Mobile phones have fundamentally changed how we go about our daily lives – so much so that it’s hard to imagine a world without them, and yet mobile has been declared the most under-hyped technology according to First Round’s State of Startups Survey*.

The potential of push notifications reigns supreme. Companies can be first to communicate developments inside the company or respond to rumours or market realities and in so doing become a trusted and transparent source of information for their employees. However, with great power comes great responsibility… so it’s no surprise that we’re often asked to share advice on this topic. Here are our top 5 thoughts and best practice tips on perfecting the art of “smarter pings”.

1. What’s in it for the employee

First things first, notifications only work for employees who have successfully downloaded your employee engagement mobile app, so continually push registration messages through other channels to keep driving uptake.

Getting your employees into the habit of using your employee engagement software regularly is a process – one that starts withdrawing them in using content that’s most relevant to them and building trust by linking positive content with messages from leadership, for example. One of our clients has found this approach to be particularly effective, and the analytics show that messages from leadership are now the most popular content on their employee engagement app.

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to popular content. It’s often site or sector-specific such as production dashboards and targets that directly impact the employee’s bonus in the manufacturing sector, or competitions and interactive content for retail. Anything that relates to “me and myself” such as wellness info, HR admin or learning systems/ information that’s going to help me do my job better, typically achieves high activity stats. Best practice suggests checking the analytics regularly to understand the environment and what content employees are engaging with.

“Smart pings (notifications) are three things: timely, personal and actionable.”

2. The role of notifications in driving activity

Notifications are the reason to visit your employee engagement mobile app. In an environment where the smartphone experience for most is an app-cluttered home screen, employees need reminding to log in. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of notifications is the ability to link users directly to specific content in the app that relates to the message and request a response or action. Research indicates that push notifications boost app engagement by 88%, and 65% of users return to an app when push is enabled.

But employees don’t necessarily want to receive notifications and SMSes for every update. One of our mining clients has established a rhythm with their app where certain content areas are updated on specific days. Stats show the highest activity on those days, indicating that employees are expecting the content updates as they happen and don’t need a notification to tell them where to go. This approach impacts directly on perceptions of “company spam” and also means notifications can be used for really important updates or crisis / emergency comms.

3. Identifying the optimal frequency for notifications

The optimal number of SMSes and notifications that can or should be shared each week varies from one sector to the next. No one wants to feel like they’re being spammed, and the goal should be to avoid that perception at all costs.

Mining is particularly structured and events-driven with formal communications, instructions, and emergency messages going out up to 5 times a week, or sometimes none at all if there is nothing happening. In retail and manufacturing, however, the sweet spot is between one and two notifications per week, with a possible third if there is an emergency or crisis. In-app notifications are viewed as less invasive than SMSes, although USSD strings can only be shared via SMS and are pretty popular as a means of communication.

With this in mind, organisations need to consider a holistic view, focus on what is most important, and prioritise messages that support the overall internal communication strategy within the business.

4. Is there a best time of day to send notifications?

The best time of day to send out an SMS or notification is highly dependent on the nature of work within each company, accessibility (for example signal is intermittent out at sea or at the mines), and the timing of shifts. Mid-morning to lunch time is marginally more popular than other times, but ultimately, the best approach is an analytics-driven one. Clients can compare the analytics over a chosen period to make an informed decision on the best time to send notifications.

5. Messaging, tone, and the impact on click-through rates (CTRs)

Consider avoiding harsh and patronising tones. Communications can be both corporate and kind. It’s in our human DNA to respond well to that and it builds trust. Wherever possible let fun be had; it has a positive impact on productivity.

Notifications should offer clear, concrete value that encourages the employee to click through, so say enough without giving away the full story (e.g. the winner of the Easter competition is…[click to find out]”. Using uppercase for positive words, adverbs and key call to actions such as WIN also achieves higher click-throughs.

Ensure consistency and relevance between the message and the content link. For example, avoid using words like “urgent” and “exciting” for something that employees will find irrelevant and boring. This is big for building trust.

Wrapping it up

While notifications are great for boosting retention and engagement rates, it’s best not to start off by using them as a growth hacking tool. In order to build a trustworthy relationship, they must be timely, personal and actionable, and comply with a notification strategy, which is based on these three things:

  • the rate of users opting out of your notification permissions
  • the uninstall rate and
  • actions per hundred pings

Senior Director of Product Expansion for Slack, Noah Weiss says, “We are still in early days with mobile. Devices continue to shapeshift to have bigger screens, longer battery life or become wearable, yet no matter how the hardware develops, notifications will be the most intimate feature of your mobile device. The more notifications can be customised actively via user input and passively through contextual awareness, the more app success can be achieved.”

*First Round’s State of Startups Survey