What works and what doesn’t for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) looking to catch their employees’ attention within the workplace?

Email holds the top spot in workplace communications tools that catch employees’ attention. That’s according to a new survey we commissioned from GetApp, the largest cloud-based business app marketplace.

While just over 50% of respondents identified “Company-wide emails” as the go-to communication platform, nearly a quarter of those surveyed chose “Digital Display Screens” as the second most engaging communication solution. These digital channels eclipsed traditional methods with only 5.96% employees choosing “Lobby Poster Boards” closely followed by “Hallway Banners” (5.77%) and “Mass Memos” (3.98%) as preferred forms of company communication.

“Company-wide Tweets” are the least effective, only selected by a mere 1.79% of the respondents.

What of social media for internal communication?

This exposed surprising views on the use of social media as an internal information tool. A recent UNC Kenan-Flagler study revealed the far-reaching influence that Millennials have in today’s workplace. By 2020, nearly half (46%) of all U.S. workers will be millennials.

The sheer volume of Millennials (80 million Americans), combined with the relative lack of Gen Xers who represent only 16% of today’s workforce, and the increasing retirement of Baby Boomers means that employers will be employing more millennials. Broad assumptions are often made about this demographic and their use of social media—namely, that they use it a lot. So why then is social media the least favorite internal communication tool?

It could be that not all millennials use social media the same. Did you know that millennial women are more likely to forgo Snapchat and Twitter, while millennial men are more likely to pass on Facebook and Pinterest? And that Twitter has more engagement issues than Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook? This should be useful information to brands and organizations pushing for communication and engagement via social media. Grouping all millennials together into one group would be a mistake.

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The Email Illusion

Company-wide emails remain the #1 preferred communication tool, primarily due to the perception that they are personalized and can be sent easily.

However, digital signage is the #1 mass communication solution for employee communication.

Our continued dependence on technology has programmed us to look at digital screens for information, entertainment, and education. It then comes as no surprise that this trend is catching on in the workplace, where digital display screens are cropping up as a preferred communication tool. With this medium, corporate communicators can cut through the clutter of email, and communicate with large groups of employees at the same time. Emails can get lost in an inbox, but it’s hard to miss a large flat panel display with flashing graphics showing information about new products, an upcoming event or HR information.

Digital signage also opens up new opportunities for employee engagement. For instance, the HR department can display stock and financial information on digital screens to educate employees on how to invest their 401(k).

Email, on the other hand, can be distracting and not as effective as it’s given credit for. A frequently quoted infographic shows that email wastes a lot of time at work. Employees receive 304 business emails weekly. They check their email an average of 36 times in an hour, and it takes 16 minutes to refocus after handling incoming email.

Research suggests that about a third of company emails never get opened and read.

Email is more than just annoying — it could have detrimental effects. BBC reported that employees distracted by incoming email saw a 10-point fall in their IQ – more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking marijuana.

A breath of fresh digital air

Digital signage is still in its infancy, but its non intrusive nature makes it a far more effective form of conveying information without the element of distraction. Information being pushed to the displays is more likely to be seen than similar content in emails which employees must actively choose to open.

Switch to digital signage, and save your employees 10 IQ points