Video Case Study: The Secrets Behind a Great Company Newsletter
The Secrets Behind a Great Company Newsletter
In this episode, Melissa Cohen, Head of Communications & Customer Advocacy, and Chris Lajara, HR Coordinator at Unbabel share the secrets behind their company newsletter program. With a focus on:
How to start your very first newsletter.
A non-time-consuming approach to get leaders excited about participating.
A framework to help each department develop a valuable newsletter.
The magic mix of content, formatting, cadence, voice, and style that consistently leads to 100% employee engagement.
Unbabel is an AI-powered language operations solution that helps businesses all over the world deliver multilingual customer support. As of February 2021, Unbabel has 175 employees and is based in San Francisco with offices in NYC, Pittsburgh, Lisbon, London, and Berlin. They help leading brands like Facebook, Calm, Microsoft, Booking.com, and Uber communicate with their customers around the world, no matter which language they speak.
Melissa Cohen is Unbabel’s Head of Communications & Customer Advocacy. She focuses on external and internal communications, thought leadership, content, customer experience, and more.
Chris Lajara is Unbabel’s HR Representative, specific to the US team. With the rest of his team based in Portugal, he has the unique opportunity to hyperfocus on the critical mass Unbabel is building in the United States.
Rachel:I’m so excited to talk about your newsletter program at Unbabel. It is beyond A+ quality. This is something I talk to nearly every single one of our customers about. This is what typically happens — a company decides they need an intranet and imagines all of the great internal updates they’re going to send out and think “we’re finally going to send out a company newsletter!” Then, they get set up and they’re like “Oh, no. Now we actually need to write a company newsletter. Where do we even start? What goes into it? What does a good newsletter even look like?”
Lots of stuff to unpack here. But, before we get into the how-to’s and best practices, it would be awesome if you could give an overview of the newsletters you currently have in place at Unbabel.
Chris: It’s definitely been an exciting journey. We started off with one small, but mighty People Team newsletter that my team pushed out at the onset of the pandemic. Our goal was to keep everyone connected and well informed as we shifted to remote work. Since then, we’ve seen it grow legs and expand to a total of 5 newsletters, that different teams push out at different times, on a monthly cadence.
We are selective about having the right newsletters distributed because we want our team members to stay engaged. We certainly don’t want it to feel like there’s a sense of overkill and then people won’t really pay attention to them. Currently, we’ve got the following newsletters rolling out on a monthly basis:
Whether we are pouring culture and health insurance updates into the People Team newsletter or Product is relaying a product release in the Product newsletter, our goal is always to have a communications tool like Honey in place to promote seamless information sharing and collaboration across the organization.
Rachel: The regularity and representation across your organization has always been something that’s been really inspiring to me. It’s hard enough to get one newsletter off the ground, but the fact that there are so many people who are passionate about having a voice and making sure their departments are represented is really incredible. I’m curious, from a philosophical perspective, from a leadership perspective, why do you think newsletters are important?
Melissa: Newsletters are important in any company for cross-functional updates and communication across the company. That’s why we have them at Unbabel and why others should consider them as well. The biggest discussion we have about newsletters is… “is certain content appropriate for a newsletter? Or is it better for an All Hands Meetings? Or both?”
We go back and forth about that often. We don’t want to overwhelm the company with too many newsletters, because we don’t want them to shut off and we want our analytics to stay high. For instance, if a department has a one-time update, but it’s not an ongoing one, we have them present at All Hands instead. We don’t want every department doing a newsletter.
Leadership has requested specific newsletters, when it comes to product and revenue growth. We hope that these monthly newsletters continue to keep them informed.
Rachel: From the employee perspective, I’m curious to hear what you think the value is. Because — I know it sounds like a made-up stat — but when you post a newsletter in Honey, you have 100% company engagement. Every single person reads them. Something is going right. There is value there… because otherwise, it would go into the abyss that we’re all familiar with. When teams sound out an update to the company over email, people often wonder “did they even see it?” It’s obvious that they see the value. What do you think, from an employee perspective, is the most valuable thing they’re getting from these newsletters?
Chris: I’m excited to answer this question because I think it has to do with our approach to feedback at Unbabel. It really helps us foster engagement in a way that makes us unique. Not only are feedback channels open and accessible, but we listen and make adjustments based on what Unbabelers are asking for. Our team members pay attention to internal communication because we work to provide them with what they’ve let us know they want to hear more about. I think it’s easy to say engagement is high because we have a strong emphasis on culture or the organization understands the value of cross-functional communication. But, in order for those things to ring true, we have to lead by making people feel heard and making them feel like they are a part of something where they want to participate and know more about.
Rachel: It’s impressive to see all of the stuff that has come to life. It looks like a well-oiled machine that’s operating itself right now — but we all know that’s not how these things come to life and happen. So, I’m curious, I think a lot of people who are listening to this, a lot of people I talk to, never had a reliable newsletter program in place. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like to get the first one off the ground? What you wish you had known when you were getting started? And, to those people who are trying to get their first one out the door… how do they start?
Melissa: Thanks for the props about our newsletter strategy, it’s great to hear! We do think our newsletter strategy is good. We think it’s in a good place. But, obviously, there’s always more to work on and we want to see it evolve even more.
The first priority, and what we did at Unbabel, is focus on the People Team newsletter. If you don’t have a People Newsletter, definitely start there. It will help the team align from an HR, leadership, benefits, and culture perspective. These get started from the initiation of the Head of People, who realizes that it needs to be a priority for the organization.
The key is to keep them really short, to the point, skim-worthy. You want people to come back and reference them. You can see in our analytics for our People newsletter — if you remember, I mentioned in the beginning that we have 175 employees at Unbabel — but we have well up to the upper 200s of views on the newsletters, which we’re really happy about. That means that they come back and reference them. Not everyone wants to spend the time reading lengthy newsletters, so we think that’s a key in that. We also include emojis, pictures, short stories, quotes from management, and that really keeps everyone engaged.
Rachel: You were mentioning earlier that you have newsletters from Revenue Growth and teams far beyond the People Team. Starting with the People Team is a natural place to start — it’s something we think about as People Leaders — communication and the internal culture — it’s something we all think about as leaders, of course, but in a different way in other departments that are focused on other OKRs. How do you think about involving leadership across the company and making them prioritize a project like this that’s going to take a lot of time and intention to get off the ground? These are the busiest people at your company, I imagine. How do you get them to see the value as well?
Melissa: We started off by identifying the departments that people wanted to hear more from more within the company. That was without leadership involved. We actually found more departments interested in creating newsletters, than not. I don’t think that every company can say that. So, departments wanted to update the organization on the good work that they’re doing and make sure that there’s alignment across the company. So, we decided to bring in executives specifically for the People newsletter. For instance, our CEO will provide a quote, a paragraph on something he’s focused on, a congratulations for a successful company initiative, or a thought for the next week.
We haven’t had any issues or challenges with leadership buy in across the board with our newsletters. They contribute to them, but don’t drive the process. That’s what we really want and think that’s how it should be, so it’s been really great.
Rachel: I think you made a really important point that I want to emphasize. I love the idea of incorporating leaders into the newsletters with quotes, specific updates, and stories, instead of asking them to take on another project to own, lead, and drive. It makes it a lot more approachable and easier to think about getting off the ground for someone who may not have had this in place before.
Shifting gears a little bit — beyond the philosophy, getting people to buy in, and the value of a newsletter — tell us a little bit about the actual newsletter. What goes into the anatomy of a good newsletter? What are the important components to include? How important is consistency, formatting, and channel?
Chris: This is something that we had to think about in Q3 of 2020. Melissa and I sat down and started to construct what we would refer to as a Guide to Unbabel Internal Newsletters. It was sparked by different teams starting to express interest in creating newsletters of their own. We knew that we didn’t want to monopolize the anatomy of every newsletter, so we created this guide to provide insight into what makes an impactful newsletter. For example, in the guide, we recommend that every contributor focuses on having:
Team member updates
We emphasize the value of having a conclusion in order to wrap up the newsletter in a way that ties the theme or topic in with the overarching company strategy.
Recently, we’ve been including a brief interactive survey at the end of every newsletter to gather feedback related to content. It’s proven to be particularly useful to teams who aren’t sure their formatting or content are resonating with the organization. Either way, we are suggestive in our approach, which leaves an opening for the contributor to understand exactly what it is they’re signing up for, without feeling like their creativity is being stifled.
Rachel: It’s also a really nice entry point for employees to get involved in the process. Sometimes, you don’t really know what to do. You get a newsletter, it’s exciting, and you feel something in response, but you don’t know the appropriate way to react to it. I love that idea of including the interactive survey at the end.
I’m curious, are you including your newsletter as part of new hire onboarding? There’s obviously a lot of great content in there, but there’s also a lot of hints about company culture. Is that something that you think about, strategically, as you welcome new hires to the team?
Chris: We rely a great deal on Honey in general throughout the onboarding process. This is the first company that I’ve worked for that has had something like Honey as a resource. It’s really exciting for me when we’re onboarding someone new to be able to point them in this direction.
Since coming onboard and understanding that Honey is our one source of truth, it’s become a hub for valuable Unbabel content in general. Policies, FAQs, weekly updates, all hands recordings, newsletters (of course), amongst many other forms of content are accessible on Honey to New Joiners as they look to assimilate with the organization.
Rachel: My turn to say thank you for those kudos. It’s nice to hear Honey coming to life in such a great way. Now, especially. Onboarding is a whole other conversation we could have, for sure. I think we’ve all had to reimagine it this year with all of the challenges. Honestly, I think we reimagine it a little bit every year. Maybe we’ll come back for a round two interview to talk about that in the future.
We started to talk a little bit about the softer side of the newsletter in that last question. Obviously, there’s the bullet points, the OKR progress, the updates, but there are so many opportunities within that newsletter to express culture — through tone, through the personalization, through the language that you’re using. Is this something that you’re actively thinking about in your strategy? How are you thinking about building a voice internally across the company?
Melissa: We definitely are thinking about that. We think about voice, tone, language, and culture in our newsletters. We tend to use a lot of emojis, photos, and videos that project our culture. This has been even more important during the pandemic so our company feels connected in some way. We also need to think about different cultures in general because we’re global and our team celebrates different holidays, we show interest, for example, in a variety of cultural dishes — things we like to talk about at All Hands, when we share personal updates like that. The team likes different things conveyed in the newsletters, depending on the different cultures. We’re also experiencing different lockdown practices during the pandemic. So, all of this needs to be considered at the end of the day. As I mentioned, our CEO provides prospective, empathy, and experiences in our People newsletter, which I think our team really enjoys. We’d love to continue getting other leaders involved as our newsletter strategy evolves.
Rachel: I was able to witness your company culture first hand. Portugal was the very last trip I took before the world went into this lockdown phase. I got to meet your team, see how excited everyone was to be at work, they were excited to have me, a random vendor, walk into the doors of the company, ask me questions, and get excited. It was really nice to see that culture.
Last question, which is about the future. What’s next? We were talking about how we’ve been reinventing onboarding, but we’re always reinventing things. How are you thinking about the evolution of your newsletters and what do you want from them in the future?
Melissa: We’d definitely like to get more visual with our newsletters. As I said in the beginning, engagement is key for us, as it should be for most organizations. We evaluate our analytics, and if for some reason they drop, we’ll know we need to change things up. Video is a priority for us as we move forward. For our holiday People newsletter, our People Team put together a video from our entire leadership team and their families, which was really cool. That spurred a lot of engagement within that newsletter, so we want to do more of that. It was really awesome and personal, because we weren’t able to do our typical in-person holiday celebrations this year. I think that organizations need to obviously think about that kind of thing as well. All in all, we’re in the process of determining our company podcast strategy, so podcasts will be another opportunity for us as we move forward and think about our newsletter evolution in general.
Rachel: We’ve been seeing a lot more video content and podcasts coming into Honey across the board. I think that newsletters are a great introduction of this to the team. We’re all sick of reading longform content at this point. Even a conversation like this — it’s so nice to see faces, hear tones, you get so much more out of a 10 minute video than reading a whitepaper.
Thank you both so much, this was awesome. I know that people are going to get so much out of this. It’s something that people are looking for a lot of guidance on, so we will be sharing this broadly!
If anybody has questions or want to learn more about what we discussed today, you can always reach out to me at email@example.com and we can continue the conversation there. Please feel free to share this with anybody else in internal comms or anybody who is looking to make an impact on their company like Melissa and Chris have at Unbabel.