Visual Storytelling for Internal Communications

Which is more important to a business—internal communications, or external communications?  Obviously, this is more thought experiment than sincere question, but the answer seems to be… neither.  Or, maybe, both? 

However you want to phrase it, if employees can’t find clarity, they can’t be productive. And if your messaging to customers is poor or absent, all the productivity in the world won’t make you profitable.  Today, though, we’re looking inward to examine how visual storytelling can improve your internal communications.

The Roads Most Traveled

Email (decidedly not an element of visual storytelling) takes up a major part of most of our days; Campaign Monitor reports that “the average employee receives 121 emails a day.”  It’s a lot to assume that all of these are read, and more to assume they’re read as intended—misinterpretation is always a danger with textual communications.

Meetings might afford more clarity and expansion on an idea, but they require wrangling schedules, pulling together employees in the same location (or digital location), and other frustrations.  Visual storytelling, on the other hand, dodges the slowdowns of meetings and the tidal wave of interpretive email. 

Communication Forges Connection

Injecting visual storytelling into your internal communications doesn’t just provide a break from the monotony of emails and meetings—it lets personal connections flourish, influences emotions, and shapes attitudes.  And, as PoliteMail puts it, skipping out on storytelling in internal communications is, in effect, “missing an opportunity to connect—in a memorable way—with your employees, who also happen to be your best brand advocates.”

One of the most interesting ways storytelling can help you connect with your employees is to use their stories. Make them part of “a permanent section [of] your regular communications, whether inside a newsletter or alongside another communications program.”  Adding visual elements can make the section that much more personalized and engaging. 

Showcasing a summer vacation, or a walkthrough of an employee’s new workspace at a different branch, becomes all the more enjoyable and interesting when others can be visually transported to those locations. 

Video testimonials—not just for marketing anymore—are another great infusion into internal communications.  Requiring very little in the way of budget, simply following beginning/middle/end story structure and interweaving notions from your brand storytelling can make even a ‘talking head’ video far more effective at raising enthusiasm or explaining a change than textual materials or a PowerPoint presentation.

By the Numbers

And Caroline Duncan provides some hard data on visual storytelling’s effects when instituted in internal communications. 

She points to a TechSmith report that found visuals in workplace communications could add $167 billion in productivity to businesses, and that visual communication about a task made two out of three employees complete it more effectively, and absorb necessary information seven percent faster. 

Remember those tough-to-schedule, time-consuming office meetings?  Visual content, says a Wharton Business School study, can reduce meeting duration by up to 24%.  This is good to remember—advocates for visual storytelling are not so much pushing for replacement of meetings, email, and traditional communications.  They’re pushing for integration of visual storytelling to complement, supplement and improve those traditional communications.

Relatability Rules

Duncan also suggests encouraging your employees to not only be a part of the visual storytelling in internal communications, but to be the visuals.  “Persuade people to be involved in photos,” she writes, reminding us that “there’s a reason news and magazine stories and advertising material uses images of people to tell a story: people respond better to visuals of people, and for internal communications this should mean visuals of people from your company doing things they can relate to.”

This last thought—relating to activities and people—is vital to successful integration of visual storytelling in internal communications.  “To make your message stick, you need to make sure that the images relate to the topic you are trying to communicate,” argues Funk-e’s blog.  It goes on to suggest humor as a type of visual content that can help with the positive emotional effect—as well as the relatability—of your communications.

Of course, not all internal communications are (or should be) humorous, so this specific pointer may be more of a case-by-case situation.  All internal communications, though, should be relatable, and this might be the fundamental reason to involve visual storytelling.

A Preferred Approach

Storytelling is our human coding language.  It’s how we make sense of things, how we remember, and how we transfer information quickly and easily.  We relate to stories because they’re familiar.  We’re used to characters, goals, upsets, and victories.  Outside of the established story genres in media like novels and films, we even make informal genres for the stories we tell and experience: sad, joke, explanation, origin, and so on.

Adding visuals makes a familiar and positive experience even stronger by placing information in a context that is even more rapidly absorbed and reliably retained.  Internal communications are precisely suited for this speedy comprehension and consistent retention. 

Crucial information should not be lost in a crowded email folder.  Moreover, the positive emotional boost attainable from visual storytelling, coupled with the increased relatability and personalization people feel from seeing themselves (or other relatable elements) in a narrative, can truly improve the reception of a difficult message.  No matter the message, and no matter the business, visual storytelling can elevate the engagement and retention rates of your employees.