A mix of content is often the most effective way of communicating with a diverse staff.

The key here is considering the type of information and with whom it is being shared. Think about factors such as:

  • How employees prefer to learn
  • Whether information is time-sensitive or quickly outdated
  • Generational differences of the workforce
  • How to make information digestible
  • Whether the workforce is off or onsite
  • How frequently and quickly information will need to be referenced
  • The technology available to employees
  • Whether the physical work environment is conducive to alternatives such as audio and video
Image by Pexels

3. Gather Knowledge

Once the “who” to include and “what” to do with it is determined, next comes the “how” to get knowledge out of the heads of subject matter experts and into a useful format.

Here are four content-driven methodologies to consider for documenting knowledge:

  • Use of employee-driven technology: There is no shortage of tools available to help capture information from employees, from social-based sites such as Facebook Workplace, to custom intranet solutions, to robust software applications like these. While this may seem like an obvious and straightforward option, relying on employees to adopt such practices in a consistent and meaningful way is no easy endeavor, so be prepared for an ongoing effort to encourage use and participation.
  • Conducting interviews: Businesses can look to writers inside or outside of the organization to conduct interviews that can be documented and turned into useful content. Placing the task with individuals who enjoy and have a knack for writing can give you more control over the process, providing for smoother task completion and better content quality.
  • Tasking experts and trainees: At The Steve Trautman Co., consultants have found pairing an expert with a trainee and tasking the trainee with documentation to be most effective, as this protocol places less burden on a busy subject matter expert while putting the responsibility of skill development into the hands of those who need it.
  • Curating from existing material: Many businesses have a plethora of data sitting on drives, in online forums or applications, and within employee manuals. While it may not be as comprehensive as needed, it could be a good place to start documentation.
Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

4. Store & Share Knowledge

Here is where the hard work to document knowledge pays off – the sharing of content and reaping of the benefits.

Where content resides will depend on the chosen format and the communications framework established within the organization. Online intranets and network drives are popular, but some content types and business environments may require printed materials.

Whatever your chosen content combination, knowledge transfer efforts are wasted if information is not accessible and properly communicated.

Some ideas for storing, sharing and repurposing content to get the most “bang for the buck” include:

  • Do not forget to tell (and remind!) employees the content is available, and where
  • Post it on an intranet or network drive
  • Consider multiple uses – i.e., can a video be transcribed into an online blog, can an ebook be broken apart into smaller pieces and used another way
  • Use it for in-house training and webinars
  • Feature popular subjects in employee newsletters and communications
  • Insert key pieces into the employee on-boarding process
  • Make it highly searchable with keywords and a table of contents, where applicable
  • Use employee forums and Q&As as a source for future content ideas, then repurpose the information into other usable formats such as ebooks, fliers and FAQs

Knowledge Transfer Best Practices

The practice of transferring knowledge within a business can be overwhelming. The Steve Trautman Co.’s Gustafson offers a few parting words on putting it to use effectively:

  1. Do not make it up as you go along – having a plan and a process is critical
  2. Aim to use verbs and action words in content, especially where goals are concerned
  3. Set deadlines within the plan so steps can be met without overwhelming content contributors

5 Tips (Plus One Bonus!) for Business Communication in the Wake of COVID-19

If you are among the 44% of Americans who have found themselves working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be wondering how communication protocols have changed over the past year.

Is it still necessary to alert my boss when I am going to be late?

Should I be using my video capabilities for Zoom calls, or is it okay to just dial in from my phone?

Stay tuned, because in this blog we answer all of these questions, and more. We will also give you the top five tips (plus one bonus tip!) for communicating in the new business environment.

Tip #1: Proactively establish expectations with your boss.

Regardless of which rung you occupy on the corporate ladder, be proactive about establishing communication expectations with your employer.

Not only can this act provide you with a sense of security about what the expectations are for you, but it’s also a positive reflection of your work ethic.

To get started, set up a face-to-face meeting with your boss. This meeting could be in person or virtual. What is important is that you can see each other’s faces and body language.

As the Insperity.com blog states, “people unconsciously scan faces and body postures to ‘read’ reactions to things we say and do. This is as true for constructive feedback as it is for friendly reassurance.” Being able to read your supervisor’s nonverbal communication can provide you with helpful insight into how well you are meeting their expectations.

If you know you’ll be working from home, some questions you might ask in this meeting could include:

  • Are there set hours that I am expected to be working, or can my schedule be flexible?
  • How will my work be supervised?
  • May I text you before or after hours in case I’m running late to work or staying late to complete a project?

Taking this one step further, be sure to set a regular time and day on both of your calendars to check in about goals, progress, successes, and opportunities for improvement. Checking in helps you establish trust with your boss and communicates professionalism and reliability.

Tip #2: Brush up on text etiquette.

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Whether you have a company-issued cell phone, or occasionally use your personal phone for business, it’s likely you will use texts to communicate from time to time with your coworkers and management alike.

According to Denise Dudley, former founder and CEO of SkillPath Seminars, being savvy about text etiquette is important because “this is just the way people get work done,” and because in every communication you are representing yourself and your business. Representing yourself in the best possible light can only serve you well.

Dudley lays out the following key rules for texting etiquette:

  • “Only text those with whom you have an established business relationship.” Do not text a new client without first establishing their preferred communication methods.
  • “Limit texting to regular work hours.” In other words, it is best not to text your boss an update at midnight about that project on which you’ve been putting in extra hours. Your update can wait until the next business day.
  • “Remain professional – avoid using ‘text spelling’ like ‘C u l8r.’” Use full sentences and pay close attention to spelling and grammar.
  • “Reply promptly, even if it’s to say that you don’t have an answer right now, but you’ll have it by [date or time]. Then, make sure you get back with them by (or before) the deadline.” As with other modes of communication, prompt replies show you are reliable.
  • “Never text confidential news or information.” Unless you want your words to come back to haunt you, only text what you would be willing to go on record about publicly.

We would add the following two rules to supplement Dudley’s:

  • Never try to text through a complicated explanation or subject. Words can be too easily misconstrued in this context. Opt instead for an email or a phone call.
  • If there is a hint of the conversation going sideways, or miscommunications occurring, pick up the phone. In the absence of verbal and nonverbal physical communication cues, even seemingly simple text exchanges can sometimes go sideways. Trust your gut on this one and consider making a phone call if you notice a hint that your text conversation may be going off track.

Tip #3: Know the do’s and don’ts for videoconferencing.

In the absence of in-person meetings, videoconferencing has become commonplace for remote workers.

Chances are you have already been asked to attend a Zoom meeting or two.

You may have Zoomed with friends and family or met with your child’s teacher over Cisco WebEx. You may now even be checking in with your doctor virtually.

As Rose Cervenak, Executive Assistant to the President and CEO of PacifiCorp, states, “I think the essential key to communicating is face-to-face collaboration. If you are not able to do that in-person, then a webcam and app like (Microsoft) Teams or Zoom is essential so you don’t lose that connection with co-workers.

Given that videoconferencing has become so commonplace, it behooves all employees to become aware of standard etiquette while using this technology.

As mentioned above, nonverbal clues communicate much more than what we say out loud and what we write. These clues not only apply to our facial expressions, but also our background (including lighting), our clothing, and our sound equipment.

Four Rules for Videoconferencing Etiquette

  • Limit distractions as much as possible. Setting up your office in a quiet place in your home is ideal, though sometimes isn’t possible. Regardless, wearing noise-cancelling headphones can help limit distractions from everyday sound pollution.
  • Remain mindful of your background. Not everyone has the funds to invest in a green screen. If you do, that’s great! Zoom, in particular, offers many options for disguising your background with built-in and user-selected pictures. Who doesn’t want to pretend they are Zooming in from a tropical location? However, even being sure to clear the space behind you of clutter is perfectly acceptable. Also, don’t forget to turn on the lights! Dim lighting can greatly impede your colleagues’ ability to read your nonverbal communication.
  • Test your internet, video, and microphone connections before important meetings. If you find that your technology is not working correctly, remember it is in your company’s best interest to make sure you have the necessary tools to ensure productivity at home. Advocating for yourself to have the tools you need is not nagging. It is more than reasonable; it is expected.
  • Dress as you would for a meeting in the office. If there is any chance you may stand up during your meeting while the camera is still on, you should fully dress up. Otherwise, feel free to dress up from the waist up. After all, one of the best perks of working from home is wearing sweatpants and slippers all day long.

However, you may also soon realize that you feel more successful on days when you shower, style your hair, and dress as you would to go into the office. Pollak and Coombes agree: “you’ll find you’re more productive when you dress for the day and brush your teeth.”

Tip #4: Establish and communicate your availability, including standard response times.

In the absence of standardized pandemic communication protocols, businesses have been forced to create the ship as it is sailing, so to speak.

Mental health professionals have borne the brunt of this, with an overwhelming influx of need from front-line workers and those losing loved ones due to the pandemic.

The same findings are reflected by Melissa Richards, Vice President for Communications and Marketing at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. She shares on the Inside Higher Ed blog post entitled Our People are Not Okay: “less than 50 percent of U.S. adults evaluate their lives as ‘thriving,’ the lowest since the Great Recession of 2008. Even those who are not clinically depressed are languishing.”

With no confirmed end in sight to work-from-home orders in many states, it is more important than ever for workers to protect their time and their mental health.

The concern many managers have about their employees working from home is that remote workers are really just doing laundry and bingeing Netflix. In my experience and observation, the opposite is usually true — people tend to work more from home because it’s harder to ‘leave’ work,” Pollak and Coombes report.

Setting office hours and a timer on your phone can help alleviate the twilight zone workers sometimes go into when they don’t have firm boundaries protecting their personal time.

Furthermore, it can be very helpful to take scheduled breaks to get up and stretch, grab a glass of water, or just stare out the window. Don’t forget to mute your phone and computer so as to not be bombarded by notifications during your break.

Just be sure to communicate proactively with your colleagues about your new availability and standard response times.

You may be surprised that your boss is willing to work with you on an even better schedule than you were going to propose. Or you may realize that your boss is not supportive of you protecting your time.

Either way, you will be more aware of your next steps and confident in your ability to self-advocate.

Tip #5: Take advantage of all available digital tools.

Image by Pixabay

Though the standard line of thought is that people have become disconnected with each other as the world has remained in lockdown, some business professionals have found that utilizing new technology has allowed their team to collaborate more closely than ever before. 

In a lot of ways, I think the workforce in our office is even more connected and collaborative now because COVID forced us to examine how we interact/collaborate with each other and how we maintain a rich, essential connection with each other,” Cervenak reflected.

Cervenak mainly communicated with her boss via email—and some texting in more urgent scenarios—when she began working from home. But as COVID began to affect their normal business habits, PacifiCorp’s parent company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, adopted Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Teams for all 13 of its energy subsidiaries in the United States and Canada.

Because we are an energy company, we have extreme security protocols, especially on our phones, but (Microsoft 365) allowed us to communicate in a more collaborative, continuous way,” Cervenak pointed out.

As David Kovacovich, author of How COVID Jumpstarted Digital Transformation, a post on the Society for Human Resources Management blog, explained succinctly, “As of March 2020, organizations have had to embrace two new realities: 1) What technology do I have/need and how can it be utilized? 2) How can I help the workforce get up-to-speed with whiplash intensity?

Indeed, it is critical to first examine what technology your organization has and how it can be utilized. However, you should also consider any new digital tools that are available to help your team be even more productive remotely.

Here are some of the incredible tools currently available to businesses.

Yammer

Included in the Microsoft Office 365 suite, Yammer acts as “an enterprise social networking app used for private communications within an organization – so like a company Twitter” — Cervenak.

Pros: User Interface, Ease of Use, Adaptability”—Elibe, Project Management, Ryan Companies.

Cons: It competes with other Microsoft products (Microsoft Teams, Kaizala) for collaboration” — Erik Ralston, Chief Architect, Live Tiles.

Slack

Slack is another business messaging app that connects people to the information they need. It functions similarly to Microsoft Teams in that users utilize channels to break into teams and projects to maintain connection and collaboration.

Pros: “[The] notification feature is awesome, Easy to use for any users, Sharing stuff made easy, Calling directly from web and from mobile app” — Kenil Vavaliya, Student, PPSU.

Cons: “The tool takes up a lot of battery especially if you are using a lot of channels and rooms, storage is very limited, the messages take time updating, the video collaboration tools aren’t very intuitive” — Lonela Marinela, Senior Product UX/UI Designer-Developer, Harvest Software Solutions, LLC.

Asana

Asana is a cloud-based project management program that allows businesses to manage, collaborate, communicate, and organize their tasks and projects. Like Slack, it specializes in allowing users to work on multiple projects at a time.

Pros:Great customer support/onboarding & training materials, Constant innovation, Flexibility of the tool as a whole (can be used differently for companywide usage, or for personal use)”—Tegan Jenner, Senior Data Analyst, Helen & Gertrude. 

Cons:Lacks the feature of exporting, Lacks time tracking feature”—Dezzy Linda, Product Specialist, John Lewis & Partners.

Our two favorites at The Writers For Hire:

Skype

This one is an oldy but goody. But we figure, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Skype, a predecessor to Zoom, is a videoconferencing app that supports face-to-face meetings as well as internet-based phone calls. Unlike Zoom, Skype also features a text chat option outside of individual meetings.

Pros:Good quality video stream for video calls, Ability to transfer ‘massive’ files via chat.”Vasilii Chistyakov, Owner, Electronov.net.

Cons:Lack of Breakout Rooms (or similar functionality) — For meetings that require the ability to break away into subgroups, Skype currently does not offer an equivalent to Zoom’s breakout room functionality.” — Dan Talvi, A/V Coordinator/Worship Director, Fresh Start UMC (fka Pennsylvania Ave United Methodist Church).

Wrike

A project management and collaboration software used by The Writers For Hire, Wrike helps users connect tasks, discussions, and emails to their project plan. Wrike also features an integrated timer feature, which supports freelance and contract employees with tracking their work.

Pros: “Timeline creation, editing, updating. Template creation, Ease of use, intuitive UI. “– Rebekah Ryan, PMP, Senior Implementation Manager, Optum.

Cons: “The higher premium plans are suitable for large teams only. I keep checking my inbox constantly to avoid missing any notifications.” – Cathy Jenkins, Program Coordinator, Mount Carmel Health System.

Bonus Tip: Bone up on your industry’s standards.

Image by Pexels

Consult your industry’s leading professional societies to brush up on communication standards within your field of work.

With COVID reaching all corners of the globe, it’s likely that your business has been affected and that guidance already exists for how to modify your communications to best adapt to this new reality.

It can only serve you well to take the time to reflect in order to be certain your business practices align well with industry standards.

For example, in her call to higher education administrators at institutions of all sizes, Richards encourages college leaders to consider, “What do your institutional data suggest are the most engaging media and formats for employee communications?

Richards is suggesting there may not be a one-size-fits-all industry standard for communications in higher ed, but simply doing the research allows one to begin to have the individual conversations at their particular institution, and therefore serves to improve communication across the board.

Taking a proactive role in establishing communication expectations and standards with your team and leadership will serve you well both now and in the long run as the world moves on into the new normal post COVID-19.

Making the Most of Your Company Newsletters

A newsletter can be a marketer’s best friend. But like any relationship, they require an investment of your time, an understanding of what makes them tick, and some tender, loving care.

There are a few key factors you need to consider and best practices to implement before making a newsletter a regular part of your communications strategy.


Printed vs. Electronic? What is your delivery method?

You need to decide the medium for your newsletter.

Will you produce something that needs to be printed and mailed, or will you create a newsletter on a digital platform like MailChimp or Constant Contact?

Below, we outline best practices for both.

Printed Newsletters 

In this day in age, with so much electronic communication, the idea of receiving a printed newsletter might be a novel one.

Your target audience may appreciate the fact that you’re investing dollars to communicate with them, and they have something tangible to hold on to, clip, highlight, or pass on to someone else.

In a nutshell, they have a longer shelf life and are a great place to profile employees, clients, or donors. There is just something about seeing your name in print that is special.

If you decide a printed newsletter is a way to go for your organization or business, here are a few good rules of thumb, some of which apply to digital newsletters as well.

Create compelling content: 

Regardless of your mode of delivery, your content needs to draw your readers in and keep them interested. 

Guidestar, a popular resource for nonprofit organizations, says that your readers need to gain something from your communications so that they feel reading it was worth their time, and they look forward to the next edition.

Articles can be informational, inspirational, or educational as long you leave your readers with key takeaways.

Enlist professional design and writing services:

If you’re going to invest in doing a newsletter, consider hiring a professional graphic designer.

The designer has the skill set to design a template for you that is not only eye-catching but effective as well. And they can make the most out of “white” or “negative” space and choose fonts that strike an even balance between being inviting and being easy-on-the-eyes.

“A professional graphic designer can make sure your company’s branding and values are enhanced and reflected in a newsletter template while complementing the writer’s tone,” says Purvi Baron, principal of Sincera Designs, a Sugar Land, Texas-based graphic design firm.

You may also want to consider outsourcing to a professional writing firm.

These firms have a variety of talented individuals on their team who can efficiently create compelling and engaging copy. They offer a fresh, outside perspective, too, that you may not get working with someone in-house.

Use pull quotes:

A pull quote is a crucial phrase or excerpt from an article used as a graphical element in a layout, to help draw readers into the content.

See below for an example from Process Street of a pull quote and its use in a design. 

Don’t ignore the back page: 

There is a segment of the population that starts reading magazines, newsletters, and other printed materials from back to front.

Make sure your back page is just as engaging as the front. 

Be consistent with your branding: 

Your newsletter should reflect the look and feel of your organization or business. Make sure to include the logo and use your color palette.

These simple actions will help make your publications recognizable, and readers will begin to associate the newsletter that arrives in their mailbox with your organization or business. 

Digital Newsletters 

Electronic newsletters are much more cost-efficient than a printed newsletter and lend you the ability to send them out on a more regular basis.

And when you consider that, according to Pewresearch.com, 9 in 10 American adults use the Internet and three-quarters of the American population have Internet services at home, a digital newsletter might be your most effective mode of delivery.

Aside from some of the best practices that apply to printed newsletters, such as presenting engaging content, hiring a professional graphic designer and writing team, and being consistent with your branding, there are several “rules of thumb” when you decide to create and launch an email-based newsletter.

Personalization: 

Several email-newsletter programs allow you to personalize content for the recipient.

Customizing your news may make your reader feel valued and important, and it will stand out from the rest of their inbox as well.

Mobile-friendly: 

An article by CNBC says that three-quarters of the world will use their smartphones to access the Internet by the year 2025.

For this reason, you need to work with your designers and email developers to make sure your newsletter displays just as nicely on your mobile devices as it does on your PCs.

In fact, you may want to start the mobile design first. Failing to make your newsletters “responsive” will jeopardize your ability to engage with your readers.

Clever subject line: 

We are inundated with mountains of emails every day. You need to be creative about your subject line so you can make your readers open the email newsletter you’ve worked so hard to create.

You might want to include words that ask a question or challenge the reader, or if appropriate, utilize humor.

A write-up in Inc.com provides some great examples of email subject lines. Here are just a few B2C examples the article cites:

  • Travelocity: Need a day at the beach? Just scratch n’ sniff your way to paradise…
  • Uber: Since we can’t all win the lottery…
  • Overstock: Seriously. We’d like to thank you.
  • Grubhub: Last Day To See What This Mystery Email Is All About
  • Groupon: Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)
  • Eater Boston: Where to Drink Beer Right Now (Sent at 6:45am on a Wednesday)
  • Fabletics: Your Butt Will Look Great in These Workout Pants
  • UrbanDaddy: You’ve Changed
  • Influitive: So I’ll pick you up at 7?
  • BloomThat: Better than a pumpkin spice latte!
  • Gap: Mondays are suddenly AWESOME
  • The Bold Italic: Just P100ho You: Where to Eat SF’s Best Pho
  • The Muse: We Like Being Used

Vertical Response provides the following as examples for B2B subject lines:

  • How to Leverage (your product) in Your Business
  • Save Money and Look Like a Star to Your Boss
  • How to Impress Your CFO — Save $1000
  • Increase Your ROI by 30%, Guaranteed
  • How to make it onto your buyer’s shortlist
  • Free Webinar: [insert webinar name]
  • Now you can do even more with your (xxxx) should your company outsource (insert thing to outsource here)?
  • Breakfast & Secrets for How to (insert the problem you solve or the product you sell)
  • Success Tip: 5 Ways to a Better (xxxx)

Crystal clear call-to-action (CTA): 

When a subscriber opens your newsletter, not only should they find the content valuable, they should also know immediately what action to take, whether it’s to read a blog post linked to your website, register for an event, or make a donation.

Any CTA buttons should be prominent in your email design, with  straightforward copy to help the reader take the desired action.

Here’s a great example from BikeHouston:

Actionable language with links:

It’s best to avoid phrases like “click here” for more. Instead, use other verbs like “read,” “donate,” “subscribe,” “learn,” or “share.”

Short and sweet: Do what you can to drive readers to your website. Consider doing a summary with teases that allow the reader to skim and then dive further into a particular article if it piques their interest. Here’s a good example of how Robert Half, a staffing and recruiting firm, does this:

Make it scannable:

Today we are all bombarded with electronic information. Consider including only three to five articles in your newsletter and organize them in a way that makes sense to the reader, with your most important message at the beginning.

Test and test again: 

One of the best parts of electronic communication is the opportunity you have to test before launch.

Take advantage of this ability to ensure you have multiple eyes on the final product before it goes live to everyone.

How often will you send them?  

Regardless of how your newsletter is delivered, you need to be consistent in its production and release date. You need to commit to a regular schedule to truly engage with your readers.

Newsletters, whether they are printed or emailed, are a labor of love and take significant time to produce.

You need to account for planning the editorial content, writing the articles, editing/revisions, gathering quality photos, corrections, and securing approval.

If the purpose of your newsletter is to keep employees informed, you may want to consider publishing something at least monthly.

If your newsletter is for external audiences, you may want to consider sending it out monthly or quarterly.

Whatever schedule you choose, make sure you are being consistent with your communications and not sporadic. Your audience will anticipate receiving your newsletter and come to expect them on a regular schedule.

What types of articles should your newsletter include? 

When considering the content for your newsletter, you should think about including a message from leadership.

If you are producing a newsletter for employees, especially a Fortune 500 company with hundreds of employees, an article from leadership might serve as one of the only regular touchpoints your team has with the C-suite.

If you are producing a newsletter for an external audience for a nonprofit, for example, you definitely want to include a message from your executive director so that your audience, especially donors, are in tune with and hear from those at the top.

Your newsletter should also include a summary of what is happening at your organization and a list of current activities and events.

It should serve as another way to help grow your social media audience and include a call to action for people to follow your organization on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media.

How should you measure success?

The production and distribution of newsletters take dedication and amazing attention to detail, not to mention time and energy.

You want to know that you’re being successful and hitting the mark with your readers.

Even if you choose to do a printed newsletter, you should consider sending a survey to gauge which articles subscribers are reading and what readers would like to see in future issues. 

If you go the digital route, you need to take the following metrics into account:

  • Open-rate: MailChimp.com defines “open-rate” as the percentage that tells you how many recipients opened the email. MailChimp analyzed open-rates and found the average across a variety of industries was 21.33%.
  • Click-through rate: MailChimp describes the click-through rate as the percentage of subscribers that took action to click-through to your website. This number reflects whether your audience found your newsletter interesting enough to click through to learn more. The average click-through rate, according to MailChimp, is 2.62%.
  • Bounce-rate: Finally, there’s bounce-rate. Bounces happen when an email can’t be delivered either because the email address is not valid or because a mailbox was too full or temporarily unavailable. A good bounce-rate, according to ConstantContact.com, is about 7.75% across all industries.

If you want to improve any of these metrics, you may want to revisit your email subject lines and make sure you have up-to-date email addresses for your subscribers.

How to Get More Subscribers

One of the main goals of a newsletter is to grow your community of supporters, advocates, donors, and consumers. Here are a few ideas:  

  • Have a way to capture subscribers at in-person events. You can have an ole’ fashion sign-up sheet, or better yet, an iPad or other digital device to obtain people’s information.
  • Cross-promote your newsletter on Facebook and/or Twitter. Provide a link directly to the sign-up page on your website.
  • Encourage social media sharing in your newsletter.

A Helpful Resource for Readers

A newsletter, whether it be internal or external, is a great way to get in front of your audiences and communicate information you need them to know.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, strong communication within newsletters has been instrumental in staying connected with employees and patients. The goal is to not inundate them—but work towards consolidation and educational information,” says Melissa McDonald, assistant director of marketing and communications for UT Physicians.

“The idea is to pull all of the information into one communication that they can then circle back on if they have questions. We use an external platform to generate our newsletters, so we have trackable information on what people are reading. When you have tracking information, it allows you to hone in on what your consumers want—and your employees.”

Document Management – How To Make Sure Employees Can Find Critical Business Info When They Need It

Let’s be honest…document management is probably not on the top of your priority list. You may even have an “old school” filing cabinet, where your company stores copies of personnel files and HR paperwork.

You have to admit, though, that digging through physical files (or even unorganized files on your computer desktop) is not exactly an efficient business practice. The good news is, you’re not alone.

Many companies have problems organizing their documents and making information easy to access.

Fixing this problem gives you a competitive advantage in terms of efficiency and the ability to promote synergy across the company.

Businesses of all sizes naturally end up with a ton of documents to manage, from job applications and employment forms to client data.

Just imagine being able to access all of the legal and marketing documents employees create, even after employees transition into new jobs with new companies. You wouldn’t have to waste time trying to find or recreate documents.

Implementing a document management system could be the solution for total organization and transparency within your company.

This guide is an overview of document management systems and some product recommendations for software that you can use.

What is a Document Management System?

A document management system is a software program that is used to store, manage, and provide access to digital files.

Sometimes referred to as DMS, versions of document management systems can be found in businesses, schools, and homes. Document management systems are designed to streamline the process of creating storing and accessing files.

Examples of Document Management Systems

Technically, you could have a document management system that exists without cloud-based software.

If you scan physical files into your office’s computer and label each digital file with identifying information so you can find it easily when you need it later, you created a rudimentary document management system without having to pay for a cloud-based system.

While this may work for some businesses, large companies, or companies the same files from separate locations, need a more interconnected system.

Cloud technologies make it easier to share files among computers, even if they are in separate locations. Many companies rely on cloud-based document management systems to store all company-related documents.

Some ways that document management systems can be used include storing:

  • Signed NDA agreements
  • Client files
  • Client contact information
  • Marketing files
  • Legal documents
  • Contracts

Advantages of Document Management Systems

There are many advantages to implementing a document management system. Depending on your company’s pain points, certain benefits might have more impact than others.

Here are some of the primary advantages of document management systems:

Paperless

Document management systems make it possible to have a paperless office where you don’t need to maintain filing cabinets of documents.

This can make your operations more sustainable and reduce your office-supply expenses for paper and ink.

Constant Access

Using a cloud-based document management system means that your team will have constant, real-time access to stored files.

This provides the ability to access files from personal computers at home, or mobile devices while on the go. In the event that a client asks for specific information during a meeting, you will have immediate access to the files.

Save Money

There are many surprising ways that using a document management system can save your company money.

First, employees won’t waste paid time looking for or re-creating files. If your team worked with a graphic designer to create a flyer or event logo, you will always have access to it.

More Secure

Document management systems are more secure than other alternatives.

Physical documents can easily get lost or destroyed. Files stored on individual computers, tablets, and smartphones can become compromised when employees leave or if the devices are lost.

Access to the document management system can be limited to only those that need it. This means that your executive team can have secured access to files that administrators and temps won’t have access to.

Scalability

Scaling your business is much easier when you have existing processes in place.

A document management system can provide the tools, documents, templates, and processes your growing team needs.

Less Wasted Time

As previously mentioned, your team will waste less time looking for or re-creating files after implementing a document management system.

However, there are other ways it will save you time. As more files are created within the document management system, no one will need to spend time printing or scanning physical papers.

Less Redundancy

A document management system can reduce the amount of redundancy within your organization by allowing for one file that everyone can access.

By contrast, emailing a document to several recipients creates multiple versions of the same file.

If you ask for feedback on a document, you will no longer need to compile several different files.

Steps to Creating a Document Management System

Creating a document management system doesn’t have to be complicated.

The process includes an assessment of what your company needs in terms of document management, who will be responsible for uploading printed documents, and file-naming conventions that you can rely on.

For most companies, the process of creating and managing a document management system is based on the following steps:

Determine Which Documents You Need

The first step in choosing a system is to simply figure out what documents you want to store.

This can include proposals, standard operating procedures, marketing materials, internal employee documents, and more.

You may decide that it isn’t practical or necessary to store every document your team interacts with.

Figure Out Who Needs Access

Next, you will need to think about who needs access to which documents.

Some programs enable you to partition off access, so employees only have access to the files that they need. Others allow everyone to have access to everything.

The ability to control access to specific files is important for company security, especially for larger, national, and international companies.

Companies generally limit access to files based on the management levels in the company, working areas, departments, and project participation.

For example, the executive management team of a company needs access to personnel files and business intelligence that many base-level employees do not need. The company gives the executive management team access but denies access to everyone else, effectively keeping the information secure.

This can also be helpful for keeping files secure while complying with government regulations. For example, the HR department must keep nearly all of its files secure.

By limiting access in the document management system to the HR department, the company can share a DMS across the company’s infrastructure while keeping the HR department compliant with regulations.

Scanning Paper Documents

If your company has a lot of paper documents, you will need to scan all of the paper documents into the system.

This can probably be done using the document management system you choose or your computer’s built-in scanning program.

You will need to think about who will be responsible for uploading the documents and when they should upload them. Does an administrator upload files each week? Or only as needed?

Labeling Files

The method that you use to label the files is probably the most important step in the entire process.

This method should be used by every member of your team so that it is easy for everyone to find the files that they need. When all of the files are labeled correctly, it is easy to find and sort everything.

The file name labeling process can include:

  • Business Name
  • Client Name
  • Client Number
  • Project Name
  • Version Number
  • Date
  • Department Name
  • User Name
  • Creator Name
  • Product Name
  • Types of Data
  • Location

In practice, this can look something like: “Client Name Document Location Date” or “Widgets Company Business Plan United States 2020.”

It is enough information to understand what the document is later. When the naming conventions are the same across all documents, it is much easier to find documents you need.

Deletion Policies

How long will you need to store the files? At what point do you need to delete the files?

Be prepared to think about what would serve as reasonable deletion policies for your organization. In most cases, there are files that you will not need access to forever.

Internet Security

Once you migrate company files into a cloud-based document management system, cybersecurity measures become even more important.

This includes antivirus programs and strong passwords.

Your company maintains responsibility for confidential customer information, private internal files, and financial data. If an unauthorized user gained access to this data and exploited it, your company could be held responsible. Customers could even lose confidence in your company.

Many document management systems have security features built-in to protect files from outside access and for limiting internal security risks as well.

How to Choose a Document Management System

When it comes to document management systems, you can either create your own system or you can use an existing software program that is commercially available.

For most teams, choosing a ready-to-use solution is the preferred choice, as you will be able to implement it without having your IT department spend the time and resources needed to develop a custom solution.

Some things to consider when deciding which document management system is best:

  • The size of your team
  • Need for restricting access
  • Type of access needed
  • Types of devices and platforms in use
  • Security and privacy needs
  • Types of files to be stored

Overview of DMS Software Options

There are dozens of different document management systems available on the internet, from free solutions to paid subscription-based tools.

Each program has its own pros and cons, from ease of access to the depth of their customization options.

The needs of each company are different, which makes investigating a wide range of DMS important. These DMS cover the needs of a majority of companies in different areas and with different focuses.

OnlyOffice

OnlyOffice makes it possible to work on documents at the same time, which is important for teams that like to collaborate.

In essence, it creates a small cloud-based within your company’s IT infrastructure, removing the need for access to an external cloud system. That way, you have full control over its security, redundancy, and disaster recovery systems since it is located on your company’s servers instead of in a third-party server system.

The biggest benefit that OnlyOffice provides is the integration with Microsoft Office tools.

If your company uses Microsoft Office, then OnlyOffice makes these tools available through the cloud system. You won’t need to invest in training for the editing tools in whichever DMS you use or to acquire a new system that makes document editing easier in a DMS.

With the ability to edit files using Microsoft Office through OnlyOffice, OnlyOffice makes Microsoft Office function more like online tools like Google Drive. There is no limit to the number of people working on a document at any time unlike using Microsoft Word on a single computer.

OnlyOffice integrates with other document management systems, too.

If you already have systems in place, like SharePoint, Nextcloud, or Confluence, your company can add OnlyOffice on to those programs. It gives other DMSs access to Microsoft Office’s document editing tools. OnlyOffice integrates with a range of other programs, making it possible to add cloud data management functionality to the systems and processes that you already have in place.

OnlyOffice is a cost-effective solution, even though it isn’t free. While it does have some compliance features, this may not be the best solution for companies that have to deal with a lot of regulatory compliance concerns.

SharePoint Online

SharePoint has long been used by corporations as a way to share and organize files.

For companies that are already heavily invested in Microsoft programs such as Microsoft Office 365, it is an intuitive program that is easy to integrate with other programs.

SharePoint gives your company more modularity in file sharing. You can create spaces within SharePoint for different business units, making it easy to share information among specific groups and reducing information exposure and overload for units in other parts of the company.

You can also share resources across all business units to speed up critical information sharing.

One of the most useful features that SharePoint offers is the SharePoint Mobile app. It extends SharePoint onto mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, so that your staff members can stay connected anywhere.

While SharePoint is one of the leading options, it also has its drawbacks.

One of the major disadvantages of SharePoint is that it is fairly expensive compared to other DMS available. The price can limit the extent to which your company can deploy SharePoint, making it a better option for large corporations with high technology and infrastructure budgets.

Rubex

If your company needs to continue to use physical documents, then you may need a system that works more effectively with physical documents.

If sharing physical documents is more important than editing documents online, eFileCabinet’s program called Rubex could be a good option.

One of the features that makes Rubex stand out is its optical character recognition function. It can scan physical documents with a high degree of clarity, ensuring that sharing your documents with other staff members will still produce high-quality documentation.

Once scanned into the system, staff members can share the online version of the document instantly, while maintaining the physical copies that they need.

The ability to scan files in high definition is also important for companies that need audit trails.

Companies in the legal, accounting, human resources, and insurance sectors are good examples of companies that can use Rubex to its fullest potential.

HR departments must keep physical copies of documents under lock and key to maintain compliance. However, Rubex makes it possible to securely share copies of documents within the department without compromising the security of the physical copies.

While Rubex is useful for document management, it is not particularly well-suited for mobile devices.

OpenDocMan

For a free option, OpenDocMan is an open-source web-based DMS that works on many different operating systems.

This is because OpenDocMan is built using PHP, the same programming software as other leading programs and web-based systems including WordPress. Because of this, it also works for any file type.

OpenDocMan is designed for security and efficiency, with a deep focus on privacy standards for web-based programs. It has detailed file access control to make sharing more secure.

The system uses the same type of cloud-server-based systems that websites use, so it has a built-in recovery infrastructure in case of disasters and emergencies.

OpenDocMan supports automatic system maintenance. The program will manage its own updates, including installing security updates and new features when they are available. This prevents the need to dedicate a lot of time and effort to system maintenance.

OpenDocMan is an effective way to share files to make information sharing more efficient, but it doesn’t have strong collaboration tools or one-on-one training options. In fact, its only training is through webinars and third-party tutorials.

If your team requires more support to learn a new program, this wouldn’t be a good fit.

Confluence

Confluence is a document management system that offers other resources to help companies stay organized and increase efficiency.

Confluence uses a template system to help staff members create documents. Then, they can be accessed by other users making it easier to share information with effectively designed documents.

While Confluence focuses on document creation and sharing, you can also create other forms of information sharing.

Most notably, it has a feature for creating knowledge bases, blogs, and social features. It essentially creates a database of company knowledge that can be used for daily operations, training, and communication enhancement

The biggest drawback to Confluence is that it doesn’t seem to support documentation outside of the program. If your company already has systems in place that Confluence won’t replace, this may present some challenges.

Optix

Optix is another option that focuses on replacing all of your company’s internal documentation systems. It is designed to make information management and document creation more efficient with online tools.

This reduces printing costs and physical systems overhead.

Another feature that Optix uses to reduce costs is automation. It has many automated functions that both collect data from documents and create documents.

Optix uses a drag-and-drop system to help staff members create templates that automatically collect data needed for different operations.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to Optix is that most of its efficiency gains comes from being the only system that your company needs to create and manage documents.

If your company continues to use systems outside of Optix, like Microsoft Office or Google Drive, then the gains that it promises may not materialize.

Employee Buy-In

Cultivating employee buy-in can be just as important as choosing the right software program.

Implementing a document management system will only be successful if you can get employees and contractors to follow the process and use the program.

Creating use cases and demonstrating how a new system can improve performance can help to position the document management system as a worthwhile solution. When employees can see how a new program will help them, they are more likely to be invested in implementing it.

In addition, having access to effective training can have an impact on employee buy-in.

This can be training provided by the company that sells the document management system or that you create for your staff.

If you are torn between two different software programs, choosing the option that has existing training videos, live help, and tutorials could be a good choice.

Staying Connected While We’re Disconnected

In these uncertain times of Coronavirus and quarantines, we have all had to find different ways to adapt and change the way we do things in our lives.

TWFH came face to face with this challenge while trying to plan a “going away” party for our wonderful senior editor, Stephanie. We wanted to find a way to come together as a group, to thank Steph for her many years with TWFH, and to wish her luck on her future endeavors. But, coming together while socially distancing is easier said than done.

After a lengthy search into the growing industry of digital gaming, though, we found that there are still some great ways to stay connected (and safe) while having fun with family and friends.

While perusing the vast array of games available online, we discovered a great site called Jackbox Games.

Jackbox offers a variety of games that can be played by 1-8 players, using nothing but a web browser on your computer or mobile device.  These hilariously entertaining games are great for social distancing parties and family get-togethers alike. 

Individual games can be purchased for as little as $5.99 each, but there is also an option for buying Party Packs and Bundles that include multiple games.

Another great thing about Jackbox games is that they can even be used for homeschooling or teaching remotely!

And, after a very successful virtual party, where we spent many hours laughing and playing remotely, Jackbox has become a TWFH favorite!

Now, if you manage to make your way through all of the games on Jackbox, and are still looking for some entertainment, check out this great article from Smithsonian Magazine that offers a fantastic list of 12 games that can be played from afar, using platforms such as Google Play, the App Store, Tabletop, and more.

The list includes classics like Clue and Monopoly, as well as lesser-known games such as Ticket to Ride and Codenames

Smithsonian’s article includes details about each game, as well as the cost and a list of which platforms offer the game.  And the best part is, the games are all relatively inexpensive. (And some are even free!)

7 Tips and Tricks for Effective Communication in the Business World

You’ve started a business. You’ve got a good product, built your operation, and started making good sales. But, you have challenges. You have a good team, but have trouble keeping people on the same page or taking advantage of the momentum you’ve worked so hard in your business. 

So, what’s going wrong?

Chances are, it’s communication. Every business leader has a vision for their company. The good ones are able to get their business started through sheer force of will. But, there comes a time when a business needs to be propelled forward by its own momentum.

Effective communication—with your managers, your employees, your vendors, and your customers—is how you make that happen.

To help you communicate within and about your business, we compiled a list of the seven most effective business communication tools and tips for how to use them best.

Top 7 Forms of Business Communication

Obviously, not all businesses use all these forms of communication, and some use still other options. But, of the big seven named above, it’s important to know when each one is best and how to use each one to effectively communicate complex ideas both inside and outside your company.

1. Email

Despite the growth of instant messaging and other options, email remains the most common type of business communication. With over 120 billion business emails sent every day, this medium is a great way to convey information in a controlled manner.  

Using email, you can review communications before you send them to make sure they focus on the right things and convey the correct tone. You can also make sure that any demands or requests that you’re passing to the recipient come across clearly and with the proper sense of urgency.

Email is best when you’re trying to convey complex ideas or want to present a professional face to outsiders.

Email is also ideal for asynchronous communication; when you don’t need an answer right away, but can let the recipient gather their thoughts before responding.

Lastly, email is the best option when you want to document interactions—when you’re seeking approval for a project, clarifying discrepancies, or making sure that everyone is on the same page. None of these are things that can be done effectively over the phone. 

Tips & Tricks

  • Compose a professional email signature that includes your name, direct contact information, and include any necessary disclosures
  • Re-read messages before sending 
  • Make the purpose of your email clear upfront
  • Make clear any requests of recipients

When to Avoid

While email works great in many situations, it’s not always the best choice.

For example, if you need an immediate answer to an urgent question, then you might be better served using instant messaging, phone, or text. One of these might also be more beneficial when your communication needs a more personal touch. 

Similarly, if you’re trying to convey a lot of information about a product or service to customers, email may not be as effective as a whitepaper or newsletter.

2. Phone and Video Chat

Physically talking via phone or web conference isn’t a written form of communication (except if you’re using a script or reading a prepared statement), but it nevertheless has big advantages in certain situations.

The biggest benefit of phone or video chat is the personal touch that helps you relate to recipients. 

When you speak with someone by phone or on video, they get to hear your voice and participate in real-time dialogue, which helps to establish a personal connection and improve the free flow of information.

This makes communicating by phone a great option when you’re trying to establish a connection with someone, soften the blow of bad news, or communicate a message that is dependent on feedback or insight to be gleaned from the recipient.

If you want to maximize the impact of your message or deepen your connection, video chat is far better than phone. However, it only works if both you and the recipient have reliable internet. Any technical difficulties can have the opposite effect.

Tips & Tricks

  • Know what hours are good for the person you’re contacting 
  • Always call from a recognized number
  • Don’t try to multitask—give the call your full attention
  • Call from a calm, quiet place to avoid background noise or interruptions

When to Avoid

Using the phone for business can be a great option when you want a more personal touch or need some back-and-forth in your communication with a recipient, but it isn’t always ideal.

When you need to measure your words and communicate carefully, the phone is usually a terrible option. 

Also, when you’re sending or receiving communications that you want to document for the future, it can be difficult to do so over the phone.

So, if you’re worried about a misunderstanding later, want to avoid back-and-forth, or are worried that you may go off script, you should probably consider another form of communication.

3. Text

Texting is also a good option when you need a quick answer to a question or want to quickly convey small bits of information. However, texting is generally a little less personal than a phone call and doesn’t offer the sender a good opportunity to convey lots of information.

It’s also important to remember that not everyone texts—especially for business.

And, texting requires you to be extra careful with the tone of your message, as it’s very easy for messages to be taken too casually or for the recipient to misunderstand what you’re trying to say. 

Tips & Tricks

  • Avoid flowery language or unnecessarily long texts (no treatises)
  • Know whether the recipient texts
  • Avoid emojis unless you have an established rapport with the recipient

When to Avoid

Texting can be a good option for conveying quick points or getting answers fast, but it’s definitely NOT the way to go when you have a lot of information to convey.

It’s also best to avoid texting completely if you don’t know that the recipient texts or if you need to convey a lot of information.

4. Instant Messaging

Instant messaging is a form of business communication that’s grown tremendously in popularity, especially with the advent of platforms like Slack, Skype, or even Google Hangouts.

In this context, it’s best used for checking in with individual employees, keeping track of group projects, or making occasional company announcements. 

Instant messaging is great because it keeps messages from getting lost in email inboxes, which tend to fill up quickly. It also helps business owners and managers avoid having to constantly text or call employees for small things.

However, it’s important to remember that this form of communication works best during hours when recipients are typically online.

Tips & Tricks

  • Don’t encourage excessive use to “build company culture,” as communication can become too casual and cease to be professional
  • Don’t make too many announcements—people will end up focusing on their messages instead of their work
  • Avoid gossip or jokes that not all employees will appreciate (stick to PG-13)

When to Avoid

Instant messaging is great for quick, internal, task-related business communications, but if you have serious messages or a lot of information to convey, it’s not usually the best option.

If you need to have a one-on-one dialogue with an employee about a serious issue (such as their employment), then the personal touch of a phone call is probably better.

Or, if you need something outside normal business hours, then you shouldn’t depend on instant messaging.

5. Intranet & Project Management Systems

With the advent of video chat and instant messaging platforms like Slack, company intranets aren’t as popular as they once were.

But, many companies still use project management systems like Wrike, Asana, Trello, and Insightly, and most of these offer chat or comment boxes that give employees the ability to exchange messages.

While these systems can work well for discussing projects back and forth, they usually aren’t great for communication that needs quick responses, because many don’t include live chat features that employees can monitor constantly.

In fact, the only communication tools that many of these systems offer is a commenting feature that’s usually tied to individual projects; so communication done over these platforms usually needs to be related to specific tasks or projects that a team is working on.

Tips & Tricks

  • Stick to discussions about specific projects or tasks
  • Encourage employees to share plenty of context in their messages
  • Actively discourage rude or abrupt messages

When to Avoid

  • If a project needs input from multiple people simultaneously
  • If a project is apt to change direction suddenly

6. In-Person Meetings

In the modern age, in-person meetings are becoming increasingly rare, but that makes them all the more valuable as opportunities for business leaders to deepen personal connections and energize their team. 

While in-person meetings can be extremely useful for managers who want to leverage their personal connections to employees, create a safe space for the sharing of ideas, or deepen the impact of their message, this method is also much riskier than other forms of communication. 

For one thing, you can’t review what you’re going to say before you say it.

If you misspeak or fail to clearly communicate something to an employee, client, or partner, confusion can result.

And if you say something unfeelingly in the moment, you can engender animus that lasts a lifetime.

Still, when it comes to communicating in business, in-person meetings are as personal as it gets. If you need to discuss a delicate matter or maximize your team’s combined brainpower to accomplish a task, a face-to-face meeting may be the only way to go.

Tips & Tricks

  • Be an active listener; don’t monopolize the conversation
  • Give the meeting your full and undivided attention
  • Don’t schedule meetings to close together, so people can collect their thoughts before and afterward

When to Avoid

  • When you need to measure your words
  • If you need to communicate about sensitive issues with potential legal ramifications
  • If you or your colleagues aren’t able to be good listeners and stay engaged in the task at hand

7. Social Media/Blog

This form of communication can take place over platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and others.

It can take the form of posts on one or more of these platforms or direct messages with individual customers (or potential customers) through company social media accounts.

Direct messages can be exchanged using tools like Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, and others.

Communications can also include those conducted through live chat features on company websites.

Regardless of platform, these types of communication are ideal for interacting with customers or prospective customers to develop awareness, build goodwill, or answer specific questions about your business or your offerings.

Using social media, you can also build an awareness of your brand, encourage interactions with your followers, and showcase your corporate social responsibility through involvement in your community or various social causes.

Tips & Tricks

  • Commit the time and resources to keep up with your social media presence
  • Respond to all direct messages within 12 to 24 hours
  • Review all posts before publishing as well as individual messages prior to sending
  • Keep business profiles separate from personal
  • Avoid debates, disagreements, and controversies, even and especially with individual customers

When to Avoid

Using social media for business communications can be a great way to build a following, communicate with customers in a casual online setting, and share—succinctly—the benefits of your company or its offerings.

However, it’s generally not the best option when you have specific information to share with an individual person.

Social media is also usually not a good idea if you can’t commit to keeping up with it, as it requires consistent posting and interaction with your audience.

Wrapping Up

Today, more than ever before in history, effective communication in business is of the utmost importance.

Whether it’s keeping your employees productive and working toward common goals, or conveying important information to your customers, effective communication requires using the right form of communication in the right way. 

If you’re struggling to decide which methods are best for your business needs, be sure to consider the tips and tricks above to help establish best practices for your business communication.

Getting a Handle on your Business Documents

Policies. Procedures. SOPs. Instructions. Standards. These aren’t just fancy buzzwords tossed around the office. These are documents that, when written well and used correctly, will save you mounds of time, money, and frustration.

Defining the differences

All of these documents are different and serve various functions.

If you are not familiar with their differences and use the terms interchangeably, you run the risk of confusing yourself, your leadership, and your team.

Below are simple definitions of each of these documents and their distinctions.

All of them should be written clearly, so everyone across your organization can read and comprehend them regardless of age, position in the company, education, knowledge, or skill level. 

Policies

Painting a picture of what is and what is not acceptable

Derived from the Old French term, “polici,” which means “civil administration,” policies serve as the overall guidelines to govern your business or organization.

Policies help leaders make decisions by defining what is and what is not acceptable in the workplace. 

A dress code, for example, is a type of policy.

It outlines what kinds of dress are and are not acceptable in the workplace and provides management and leadership guidelines, ensuring your workforce is presentable in front of customers and clients.

Most organizations also have policies that address drug and alcohol in the workplace, as well as ones for attendance and tardiness.

Having these policies helps management decide when — and to what degree — a manager should administer disciplinary action if an employee breaks them.

Simply stated, policies allow a manager to respond to a workplace problem consistently and confidently. And, at the end of the day, help employees be more productive. 

When it comes to writing a policy, there are some questions you should ask yourself:

1. Is it clear? Policy definitions need to be concise and comprehensive.

For example, if you are writing a policy about bullying in the workplace, using terms like “physical aggression, intimidation, or verbal abuse” helps paint a picture of what bullying at your company or organization looks like.

You also need to include to whom the policy applies. Is it only for staff? Or is it for volunteers and contractors? 

2. Are you communicating policies effectively? A policy serves you no good if you’re not reaching your intended audience.

There are many ways to communicate your policy, including an article on your company’s Intranet, reviewing it in a town hall or other type of staff meeting, and including a link in a learning management system.

Policies are not just for new employees, either. Tenured employees should review them often as well.

3. Do they reflect your company’s core values? When writing your policies, they should reflect the values you’ve established.

They should be specific to your culture and what you expect from your team members. 

Standard Operating Procedure 

Providing a roadmap to success

A standard operating procedure or “SOP” acts as a roadmap for teams to follow when carrying out specific processes or a flow of activity. It provides a basis to ensure that services and products are delivered consistently. 

In the pharmaceutical industry, for example, SOPs cover the proper way to carry out activities such as dispensing of medications and checking expiration dates. The SOPs help pharmacists avoid errors in getting medicines to patients, thus keeping them safe.

Without having this go-to guide, several different team members may approach the same task in several different ways.

However, if there’s a protocol in place for them to follow, the chances of them making a mistake decreases, saving you time and money.

When writing an SOP, you may want to consider including the following elements: 

  • A title of the procedure 
  • An SOP identification number
  • A publication or revision date
  • The name of the role, organization, division, or agency that the SOP applies to
  • Names and signatures of those who prepared and approved the procedures outlined in the SOP

Here is an example of an SOP from Iowa State University on food preparation and safety: 

A tool for outlining expectations related to quality control, an SOP also includes company standards, which are written with “musts” and “must-nevers.”  

A standard does not tell you how to carry out the process; instead, it tells you what you must — and must not — do.

Thriving Small Business provides a great example of how a call center may create a set of standards for its team members to provide exceptional customer service. These standards may include:

  • MUST answer the phone within two rings.
  • MUST identify themselves when they answer the phone.
  • MUST take down the customer’s name and phone number.
  • MUST NEVER hang up the phone first.  

These standards help ensure consistency when carrying out the work, and team members should be held accountable to them.

Work Instruction

Giving step-by-step instructions

Finally, work instructions specifically spell out the correct way to perform a task.

They are not the same as an SOP, even though you may reference them in your SOPs.  

For example, an SOP may instruct team members to maintain good personal hygiene, with a step stating they must wash their hands before starting each shift.

A work instruction, on the other hand, gives step-by-step instructions on HOW to wash them.

You can think of a work instruction like a recipe. They should be: 

  • Clear
  • Easily accessible to those performing the task
  • Consistent
  • Short
  • Explanatory, providing the “whys” behind each step 

Operational Excellence Consulting provides an excellent example of a work instruction here: 

“All of these documents serve an important purpose to streamline how you do business,” said Carolyn Olivarez, retired vice president of quality for LifeGift, the organ, eye, and tissue recovery agency in Houston. “Establishing and organizing these documents is particularly critical when you are managing multiple offices in various geographic locations.”

It is great to have all of these documents clearly written and organized, but they will not serve your business or organization if they are not communicated to your team and often.

SOPs, policies, instructions, and standards should not be left to collect dust.

Your business documents can quickly become obsolete as your business evolves.

Have a plan in place for a regular review of policies, make the appropriate updates, and, most of all, make sure they communicated to your employees. 

For more guidance on how to write and organize your critical business documents, here are links to some suggested reading:  

Six Benefits of Written Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

From training and hiring to work policies and procedures, Standard Operating Procedures — or SOPs — help companies stay organized, operate smoothly, and ensure that employees understand how to accomplish their assigned tasks.

But here’s one thing we’ve learned from more than a decade of working with companies of all sizes: Even though nearly all companies have some sort of SOPs in place, they don’t always have them written down.

Or if they do have them written down, it’s been years since they’ve reviewed or updated them.

In most cases, it comes down to time.

When day-to-day operations get hectic, internal projects are often the first to fall to the wayside.

And while it’s true that writing, reviewing, and updating your company’s SOPs can be time-consuming, we think it’s worth it in the long run.

Need a few reasons to make written SOPs a priority? Here are just a few benefits of having written SOPs:

1. Reduce employee training time.

Training-related SOPs help standardize orientation and training. A written set of guidelines helps ensure that all new hires get the same training, on the same topics and responsibilities, in the same amount of time. Not only will this help ensure that new employees settle in quickly, it will also help save time and money in the long term.

2. Maintain consistency across your brand.

You’ve worked hard to establish a very specific personality, look, feel, and tone for your brand. Protect that hard work by establishing a set of written branding standards. A few possible items to cover:
• Use of your company’s logo, colors, and tagline
• Policies for employee social media use
• A style guide to ensure uniformity in written communication
• Guidelines for email formatting and signatures
• Rules for speaking to the media
• Use of your company’s logo, colors, and tagline
• Policies for employee social media use
• A style guide to ensure uniformity in written communication
• Guidelines for email formatting and signatures
• Rules for speaking to the media

3. Reduce errors and enhance productivity.

Written SOPs can take the guesswork out of day-to-day operations and help ensure that all of your employees understand the processes, policies, and procedures associated with their jobs. And because they provide clear, written examples of what is expected from employees, SOPs are also helpful when developing employee review or development plans.

4. Meet legal requirements.

Depending on your industry, you may be required to have written SOPs that protect your employees and/or customers — and ensure that you won’t be held legally responsible if something goes wrong.

5. Establish a chain of command.

Everyone in your company should have a clear idea of your company’s leadership structure, and this is especially important in situations where work products go through multiple stages of review and approval.

6. Transfer work easily.

Most employees take a sick day here and there, but in the case of an extended absence, written SOPs make it easier to transfer work to another employee.

By outlining how a task or project should be done, you’re making sure that any employee can complete the work with a little direction.

Of course, these six benefits are only the tip of the SOP iceberg — but you can probably see where we’re going with this: Written SOPs are an indispensable part of any organization.

How to Prepare Your Content Before Migrating to a Digital Asset Management System: Part Two

Your files are inventoried and you know exactly which ones you’ll migrate to your DAM solution, but there is one more thing you need to do: optimize that all-important metadata so your system will function as you need it to.

Let’s start by defining what metadata is and talk about why it’s so important to the functionality of DAM.

What is Metadata?

Metadata is what allows users to find, retrieve, edit, and share content.

Kevin Gavin, CMO at Canto.com sums it up nicely. “Metadata is information about the digital asset that makes it easy to search and filter in order to organize and manage large collections of digital assets,” he says. “Standard metadata for images, for example, include things like the date, time, and location that a photo is taken as well as the camera and resolution.”

Amy Chan, SR Product Marketing Manager at Extensis says “Metadata is the underpinning of an effective digital asset management system. Without a good process in place,” she says. “a DAM can fall short of its effectiveness.”

Most metadata fall into these 3 categories:

Administrative Metadata


This type of data helps manage your content and includes things like the date it was created, who created it, and who should have access to it.

Descriptive Metadata


Having the right descriptive metadata helps users find the content they’re looking for. Some of the descriptive data to include in this are the title of the content, the author, and keywords. A keyword is what an end user types into the system to find content. For example, by typing “DAM” into the system, the user would see content related to that subject. Gavin says a keyword list can include as few as a dozen or up to hundreds of keywords, depending on what the DAM administrator determines. Additional keywords can also be added as the system grows.

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Rights Management Metadata


When you include metadata that shows the copyright status and licensing provisions of your content, it will identify how and where it can be used. Gavin says that digital rights management is built into DAMs and “can be tracked at the individual asset level.

What is a Metadata Schema?

A metadata schema, according to Chan, “is the framework or concept that helps organize and interpret information.

It is your structure and the list of fields (such as: date, author, name, subject, etc.) that you would like your catalogs to contain.

This helps define how people add, categorize, search, and understand assets.” In other words, a metadata schema is the structure you use to organize your metadata.

Chan recommends organizing information into 3 buckets:

  • Crucial information:Information you need to have about your assets. Make this a mandatory field for anyone cataloging your digital files. In an example workflow of a sports photographer for a university, crucial metadata could include: » Event » Subject » Photographer » EXIF metadata’]
  • Nice to have information: Data that you would prefer to have, but it’s not essential in your workflow.  Following our previous example, this could include: » Full description of photo » Opposing team
  • Negligible information: Information that you could live without, but it does not hurt to capture. Examples: » Final score of game » Relevant keywords’]

When and How to Add Metadata to Your Files

You will have the choice of uploading your metadata as is, or editing it before you migrate to your new DAM solution.

“Some metadata is added when an image is created such as the time, location, camera, and settings of photographs and they are tied to the file,” says Gavin. “Other metadata is custom and gets added along the way.”

He believes the more metadata that is added and the earlier it’s done, the better.

But he says that metadata should always be retrieved and migrated.

“It is a judgement call if it is worth the work to go back and add metadata to old files,” he says. “The more the files are used and needed, the more important it is to have metadata so that they are more easily found when conducting a search of the metadata.”

If you’re confidant that the existing metadata is good, your DAM solution probably has the capability to automatically import it when ingesting the files.

On the other hand, if you want to change or expand the metadata, you can choose to do that before migrating or afterwards.

Once you get a clear picture of the metadata that exists on your assets, you can determine whether or not you will need to edit or add to it.

There are some widely used open source tools that help edit and manage metadata such as EXIFTool and Python. Both of these tools can be used on Windows and Mac computers.

If you would rather add the metadata using the tools on your Windows PC before uploading to a DAM, you’ll have to create an Excel spreadsheet.

In this case, you would create a spreadsheet listing all of the files, and then create columns for each metadata field you want to create. You can create as many fields as you want.

Next, you can embed some of the metadata directly into the document, or use the spreadsheet as a guide while you’re migrating the content to the new DAM.

To embed the keyword metadata directly into the Word document, follow these steps:

  • Use the “Save As” function.

  • After you’ve typed in the file name, click on “Add a tag” underneath it.

  • Add tags or keywords related to the file. These tags will become part of the metadata associated with the file.

If you’re adding metadata to images on a PC, use Adobe’s Bridge to help embed the data directly into the photo.

If you decide that your metadata needs editing, once it’s complete you should export all of the newly revised metadata to a .CSV file so you’ll be able to ingest the entire batch to your DAM.

Keep in mind that if you add metadata to your files on a Windows Machine, you will need to update the files one by one.

On the other hand, it’s possible to embed metadata to your files in batches if you do it while migrating to a DAM.

Once you get a clear picture of the metadata that exists on your assets, you can determine whether or not you will need to edit or add to it.

Bringing it All Together: How Preliminary Work Will help you Choose the Right DAM Solution

Doing the preliminary work will give you a better idea of what you need from a DAM solution, and that will help in the selection process.

Chan stresses that “The long-term success and adoption of a DAM starts with the foundation you put in place in the early stages.”

In other words when you take the time to define your workflow, structure, and metadata practices, you’ll ensure your DAM is set up for success.

But she says success also requires best practices be put into place after the migration as well.

“Ensuring the guidelines are clear to all users is imperative for maintaining the effectiveness of the system,” she says. “Some companies will hire a digital asset librarian to manage this foundation. At a minimum, having a person to champion this infrastructure is key.”

How to Prepare Your Content Before Migrating to a Digital Asset Management System: Part One

If you’re thinking about migrating to a digital asset management (DAM) system, you likely have one key goal: to centralize your content so that it’s more easily retrieved, edited, and shared. And DAM is the ideal solution for many organizations.

But before you migrate, it pays to do some preliminary work so that your content is ready to be transferred.

We’ll talk about how to do that in this 2-part series, but first, let’s address some basic issues.

What is a Digital Asset Management System?

You likely use a primitive form of DAM right now, even in your personal life.

For instance if you organize your files into folders, you are centralizing them in a way that makes sense to you.

That way, when you need to find a document, you have a hierarchy of file folders that you can sift through to retrieve the desired file.

A DAM works much the same way, but instead of the system making sense to only the creator, it works across an entire organization.

Its core competency is to centralize all digital assets, and then make it easy for employees, partners, or other authorized users to find, edit, use and share the content.

Some types of content stored on a DAM system are:

  • Digital documents
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Audio files
  • PDFs
  • Removable media on flash drives, CDs and DVDs
  • Digitized analog media such as slides, prints, and negatives

What are the Benefits of DAM?

To make the best use of digital assets, they must be properly structured in order to increase organizational efficiency.

A DAM system does that in 4 main ways:

  • By organizing documents into pre-defined classifications, millions of pages can be corralled into a system that makes sense to everyone who uses it.
  • User governance. Not all content is meant to be public, and DAM can help restrict access to sensitive assets.
  • Audits. It helps to know when a document was last updated, edited, or used and DAM systems keep detailed records.
  • Through the use of unique metadata, which we cover in-depth in part 2 of this series, end users can easily retrieve the assets they need.

How to Find Your Existing Data

The first step in preparing your data is to locate all of the assets you currently own.

According to Kevin Gavin, CMO at Canto.com, it’s common for digital assets to be scattered across a lot of storage platforms like Google Drive, Dropbox, SharePoint, and other file storage systems.

“Our customers usually start with the content owners who already know where they are storing various assets and ask them to provide an inventory of digital assets to be centralized in the DAM,” he says.

Amy Chan, SR Product Marketing Manager at Extensis agrees that identifying the key stakeholders and asking them to deliver the assets that need to be cataloged is the best way to accomplish the task, but she doesn’t believe it needs to be done in one step.

“This can happen in multiple stages,” she says, “with the first focused on the primary assets the organization wants to include in the DAM.” She notes that with Portfolio, her company’s DAM solution, additional assets can be identified and added at a later time.

Some of the types of stakeholders that may own content in your organization are:

  • Marketing team leaders
  • Creative team leaders
  • Visual and audio specialists
  • Content creators
  • Customers
  • Distributors
  • Vendors
  • Customer service representatives
  • Social media campaign managers
  • Sales representatives
  • IT department members

Deciding Which Content to Migrate and What to Leave Behind

Once you have an inventory of all the digital assets, it’s time to determine what you will migrate and which files you will delete or archive.

For example, some content will be outdated, no longer used, or duplicated.

Gavin says the best approach to deciding what should stay and what should go is: “If in doubt, centralize it in the DAM.” He says that the cost of storing the files is relatively small unless you’re storing high-resolution video files, so best practice is to centralize the storage of all digital assets in the DAM.

“Once they are centralized, then you can run reports and see which assets are being used and which ones are not. Those that are not being used are candidates for deletion or for transfer to archive storage.”

Chan has a different approach.

She suggests first defining the goals of the DAM, and then having all stakeholders agree to them.

“This can be based on the greatest challenges the organization is facing with their digital assets,” she says.

For example, if out-of-date or unapproved assets are being used, identifying those assets and archiving them should be the driving factor in deciding which content to migrate.

The Next Step: Adding Metadata

Now that you’ve located your content, organized it, and deleted any duplicates, it’s time to add metadata to it so end users will be able to find it easily.

This is a big topic so we’ll cover it in part two of this series.