According to Gallup, only 13% of employees are engaged. This disengagement is so prevalent that it costs the US economy $500 billion a year. What does this mean for learning? If the majority of employees aren’t intensely focussed on their main roles, what chance does a secondary task supporting those roles have?
The answer isn’t as bleak as it seems. With career progression in mind, learners are as invested in self-improving as they are in their day-to-day jobs. 94% of employees have said they would stay with a business longer if there was more of an investment in learning. This increase in employee motivation is matched by management - 93% of businesses see reskilling and upskilling as the number one priority for 2021.
So, there is drive from the businesses, it’s just up to L&D to harness it. Half of the battle, of course, is in the learning systems themselves. No matter how you package a bad product, you can’t sustainably sell it to users. But fixing that alone isn’t enough - and assuming people will independently come to learning has stymied L&D departments for years.
Instead, solutions that go out and get engagement are the most successful. As the Director of Customer Success at Filtered, I’ve seen again and again what works - and what doesn’t! Here’s how you can ensure your next learning campaign gets the engagement it deserves.
Branding to the business
1) Send emails from your own domain
Especially if you start at a big company, any new learning launch will fall through the gaps for some. The offshoot is that, when you send your first onboarding emails, some employees won’t know who you actually are.
We had this problem with a big consumer goods client. We originally sent our platform’s onboarding email from filtered.com. The open rate was about 40% - not bad, certainly, but not what we wanted. We then sent the next email from the client’s domain. The open rate rose to 85%.
Moral of the story: employee’s don’t like engagement campaigns from parties they haven’t heard of or don’t trust. If you can, convince your internal IT team to send emails from your own domain.
2) Speak the organisation’s language
One thing we pride ourselves on is that all our communications differ vastly depending on the client. They have to look and feel like they’re coming from the company themselves, not a third party. In fact, when we have sent Filtered branded communications to clients, we have seen a marked uptick in phishing complaints. So, the content and styling of communications should be tied to the overall organisation.
Another factor to consider is the organisation’s ‘language’. This refers to the metrics, values, and skills that matter to the specific organisation, and the way they are communicated. Studies have found that managers proposing ideas are more successful if they communicate them in their organisation’s ‘language’. Similarly, L&D will be able to inspire more engagement if they communicate through the same system of values as their organisation.
3) Ride the trends
Learning platforms live or die on the relevance of their suggestions. Engagement communications aren’t so different. We’ve found success in tying our communications to cultural or company-specific initiatives or events. For example, for Stress Awareness Month at a company we recently sent a series of the most popular stress based learning content out to employees.
4) Personalise, personalise, personalise
In consumer marketing, emails with personalised subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened. These consumers are the same employees reading your L&D communications. So, it makes sense to let them know the email is for them specifically.
But, L&D can go further. When we send messages to people, we send them dynamic learning recommendations tailored to their job description, career aspirations, based on previous platform usage. With so much usable internal data in every organisation, L&D has huge scope for making each user feel like their learning is really their own.
5) Targeting can substitute for range
Learning departments rarely have the budget or clout to consistently make organisational waves. If this is the case, we find that targeted behavioural campaigns can make up a lot of the space a wider engagement campaign would give you.
This is because uptake is never going to be complete - some people will inevitably not care about learning. So, it’s almost as effective to target a segment of people you know have a chance of engaging with your learning and make sure they don’t drop off.
Personalisation is key here. We target people who have shown interest in the platform (usually by completing or starting some learning assets) and then send them reminders of the content they haven’t finished - like how a shopping website notifies you of unpurchased items in your basket.
We then create a communications journey for the individual. One that’s dynamic (so how the journey itself goes depends on the actions that a user takes). To give you an idea what that looks like, we’ve made a full flowchart for a user journey with our Microsoft Teams integration.
Nailing technical practicalities
6) Set a textual baseline before getting flashy
As much as we want every email and message to have images, GIFs, award giveaways, 3D capacity… the most important thing is that it’s immediately accessible. For clients that use Microsoft Outlook or have tough internal spam filters, ensuring deliverability is key. Especially in the early stages, a simple malfunction is hugely damaging for user engagement. Remember that you’re trying to engage modern consumers who, by an 88% margin, said they were less likely to return to a site after a single bad experience.
This isn’t to discourage trying to use eye-catching and exciting styles. Instead, we advocate a textual baseline; ensuring that all of your communications would be as easily accessible and understandable if the images/gifs weren't rendered. Not to mention meeting accessibility guidelines.
7) Test constantly
If there’s one recommendation you take from this, it’s to constantly test your engagement communications. For one, that’s how we’re sure that these tips actually work. Secondly, it’s the only way to deal with the differences between organisations. Even if you’re not a provider who works with multiple organisations, it’s the only way to make sure that your engagement strategy is tailored to your business.
There’s a huge amount of information you can theoretically test. Just as an example, we recently conducted an A/B test to see whether an email sent with a set of learning content was better received with or without explanatory information. Despite the less-is-more rule of thumb with communications, the email with explanations increased the click through rate from 5% to over 8%. While that might not seem huge, in an enterprise company, that difference accounted for hundreds more people engaging with learning.
8) Take the time to be authentically funny
People in modern workplaces face incredible content overload - and most of it is plain boring. They’re far more likely to click on something that elicits a chuckle, or even just an eye roll (or both, as our email subject lines will attest)!
However, most people are very attuned to companies cynically trying to appear relatable. Research shows that emails with emojis in the subject line are likely to inspire negative sentiment. Equally, question marks and hashtags hurt your cause most of the time.
So, try different ways to inject levity into your communications. But, to acclimatise to the differences inherent in every organisation, we’ve found that a consultative process with people in an organisation can help. With this, you can quickly zero in on the right tone to get L&D emails to break through the waves. Then, finally, as #7 emphasises, test, test, test.
9) Tie communications to a real human
Another way we have enhanced trust is to make communications a two way street. To solve the phishing complaints problem we encountered in #2, we started putting a real person’s name and email address at the bottom of the email.
This was partially to provide users with a person they could ask questions. But the secondary purpose was to add to an extra layer of trust. By tying the platform to the business, and an accountable human, we were able to make our learning far more trustworthy.
10 More channels = deeper impact
Multichannel marketing is so universally accepted that it’s become a job title in itself. If people hear the same message coming from multiple platforms, it hugely increases its impactfulness.
But, L&D can get even more from new channels - specifically workplace communications programmes like MS Teams, Slack, or Facebook Workplace. By running engagement campaigns through these platforms, L&D can simultaneously increase awareness and understanding at the same time as providing learners with relevant learning on the job.
With new applications like Microsoft’s Viva it’s clear that L&D communications are edging closer to the act of working itself. In order to get the kind of engagement that’s becoming possible, learning departments should take action now to ensure that learning is embedded in these new ways of working.