How to create an effective internal communications plan for 2021

By Aimee Happ
January 16, 2021
7 min read

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we must expect the unexpected. However, there’s much to be said about planning when we can, and the same goes for internal communications planning.

Not only will an internal communications plan keep you on schedule, but it will also help you improve engagement, maintain consistency, improve collaboration, and demonstrate value to your executive team.

Unfortunately, if it were that easy, everyone would have one, and we know that this is not the case. According to the most recent State of the Sector report, most internal comms professionals don’t have a plan. Let’s fix that!

Building a comprehensive internal communications plan starts with creating a strategy and is followed by a calendar. To help you out, we’ll review the entire process from start to finish in this post. Here’s an outline of the topics we’ll be looking at:

  1. How to develop an internal communications strategy
  2. How to create an internal communications plan
  3. How to build an internal communications calendar
  4. Special considerations for internal communications planning in 2021

Let’s dive right in!

1. How to develop an internal communications strategy

In internal communications, we often use the terms “strategy” and “plan” interchangeably. But to be effective, you must be able to differentiate between the two.

So what’s the difference? An internal communications plan is a tactical tool and is very specific to day-to-day operations. On the other hand, your strategy sits on top of your plan and helps to inform it. A good internal communications strategy includes:

  • Organizational priorities
  • Objectives that support your outlined priorities
  • Stakeholders
  • Desired outcomes

Building an effective internal communications strategy can be a time-consuming task. To flesh out your strategy, you’ll want to:

1. Perform a full internal communications channel audit

Determine which of your channels are most effective. An employee survey is a great starting place to start gathering data.

Need more help? Check out our free channel audit tool here →

2. Establish a single source of truth

It’s essential to establish a single source of truth where employees can receive the most up-to-date information, like a corporate intranet or email train.

Take the quiz to determine if you have a single source of truth and receive tips on how to maintain it →

3. Develop an internal communications channel strategy

With a channel audit and a single source of truth in hand, it’s time to develop an internal communications channel strategy.

Learn more about building a channel strategy here →

2. How to create an internal communications plan

Now that you have your internal communications strategy, and along with it, your channel strategy, it’s time to build your internal communications plan. Consider:

  • What are the key messages you are trying to communicate?
  • Who is receiving the messages?
  • How are they receiving the message?
  • What do they need to do with the information, and when?
  • How will you structure and present your messages to maximize their effectiveness?

Once you’ve thought through these questions, start to formalize your plan, and outline:

  • Goals and key results
  • Key messaging
  • Target audiences
  • Tactics
  • Timeline

Need extra support segmenting your audiences?

Check out our audience segmentation template →

Tip: share your internal communications plan with your stakeholders and colleagues in other departments. When your stakeholders see how your campaign planning works in real-time, they’re better able to help you by giving you content and tasks ahead of time.

3. How to build an internal communications calendar

The last phase of your internal communication planning is the internal communications content calendar—which visually shows what you’re going to share, on which day, and on what channel.

Scheduling capabilities aside, a content calendar will give you an overview of your messaging tactics and touchpoints, such as:

  • Are you using some channels more than others?
  • Is your communication content plan balanced?
  • Are you speaking to different stakeholders on the right platforms?

By laying out your calendar in one place, it will also be easier for you to factor in last-minute communications and reschedule specific messages, all the while knowing that you won’t forget anything in the shuffle.

Steps to create internal communications content calendar

1. Add dates that will not change, such as holidays, conferences, and company events.

2. Insert other events, such as campaigns and product launches, and connect with other departments to ensure that you haven’t missed anything. If specific dates are uncertain, mark them as tentative and request updates periodically.

3. Add recurring events, such as employee newsletters and company meetings.

4. Review your calendar and see if you can reschedule certain activities if there are too many scheduled for the same time. Give yourself deadlines and set reminders for yourself so that you don’t miss anything.

5. Share your calendar with your managers, the leadership team, and any other key stakeholders in your organization. Try to limit their ability to change what you’ve set out, but be willing to take feedback and be flexible where needed.

Think of your internal communications content calendar as a living document. It may change, but having your plans laid out gives you the best chance to stay on top of your work. Ultimately, the goal here is to reduce your stress by using the calendar to prioritize your time.

4. Special considerations for internal communications planning in 2021

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 brought many changes to the workplace. These include a few trends that are likely to stick around for the foreseeable future. Consider them as you make your internal communications plans for 2021:

Remote work & engagement

Dispersed workforces are becoming the norm, and they have very different communications needs than an in-office team. Whether you are fully remote, back at the office, or a mixture of the two, take a digital-first approach to ensure that you have touchpoints with every person.

Diversity & inclusion

Remove as many barriers as you can to ensure the content of your internal communications is accessible. People who are hard-of-hearing or not tech-savvy may struggle with videoconferencing and other norms that have resulted from the pandemic. Ensure accessibility for all, and don’t make assumptions about different people’s needs.

Mental health & wellness

Understand how events, policies, and processes affect people, and make sure you aren’t adding harm to the noise. The best tactic to truly engage your audience is empathy.

Weave these trends into your internal communication strategy by connecting them to your objectives and stay mindful of them as you set out your internal communications plan and content calendar.

Your next steps

The good news is that it’s never too late to implement a new internal communications strategy or strengthen the one you already have in place. Our goal is to help you on your internal communications journey, so if you ever need support or need recommendations on the right tools and templates to use, please feel free to reach out to us.

Are you looking to see more immediate results? Why not schedule a demo with one of our experts! We’ll show you how internal communications software can help you build a communications strategy and plan, execute your content calendar, and track key metrics to measure your success.

So what are you waiting for? Better internal communications are just around the corner!

By Aimee Happ

Aimee Happ is proud to lead the marketing team at IC and enjoys working with the dynamic and diverse team that surrounds her. She is inspired on a daily basis by the company's mission of empowering internal communicators. Aimee holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Calgary and loves to travel.