“Make the important interesting” - Steve Crescenzo of Crescenzo Communications
As you learn how to better measure your internal email, it's time to get creative with your internal communications. You've crafted the perfect subject line, your message is clear and concise -- you're doing all the right things. But the conundrum remains: how do you make the important interesting in your internal emails? Answer: try something different and measure.
In this Internal Email Guide, you'll learn some creative skills to make your internal emails more interesting and relevant to all employees in your organization. Who said internal email wasn't creative?
How to Choose Images for Internal Emails
Don't underestimate the power of images for your internal emails just yet. A relevant, creative image can make all the difference in strengthening your message and engaging your audience.
Not sold? Take social media for example. A post on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn accompanied by an image is more likely to receive engagement. On Twitter specifically, adding a photo to a tweet receives 35% more retweets.
Suffice it to say, images are pretty powerful and we are visual beings after all. Images capture our attention and help easily communicate complex messages -- they also make internal emails more memorable.
A good place to start would be stock photography sites like Shutterstock and Adobe Stock. Both require paid subscriptions at a relatively affordable monthly price if you find yourself needing ten images a month.
Although these sites offer a wealth of images, not all are worthy of being the center of your internal emails. Avoid the overly campy and laughable stock photos -- you just have to Google 'bad stock photos' to know what I'm talking about. Don't let the photos make a mockery of your message. Good stock photos do exist, it just takes a bit of searching to find the right fit.
Some tips for choosing the right stock photos: avoid using photos of people who don't work at your company. Instead pick more general photos, excluding faces, like hands working on a laptop or a birds eye view of an employees desk, as seen below:
- Stocksy focuses mostly on landscape photography. This site is a pay/image service, with image prices ranging from $10-$100 USD.
- Unsplash offers everything under the sun, with a very hipster vibe to the image library, complete with photos of drip coffee and bearded men. It's completely free but operates a little differently than other stock image sites. Once you sign up, the site emails you ten free random images a week.
After some digging, both have more than worthy options for your internal email.
Take Your Own Photos
An alternative to the ever-popular stock photography sites? Take your own photos of actual employees in your organization. Not only is this interesting for employees to see their fellow coworkers in the company email, but it also makes your internal email more authentic and relevant.
Leverage Nature Photos
For your next internal newsletter, the biophilia effect can really come in handy. You've probably felt this before without knowing the exact term: the biophilia effect suggests that scenes or environments with nature imagery can improve focus, reduce stress, and also help you learn. Good news for any internal communicator looking to get their audience concentrating on their messages!
Knowing this, nature imagery can be an excellent substitute for cheesy stock photos, particularly in whitepapers when you want to drive home important information. Take advantage of the calming and educational effects of biophilic design -- even Google loves it!
Basic Photography for Internal Communicators
Before you start snapping shots of employees hard at work, it's a good idea to brush up on your photography skills first. If you're a complete beginner, you can quickly learn the basics and start practicing at home or in the office. We've compiled a list of resources you can use to help you take high quality, memorable photos for your internal emails:
10 Quick Tips to Fix Your Bad Photos: PCMag has you covered with basic tips on how to take better photos. Here you will find must-know information for any photographer and internal communicator like how to choose the right mode on your camera and avoid common issues with settings like white balance.
Photography Tips for Beginners: This page has links to just about everything you need to know about photography, from what a DSLR is to recommended camera settings. Broken up into categories, you can find answers to almost all of your photography questions. Consider this single page the bible for internal email photography.
Sidenote: Fstoppers is a fantastic resource site dedicated to all things photography, with tips and tricks for amateurs and pros alike.
TLDR (too long, didn't read): Below are the top photography tips for internal communicators:
Rule of Thirds
An alternative to centering all your photos, instantly improve composition with the rule of thirds. Through your viewfinder, imagine separating your image into three parts, vertically and horizontally, like in the image below. Place the focal point, such as your subjects eyes, along the intersection of these lines. Your photo instantly becomes more pleasing for the viewer. In fact, most cameras actually have a grid built into the viewfinder for this reason.
Lighting is one of the most important elements for what makes a good photo. It also happens to be one of the most overlooked elements for beginner photographers. Make sure you apply these quick tips to your internal photography and ensure your photos knock it out of the park.
Use Flash Sparingly
Flash, particularly when the lighting in the room is dark, might seem like the best option. But it generally makes photos too extreme, illuminating everything or everyone. This really confuses what the main focal point of your photo is. Not to mention, flash messes with your subject's skin color, making them too bright and pale.
If your shooting location is too dark, don't make a harsh flash your first option. Play around with the lighting you already have. Open the blinds, turn on more lights, and make sure the sun or any other light source is facing your subject. You'll also want to be aware of where the sun is (if you're shooting by a window or outside). Never shoot directly towards the sun or else you'll most likely end up with heavy shadows.
As for the best time of day to shoot? The golden hour, just after sunrise or before sunset, is your best bet. During these times your photos will have less dark shadows and highlights around your subjects will be softer -- ideal for the perfect photo.
Once you've taken your photos, you might want to make a few adjustments. Maybe they're not bright enough or you'd like to crop out an unnecessary element. It's time to get editing.
A Collection of the 10 Best Resources to Learn Photoshop: For those already ahead of the editing game, Photoshop is the industry standard editing program for photographers and the best option for any photo editing. It's a powerful tool to make your photos better than ever, from resizing, brightening, retouching and much more. Take a look at this list of the best resources for Photoshop beginners and get editing.
Lightroom, also made by Adobe, is a cheaper alternative to Photoshop. With a smaller toolbox than it's big brother, it's simpler and easier to use if you're lacking the time and money to be a Photoshop pro. You can get all the digital photo editing capabilities you need with Lightroom at $9.99 USD per month.
Another option is Photoshop Elements. For $79.99 you get plenty of powerful photo manipulation tools and a collection of photo effects at a reasonable price -- a worthy investment for internal communicators.
Looking for alternatives? Free photo editing programs do exist. Although they're more limited in their capabilities compared to Photoshop, they generally get the job done.
Take a look at Picasa, Google's free image organizing and editing tool. You can store all your photos in one place while making albums for your photos to keep your communications organized and clean. It might not have all the in-depth editing capabilities of Photoshop, but if you value simplicity, this is the software for you.
Fotor is another free photo editing software option for internal communicators looking to improve their photography. The simple interface and easy to use tools make it an easy choice for those new to photo editing. The online software allows you to crop, rotate, fine-tune, adjust color, brightness, contrast, saturation and resize your photos. Save directly to your computer or Dropbox.
Canva is another excellent and new option for photo editing for internal email needs. It's kind of like the Swiss Army knife of graphic design. You can take a look at a library of design they have for inspiration as well as licensed images from their huge online library. It's absolutely worth checking out.
Balancing Creative Copy with Tone of Voice
Writing creative copy while maintaining a specific tone of voice is a balancing act.
We know internal communicators are good writers -- it's a requirement for the job to get messages out successfully.
But even the best of internal communicators may find it a challenge to be consistently creative and interesting in their writing while maintaining a strict or particular corporate tone of voice.
First: what is tone? Think of the content of your email as what you say and the tone of voice (TOV) as how you say it. If tone is something you use on a daily basis but haven't solidified it, first finish this sentence and make it your mantra: when the internal communications team writes, we want to sound .
Your TOV and any writing should feel authentic so your readers can connect with your message. Try to make the TOV feel casual and conversational -- avoid elaborate writing, as it often lacks authenticity and feels insincere. Always be human and sound like one.
When you're trying to connect with busy employees who already feel burdened by emails, tone should not trump the main function of the words which is to succinctly communicate a message. Ensure your message is clear and the main focal point of your copy per se.
An Actionable Call to Action
A strong Call to Action (CTA) is the most important aspect of any internal email. And any email, for that matter.
CTAs tell your email recipients what to do next. Are they taking a survey? Signing up for a company event? Or is there important organizational news they need to know ASAP? Whatever the call to action may be, it has to be noticeable, enticing, and actionable.
It's tough to create a powerful CTA, especially since we live in the age of the internet and short attention spans. But there are a few ways to optimize your internal email CTAs to make them instantly more actionable.
- Put your call to action above the fold:
Ensure your readers don't have to scroll to the bottom of the page to find out what they have to do. Place your CTA in the portion of the email before recipients have to start scrolling.
- Make it clear:
You only have a few seconds to get your message out there. Make sure it's concise and understandable.
- Make it obvious:
Your CTA should be noticeable in your copy. Experiment with color of links, bolding, font size. Don't forget to place it outside of a block of text so it stands alone -- white space is your friend.
- Use action words:
Obvious but important. "Get", "try", "test", "build", "find", "show", "play", "add".
- First person:
"Sign me up!", "Take me to the survey". Introducing the action from the point of view of your email recipient is more personal and therefore often more effective.
Like anything in your internal emails, it's vital to continually test and measure changes to your CTA. Find out what font size, color, placement, wording works best and make the appropriate decisions based on your data. If you're new to email engagement data or you want to learn more, we uncovered some tips on how to use and understand your internal email engagement data.
Basic Design Principles
Balance and Alignment
Balance is incredibly important with everything you create. Every element in your design, and every design, has a visual weight which affects the way the viewer feels. A large object generally weighs more than a smaller one and color also comes into play, with darker objects holding more visual weight. Balancing your design creates stability.
For your internal content, particularly internal emails, pay attention to how balanced your overall design is. The experience your recipients have with your design and emails is essential for successfully delivering your messages. Try different options until it feels right.
Also good to note, whitespace or negative space, is the area of a design that is free of any element like text or an image. Although it might look blank and useless, whitespace affects the entire balance of a design. It's important to have some whitespace in your design, as it increases legibility for your readers, comprehension and, it's aesthetically pleasing.
Alignment is about creating visual unity with all elements of your email and design. The way to do this is by ensuring all elements -- even those that aren't in immediate proximity -- are aligned to at least one other object. If you look at any good design or website, generally, everything is lined up by an invisible grid. It makes a world of a difference for the balance and feel of a design. The same goes for your emails.
When putting together internal emails, whitepapers, newsletters, posters, or any digital content, consider alignment and its effect on your message. There's a reason why large corporations pay attention to basic design principles: they just work. Our eyes can easily understand something that aligns cleanly and looks good.
Remember, these tips are meant to be a starting point for your creative internal email design. Once you get more comfortable with the basics, feel free to break away from the rules and have some (more) fun!
Take a look at these examples, both of which are acceptable ways to organize these content blocks:
Use the Color Wheel
The color wheel is a handy tool when you're having trouble finding the perfect color combination for your latest internal newsletter or any designing you may find yourself doing. How it works: pick a color on the wheel and chose the color directly opposite from it. Any color on this tool is designed to look good together and the color wheel is the standard way to find complimentary color groups.
For a little inspiration, try it out below:
Coolors is a handy resource to find complementary colors. Simply use the generator to find a color you like, click the lock, and hit the space bar to generate more complementary colors. If you'd like the save a color for next time, you can find the hex code located at the bottom -- it's a six-character combination of numbers and letters.
What's also very cool about Coolers is that you can upload your organization's logo and find complimentary colors to match your official colors!
If you have room to play outside of your brand colors, this tool is particularly useful when choosing supplementary colors to accompany your branded content. The goal is to use these colors in a way that's cohesive, natural and, strengthens your message aesthetically.
And voila! You've found the perfect palette for your internal email content.
We even found more complimentary colors for our internal emails below:
Just like a fine wine with dinner at your favorite restaurant, font combinations should be properly paired to compliment and contrast each other. This is often tricky and you might find yourself messing around with various fonts for hours (or maybe that's just me).
But luckily there's a science and art to this that makes pairing fonts even easier than finding the perfect wine for your Chicken Cordon Bleu.
Try out some of these font pairings and take the general ideas here to make your own pairings for newsletters, internal emails, posters, and other creative internal content!
Internal Email Font Pairing Tips:
- A serif font generally goes best with a sans serif font and vice versa. Remember: contrast is your friend.
- In any design, try to use only two fonts. You want to avoid it looking messy.
- If you can't find two different fonts, try using a bolded font and then a regular font from the same family -- they're bound to look good.
Be Creative and Measure Continually
Making internal email interesting is no easy feat. But making small creative changes and continually measuring your communications based off those changes is a great way to ensure your internal emails stays relevant and catches employees attention.
One of the many benefits of email measurement is that you can see what sticks and scrap what doesn't. When you take these creative tips and apply them to your emails, you can accurately see what employees most connect with. These tips are a starting point for your creative internal emails -- feel free to break the rules and get even more creative! And don't forget to measure along the way.