Digital ID and biometrics company Onfido works hard to keep its 600 employees connected—to the business and each other. Its internal email newsletter, Newsfido, was created to keep everyone up to date; no small task given that Onfido’s offices are spread across eight countries and multiple time zones.
Newsfido was launched in 2018 by an internal comms (IC) team of three, but by 2020 it was clear that it needed a revamp. Each weekly edition took seven hours to produce, but its text-heavy style wasn’t resonating with readers. With open and click-through rates at an all-time low, Naomi Shammas, senior operations manager (IC) at Onfido, decided that major changes were needed.
The consensus was that the newsletter was being hampered by Onfido’s then email vendor, which offered an inflexible template, poor customer service and significant issues with deliverability. But when other email vendors failed to pass security checks, it looked like Onfido might have to stick with the devil it knew.
Shammas made the call to ditch the email format completely and publish the newsletter entirely in a dedicated Slack channel. Here’s a look at how that decision took Newsfido from zero to hero.
Problems with content and design = an unloved newsletter
In June 2020, Shammas made the decision to call time on the underperforming Newsfido newsletter and give it a complete revamp. The first thing she had to do was assemble a new team, as the original one had left the company.
The previous team consisted of just IC employees; Shammas wanted the new one to be more representative of Onfido’s structure. Onfido’s workforce is split into three main groups: technology, growth and business operations. Each group has its own established communication patterns and tool preferences, typically combining Slack and email with platforms such as Confluence, Asana and Miro.
Those preferences meant that there was little opportunity for information to flow smoothly across the whole company. A better newsletter could change that. As she represented business operations, Shammas appointed people from Onfido’s technology and growth groups—a product designer and a senior marketer—as they were best placed to anticipate what would resonate with their colleagues.
The new team conducted a companywide survey to gather opinions on the old newsletter, and its design and content emerged as major bugbears. A common complaint was how “blocky” and cluttered everything looked. Others mentioned that it used too many colours and had a weak layout that was inconsistent with Onfido’s brand guidelines.
“Overwhelmingly, employees said that Newsfido was too long—the text-heavy format was time consuming to read, and the email itself often got truncated,” Shammas says.
The people had spoken: The next step was to produce a newsletter that would show them that their voices had been heard.
“In order to focus resources on the relaunch, we paused the newsletter entirely. It was telling that only two of the 50 employees we surveyed noticed that Newsfido (formerly weekly) hadn’t been posted for two weeks.”
When email no longer delivers
The plan was to find a new email vendor that could handle a major template redesign. Onfido seriously considered two companies and mocked up prototypes using their tools. Armed with a more fleshed-out draft, the team was able to get concrete feedback on content and aesthetics.
Unfortunately, after months of work, both potential email vendors failed Onfido’s security assessment. Given the effort already spent, a natural solution would have been to stay with the existing email vendor. However, that would mean going back to the old, inflexible template and to outstanding issues such as a cumbersome user interface, deliverability problems and poor customer support.
It simply wasn’t a viable option, so the team decided instead to pivot from email to a communication channel that was already in use—Slack.
“Attending the Frontiers 2020 conference opened my eyes to all that we could do with Slack,” Shammas says. “Moving from a more-classic email newsletter to a Slack one felt like a brave move—but it’s paid dividends over the last year. We’ve brought our comms to where the team are, and it means our messages land so much more clearly.”
“Given that the old email platform had cost the company thousands of pounds a year, the switch to an existing work platform—Slack—essentially means that distributing the newsletter is now free. The return on investment has been infinitely positive.”
Incorporating feedback and building back better
Moving the newsletter to Slack was a major shift, but the team had ample evidence to back up its choice. A recent Onfido employee survey had suggested that 100% of respondents checked Slack daily, while only 89% checked emails. Armed with this data, the team felt that a Slack-based newsletter may get more engagement and was an exciting avenue to explore.
The survey also suggested that employees really liked Slack overall, something which would be crucial to the newsletter’s success.
“As a customer success manager, I want to deliver answers to customers quickly, with expert input from across the business. Being able to quickly bring the right people from across the organisation into one place to share knowledge helps me to provide the best experience back to our customer base. It is an essential tool.” —Chloe Dean, Customer Success Manager, Onfido
The emoji reactions (and custom one-click reactions) are great for quickly weighing in on a post without having to type out a full comment. Feels much more efficient that way. I also love that I can customise the Slack UI so I get the optimal experience for me.
Love Slack. It just makes it so easy to contact users from an IT standpoint, meaning I can quickly resolve issues. Now with the Huddle feature, if there is a problem I can help fix it without the need to spin up a Zoom meeting.
However, there was still the issue of translating the redesigned email layout to something that would work in Slack. The redesign already included a move toward more “snackable” updates, but it was still too long to post in a Slack channel.
To solve this, the team used Slack’s Block Kit Builder to create rich message layouts and broke up the newsletter into two editions:
- Monday Newsfido contains key news, so employees are informed for the week ahead
- Thursday Newsfido wraps up all the news from the week and gives employees a lift as the week draws to a close
The new format ensures that everyone at least scans important updates, but it’s also simple for them to locate and skip to the parts they find most useful.
To test out the updated newsletter, the newsletter team ran a two-week trial with a representative group of readers from different areas of the business. Their responses were encouraging, with 86% indicating that they preferred it to the old one. That validated the team’s impression that a newsletter in Slack was not only viable but preferable.
“It’s such a vast improvement over emails or other systems, the answers presented don’t really allow me to express that with enough enthusiasm. It’s the best format I’ve seen for internal comms like this.”
Easier to produce—and better to read
Today, Newsfido is a multi-sectioned newsletter consisting of two weekly Slack posts to the #core-newsfido channel. Only newsletter team members can publish in #core-newsfido, so posts don’t get buried, and there is a clean archive of past issues that employees can look back on. And, as each edition is distributed on different days, it’s easier to manage the work of pulling Newsfido together.
When the newsletter was sent by email, the team spent an average of seven hours each week compiling and publishing it. With Slack, it takes just three.
“Using Slack and its Block Kit Builder has drastically cut down the average time it takes our team to make an edition,” Shammas says. “We have templates we can easily build and modify, and Slack is perfectly suited to short-form communications. We’ll never look back.”
Distribution across different countries is much easier as well. Before, limitations with the email vendor’s service meant that each newsletter had to be manually sent at an appropriate time for each area. This wasn’t a scalable solution for a company in the midst of rapid expansion.
“The asynchronous nature of Slack means employees from different time zones can access the posts when it suits them,” Shammas says.
Since the newsletter launched on Slack in January 2021, readership has increased dramatically. Seventy-five percent of employees now read it, whereas just 30% would open the email version.
“We’re constantly iterating and improving it, and using Slack means we don’t have to wait for a vendor to provide us with resources whenever we want to change our template,” Shammas says.
Onfido believes that having efficient and effective processes throughout the company allows it to better serve its customers. Newsfido delivers on both counts. Even though the newsletter is now published twice a week, it takes less time and effort to produce, while readers overwhelmingly prefer its clearer, snappier format. With Slack, Onfido is living its values and making sure that its employees stay informed and engaged.