What Your Netflix Queue Can Teach You About Employee Engagement

By Rachel Folz | February 11, 2019

The way the world enjoys entertainment has drastically shifted over the last two decades thanks to one monolith in the industry – Netflix. What started as a small, scrappy DVD seller in 1998 has morphed into an entertainment powerhouse.

Not only has Netflix redefined how entertainment is discovered and consumed, it has spoiled us with some of the strongest behavior-based artificial intelligence in the market.

Netflix’s Logo Evolution

Take a look at your Netflix queue – it’s the 21st century personality test. Forget INFP  and ESTJ – you are a “Soapy High School TV Shows” or “Provocative Social & Cultural Documentaries.” Just like you, your employees are enjoying their reign as kings and queens of their own private content island.

Over Netflix’s history they have worked tirelessly to eliminate hurdles to your content enjoyment. Your comms department might not be Netflix, but here are some quality lessons to be gleaned by their commitment to bettering the user experience.

Each Queue is Different

Much like snowflakes and employees, no two Netflix queues are exactly the same. But your queue didn’t start that way. It began in earnest with general categories, like Comedies, Drama, and Crime.

But give their artificial intelligence a few binge-filled Sundays and all of a sudden your queue will be curated into a personalized wonderland of previously unknown genres that you will love.

Netflix looks for content relationships.

When planning communications in your organization, consider that there are many personality types and communication preferences within each location, division, and work group. Segmenting these audiences by demographic or job title alone will not keep your employees Netflix-level engaged but this type of segmentation is a place to start.

Let Them Tell you What They Want

When you subscribe to Netflix you are taken through their quick onboarding. They worked hard over the last 15 years to remove barriers so nothing unnecessary is asked. What is essential to Netflix, other than payment, is for you to tell them who is watching and what they like.

You pick three shows you like and then Netflix’s artificial intelligence-powered recommendation engine takes over and starts your queue. Imagine if your employees had the same experience with your department.

Same house, drastically different queues.

You could start the onboarding process by asking them what they like and letting them pick how and when they want to hear from you. This leads to employees feeling heard and respected.

Change up The Presentation

When Netflix really thinks I should watch something, they will change the summary image multiple times to entice me to play. They might rotate through five different images showcasing different stars, or aspects of the story to find the right one.

Which was was Netflix trying to get you to tidy up?

In your work, consider A/B testing different message presentations to see what works for your audience. You could test headline, copy, or, like Netflix does, art, to see what gets you to your communication goal.

Showcase the Oldies

Feeding the content beast can get you down. Netflix’s content tagging system does an excellent job of digging through the archives to find older shows and films for me to fall in love with.Case in point – one of my categories in Netflix is “Cerebral Political TV Shows.” That tag unveiled my current binge obsession, “The West Wing.”

You could apply this concept by building a content library for new hires that takes them through their first year with content, messages, and opportunities that are relevant to being the new kid on the block.

Make Room for Other Voices

In the early days of Netflix, their competition was video store chains like Blockbuster. A video store at the time was stocked to the gills with mass entertainment – like “Armageddon” and “Rush Hour 2” but there was very little shelf space dedicated to niche films or documentaries. With rental fees of $4 or more a night, people were scared to take a chance on a unknown title, instead settling for big budget, mass market films.

A video store in the 1990s vs. a family watching Netflix today.
Browsing a video store vs. today’s personalization-driven queue

With Netflix’s set price, subscribers didn’t feel like they were paying for each title so they began to borrow more independant and international films.  User data revealed a growing market for smaller films and more sub-genres.

This gave better distribution options for independent films and documentaries and allowed for more diversity in the voices represented in film. Your engagement strategy should make room for all voices. If you only communicate to the middle of your audience, your corporate communications will not resonate with ⅔ of people.

Never Stop Innovating

In 2007, Netflix began their streaming service, bringing entertainment into the home via connected devices. Keep in mind that Netflix was already a major success and a household name but they knew the future was streaming and so jumped in with both feet. For a few years, they streamed other studio’s content and watched the data. Netflix learned their audience is hungry for all sorts of programming.

Netflix seems to know all of your personalities.

In 2012, they made their biggest move yet – original programming. Netflix premiered “Lilyhammer” and the rest is history. Your content needs to meet the audience where they are. Don’t rely on old distribution channels because they’ve worked in the past. Go bold and get creative with new channels like private social media, digital signage and podcasts. Keep what works and toss what doesn’t.

Bet on Personalization

When Netflix’s A.I. began your profile, they were working off of just the data you provided – those three shows you picked in onboarding. So your first queue might have been filled with a general greatest hits – like Comedies, Drama, and Crime. If Netflix stopped there, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article.

But the visionaries at Netflix knew that personalizing content recommendations could help them stand out from Blockbuster and other video store giants. So in 2000, Netflix introduced the discovery algorithm, CineMatch.

Here’s how it worked – you rated films on a star scale and Netflix used the ratings of other users to give you suggestions. For those of you who have always had personalization, this will sound a bit unsophisticated, but at the time it was amazing.

This was the start of Netflix’s fruitful relationship with personalizing the user experience.

If you are just getting started with personalization, it can feel really big. Don’t panic. Look for communications systems that have built in personalization capabilities. If you aren’t ready for a switch, use your current engagement data to understand relationships.

If you are ever feeling uninspired about the flow of your communications, turn to Netflix and other usability dynamos like Medium for inspiration. If you work to bring consumer-level experiences to your organization’s workforce your employees will thank you. Or, at least open your emails more often.