Internal communication glossary
The search terms people use to get to the All Things IC blog reveal readers are looking for definitions to help them understand all things internal communication related.
What is internal communication? What does ‘copy’ mean and what does ESN stand for? You’re in the right place to find out.
This page aims to demystify and unlock some of the phrases and acronyms commonly associated with the profession.
Many are Rachel’s own explanations, some are the most-common descriptions or references are cited. Some are colloquial, but will sound familiar to many comms pros.
Got a better description for a word/phrase? Do Tweet @AllthingsIC if you have a suggestion of something you’d like to be considered/edited.
The purpose of internal communication is not telling people what to do. It’s to create shared understanding and meaning.
Only when this happens can employees work together towards a company’s goals.
Address: A speech given by someone to employees. One-way, broadcast style with little room for feedback. Also called a Leadership address.
All employee meeting: When all or a large group of employees get together, either in person or virtually. Usually includes presentations from senior leaders and opportunities for employees to ask questions. Often recorded and played back to employees who can’t attend. The name can be hyphenated. Also known as All-hands or Town Hall.
All-hands: Another name for an all employee meeting.
App: Application found on a smart phone. Download the free All Things IC app to read articles via your mobile device.
Audience: This is increasing being discarded as a term in internal communication as it implies a ‘performance,’ which has negative connotations. Audience is the intended recipient for your communication. Could be frontline workers, customers, leaders… the list is endless. Key is to tailor and adapt content appropriately for the intended recipient and include ways for them to communicate back.
BCP: Business Continuity Plans – see Crisis communication.
Blog: You’re reading one now. Website where a person or group of people offer opinion, news and views on a regular basis. Has also become a verb – ‘to blog‘
Bog media: Colloquial name given to communication in toilets – usually posters on the back of stall doors.
Bottom-up communication: When information flows from the ‘bottom layer’ of a company upwards. For example, frontline workers to senior leaders. The opposite is ‘top-down’ communication.
Broadcast: A one-way piece of communication, when information is pushed out and there is no mechanism for feedback. Think of it like a loudhailer – blasting information.
Brief: An overview that is usually given to an agency. For example if you wanted to change your employee magazine supplier, you would create a document describing what the work was you wanted them to pitch for (a brief), outlining information such as budget, team details, timescales and any sensitivities.
Brown bag: Usually refers to an informal meeting over lunchtime where employees bring their lunch (from the American brown paper bags) to eat while the session takes place. See also CEO breakfasts.
C-Suite: The top level of employees in an organisation. So called because their titles usually start with C. For example Chief Executive, Chief Operating Officer etc.
Cascade: The name given to the method of sharing employee communication. “To cascade” regularly refers to the notion of ‘pushing out’ communication ‘top-down’ (e.g. from the senior leaders of an organisation to the rest of the workforce). Cascades are usually one-way, without a feedback mechanism in place.
CEO: Chief Executive Officer.
CEO breakfasts: This isn’t the usual name. What I’m referring to is an informal meeting between a CEO or senior leader of an organisation and a select group of employees, either volunteers or volunteered, and usually 8-10 people. Can be held pre-work as ‘Breakfast with XX’ or at lunchtime and there is an enormous number of potential names for these informal gatherings including ‘blue sky meetings’ (yuck!). Aim is to allow employees and senior leaders to swap ideas, share feedback and spend time talking about matters that matter face-to-face.
Channel: A channel is a method of communication. Literally the mode in which information and communication flows. Examples include employee magazine, all employee meeting, intranet, email or video.
Change: Change is when an organisation shifts. This can be the introduction of new processes/people/technology, employee restructuring, reverting to old ways of working. See the change curve and info via this article I wrote.
Collaboration: When people work together to achieve a common purpose. I like the Melcrum definitions – split into a business activity and as a business driver. See this table for more information.
Comms cupboard: I’ve included this because it’s a phrase you’ll hear. Often a mythical place, but there’s usually an expectation that comms teams have a cupboard somewhere that has a stash of ‘stuff’ – mugs, t-shirts and the like. Sound familiar?
May 2016 update: Thank you to the ace Helen Reynolds @HelReynolds, for creating a comms cupboard doodle:
Comms police: Not a real role! However, it’s a phrase that’s often used to (usually unfairly) describe comms pros. Refers to the fact IC pros are guarding and editing the grammar and branding guides etc in a company, and are enforcing the laws of language. In other words, we say no a lot for good reasons, which leads to the moniker.
Communique: Name given in some companies to their internal emails/memos.
Conference: Often annual events. Usually designed to communicate company information, recognise employees and enable departments to plan their futures, network and celebrate success. See this events guide.
Corporate communication: Often used interchangeably with internal communication.
Copy: Text that is written in a story or on a page: “Can you send me the copy” refers to the writing. Body copy means the text in the main part of the story.
Crisis communication: Also called crisis comms or business continuity plans (bcp). Reactive information and plans that evolve due to an unplanned event or circumstance that disrupts business as usual. Covers a multitude of situations such as bad weather, IT system failures, serious incidents – the list is endless. Often leads to channels such as emergency information hotlines being used. See my crisis comms checklist.
Cross-functional: Something that is cross-functional means to involve employees/customers from different locations, departments and with different interests.
Crowd-sourced or crowd-sourcing: This is when content, ideas and conversations are shaped by a group of people, who each contribute to the final product. See the crowd-sourced info sheets on The IC Crowd website as an example.
Culture: This is the behaviour of humans who are part of an organisation and the meanings that people attach to actions. It includes the company’s vision, values, working language (see tone of voice), symbols, beliefs and habits. It’s also the pattern of collective behaviours and assumptions that are taught to new employees. Organisational culture affects the way people and groups interact with each other, with stakeholders and with clients. I like the Deal and Kennedy (1982) definition: “It’s the way things are done around here.”
Dark social: Dark social is a term coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, to refer to the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by Web analytics programs.
Deck: A deck means a PowerPoint presentation (also known as slides).
Desk-drop: To put items on employees’ desks. Usually as part of a communication campaign and ideally something that they can see the value in and has a clear call to action.
Digital signage: a form of electronic display that shows television programming, menus, information,advertising and other messages.
Earned media: Customers and/or stakeholders become the channel with their content – blogs, Tweets, YouTube, word of mouth, viral, proactive, influencer outreach etc.
Editorial guide: See Style guide. Could also be called house style.
Employee communication: See internal communication.
Employee engagement: “A workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being.” Plus “Creating the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential.” These definitions are from Engage for Success.
Employee survey: Traditionally an annual quest to ask employees their opinions on key topics. A personal bugbear is a survey without an accompanying action plan – please don’t forget to build in a way to actually act on the feedback you get! Also known as Staff survey. Most organisations outsource collating responses to a third-party, who can also analyse the results.
Employee TV: This can take many forms. Some companies have a dedicated regular studio-produced show or a static PowerPoint presentation rotating on plasma screens in organisations. Aim is to communicate information quickly.
Employer brand: Employer brand is the term commonly used to describe an organisation’s reputation as an employer, as opposed to its more general corporate brand reputation. The term was first used in the early 1990s, and has since become widely adopted by the global management community. (Definition via Wikipedia). Read my Seen what your employees are saying about you article about Glassdoor for more info.
Employee voice: This can relate to both large groups of employees, even whole workforces, but can be equally applied to employees on a smaller scale (for example, within a team). In general, the term employee voice refers to the extent to which employees are ‘able to have a say regarding work activities and decision-making issues within the organisation in which they work’ (Wilkinson and Fay 2011). MacLeod and Clarke (2009) explain employee voice as when: Employees’ views are sought out; they are listened to and see that their opinions count and make a difference. They speak out and challenge when appropriate. A strong sense of listening and of responsiveness permeates the organisation. See this CIPD research on employee voice.
Engage for Success: A movement dedicated to employee engagement in the UK following the publication of the MacLeod report by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke in 2009. You can find the movement on Twitter @engage4success and tweets marked #e4s and it has a comprehensive website.
Enterprise Social Network or ESN: The name given to the use of online social networks among people who share business interests and/or activities. ESN is software used in enterprise (business) situations and can include modifications to corporate intranets and other classic software platforms in companies. A common example of a standard external social networking service for an ESN is Yammer.
Evaluation: Every internal communication activity should be measured. Align your ‘strategic intents’ (what you want to achieve as an organisation) with your IC strategy. Evaluation is the process of determining if you achieved what you set out to do and its impact. Evaluation can include metrics like adoption rate, take-up, comments etc and is often used to prove a return on investment against business objectives. Can include external factors and many organisations produce dashboards of the results. You can read more about IC evaluation and measurement via these articles here and here on my blog and check out this measurement matrix from CIPR Inside.
External communication: Exchange of information and messages between an organisation and other organisations, groups, or individuals outside its formal structure. The goals of external communication are to facilitate cooperation with groups such as suppliers, investors, and shareholders, and to present a favourable image of an organisation and its products or services to potential and actual customers and to society at large. A variety of channels may be used for external communication, including face-to-face meetings, print or broadcast media, and electronic communication.
Extranet: Website that is only accessible via certain people. This could include job applicants or shareholders. Often behind a firewall/needs password to get in.
Ezine: Literally an electronic-magazine. Can take various forms including an interactive site or even PDF versions of printed magazine.
Face-to-face or f2f: When conversations take place in person between two or more people. Also referred to as ‘white eyes chats’ – literally meaning seeing the ‘whites of eyes’ when you talk as you are so close.
Fake news: False information which has been crafted and shared, usually for a purpose. Perhaps to persuade you to believe something about a person or influence you to behave in a certain way.
Fake news websites: (Also referred to as hoax news) deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda and disinformation — using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions.
Feedback: Asking for views and opinions on a given subject. Also used in the context of ‘feedback loop.’
Flat-plan: This is a visual representation of a publication. It clearly highlights what will go on each page. Often in grid format.
Focus group: A small selection of people, often employees or customers, who are asked to give honest opinions on a situation or product. Should be cross-functional (representing more than one department/location). Uses group interaction to gain insight into why certain views are held.
Frontline workers: Employees who work to produce a product or whose work supports production.
Ghostwriting: When something is written by someone else. E.g. An email from a CEO is actually written by an internal communicator.
Glossary: List explaining the meaning of different words.
Hierarchical communication: See top-down communication.
Holding statement: Short quote that is communicated in lieu of more information. Often used in crisis communication situations to provide information quickly, which is then followed up with more detail.
Horizontal communication: Also known as lateral communication or peer-to-peer communication. This is the opposite of hierarchical top-down or bottom-up communication, and is when information is shared between ‘equals’ in an organisation.
House style: This is a document that includes the correct spellings of words that are important to your organisation (aka your style guide), the brand colours (see Pantone) and how to refer to people, situations and scenarios in the company. If you’re looking for a style guide, I recommend the Guardian’s.
HR: Human Resources.
Internal communication (IC): Also referred to as Internal Comms, Int Comms, iComms. (I’m seeing it increasingly with the s removed – e.g. internal communication professional). Internal communication is communication inside an organisation between a company and its audiences. This can include employees, contractors, shareholders, suppliers, stakeholders, unions, potential employees and more. Therefore not always strictly ‘internal’ as audiences can include external parties. Includes both informal and formal communication and can also be called Employee communication.
In-house internal communication: To be ‘in-house’ refers to a comms pro being literally inside an organisation – working for them directly, rather than working for an internal communication agency. However, it’s worth noting that freelance IC pros and agency employees can be employed directly inside an organisation, so may be classed as ‘in-house’ too.
Information hotline: Dedicated recorded telephone line that is used for a specific purpose, such as crisis communication. The number should be published regularly and the message updated remotely.
Information sharing: Term given to the exchange of ideas in an organisation. Often used in context of communicating/cascading news and announcements, or more literally to ensure employees are aware of what is happening inside a company.
Internal comms plan: How and what the company is communicating. Typically one plan per topic/campaign. You need a structured approach to connect desired business outcomes with effective, relevant activities and tactics and it should be linked to the goals of your business. Think about the desired behaviours first (what you want employees to think/feel/do/say differently) before choosing channels. IC plans should include information such as strategy, tactics, channels/methods of communication, measurement, budget, audiences, timescales, key messages and sensitivities. Check out this nine-step plan from Melcrum.
Internal communication strategy: A long term plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal or set of goals or objectives. See this academic reference for more information.
Further reading on my blog: How to write an internal communication strategy
Interpersonal communication: All forms of communication involving direct interaction between two or more people. The opposite of mass communication. Interpersonal communication is highly appreciated by the “receivers” as it satisfies their needs of acknowledgement.
Intranet: An intranet is an internal website that employees in an organisation can access. It often contains company news, job vacancies, policies, images, employee directory, organisational charts etc.
Internal social media: The generic name given to communication inside an organisation using social tools, technologies and mindset. Tools can include enterprise social networks, wikis, blogs and much more.
IOT: Internet of Things
IPO: Initial Public Offering
IT: Information Technology.
Jargon: Words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand. Have the potential to alienate people and lead to misunderstanding. Don’t do it!
Key message: Your key message could also be called a ‘take-away’. It’s the most important piece or pieces of information that you wish to convey through your communication. Common practice is to have no more than three key messages as any more than that is difficult to remember.
Lateral communication: See Horizontal communication.
Leadership communications: Term given to how the most senior people in an organisation share information. This can be with their peers or people in any part of an organisation. Typically leadership communication includes formal business updates, such as presentations at an all employee meeting, written information in the annual report, informal face-to-face briefing sessions, blog, vlog. Key is to understand the communication preference of your leaders and advise appropriate channels for them to make the most of their natural style.
Long service: Employee recognition schemes to honour those who have worked in the industry or company. Usually marked in increments of five years and typically result in employees being given certificates and enamel lapel badges, sometimes at award ceremonies or in team meetings.
M&A: Mergers and Acquisitions. When organisations combine or take over each other. Includes the management, financing and strategy involved in the process.
MacLeod report: See Engage for Success.
Mass communication: How individuals and companies relay information through external communication to large segments of the population at the same time. Can refer to newspapers, magazines and books plus radio, film and TV. Focuses on a single source transmitting information to a large group of receivers. Can’t be customised for individual receivers and difficult to obtain feedback.
Measurement: See evaluation
Melcrum: Melcrum is an organisation that was set up by Victoria Mellor and Robin Crumby to elevate the role of internal communication as a critical driver of superior business performance. It works alongside organisations to build skills and best practice in internal communication. IC pros can sign up to join Melcrum and have access to its many research papers, articles, events and forum conversations. Melcrum publishes Strategic Communication Management (SCM) magazine, which is exclusively available to members. On Twitter @Melcrum. Website.
Meme: An element of a culture or behaviour that may be passed from person to person via nongenetic means e.g. imitation. Also means a video or image that is passed from one internet user to another. Here’s an example of a comms meme I created in 2012.
Memo: Name given to an internal message. Usually sent via email and often used for safety communication.
Message: See also key message. The message is the information/communication you wish to convey to the receiver.
NDA: Non Disclosure Agreement
Offline employees: People who do not have ready access to technology in an organisation. Also known as ‘unconnected employees’ and examples could include factory workers or drivers. Many organisations are increasingly using smartphones and other methods to communicate with them.
Offsite: Name given to an event that takes place away from the usual place of work, such as team building days.
Onboarding: Can also be called induction – name given to bringing employees into an organisation and equipping them with the knowledge they need to feel part of your company. E.g. cultural norms, acronyms and ways of working. See this blog post by @sheldrake for a different take on it.
On call: If comms pros are on call it means they are usually in charge of comms out of hours. This can include taking ‘the press phone’ home or being the first point of contact if there is an unusual event/crisis situation. Operates in a rota system if there is more than one member of the comms team.
Orphan: The first line of paragraph at the end of a page. (This makes it hard for the reader as it breaks concentration, so should be avoided).
Owned media: Channels you own and control – your website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc
Outcomes: What happens as a result of communication, such as a change in behaviour. This is not the same as output. (Output is what you do, outcome is what happens as a result of what you’ve done).
Outputs: Something quantifiable that you can measure, such as number of issues published, clicks on stories and shares. However, this is not the same as outcome.
Paid media: Channels you pay to leverage – paid search, display ads, sponsored Tweets, etc.
Pantone: A system for matching colours, used in specifying printing inks. E.g. The Pantone for the blue colour of the Ford logo is 294c.
PDR: Personal Development Review (or Personal Development Plan, PDP). Annual process to analyse an employee’s performance.
PESO: Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned media model. See this description from Spin Sucks:
Penguin stand: Used to display posters and banners. Typically 5ft tall with two feet at the bottom (think penguin and its feet!). They are graphic display stands. Penguin is actually a make, but is often used as generic term to describe these types of stands.
Peer-to-peer communication: Also known as lateral communication or horizontal communication. This is the opposite of hierarchical top-down or bottom-up communication, and is when information is shared ‘between ‘equals’ in an organisation.
Pitch: A process in which decisions are made. Think of it as a presentation. For example an IC team could ask three internal communication agencies to present (pitch) their ideas to them of what they would do to change the existing employee magazine, should they successfully win the business. They take a lot of work on both sides, both in-house and agency, in order to make the right decision all round. Also see brief.
Podcast: A multimedia digital file made available on the internet for downloading to a portable media player, computer, etc. I listen weekly to the For Immediate Release podcast.
PR: Public Relations.
Proof: Proof reading is a key skill for internal communication professionals. To proof something means to check for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and to check for compliance e.g. with brand guidelines or company tone of voice.
Purpose: A purpose can be defined as the why of an organisation. It’s your intent or reason you exist.
Q&A document: Similar to FAQ. Typically a page-long file containing questions and answers on a particular topic.
Quote: Either a short saying or statement attributed to someone. Or an amount for a piece of work – e.g. to quote for an employee magazine means to present the costs.
SCM: Strategic Communication Management magazine. Published by Melcrum.
Sign-off: To sign off a piece of work means to read through and approve. Can also literally mean to physically sign paper/email your approval.
SLT or SMT: Senior Leadership Team or Senior Management Team. Can also referred to as ‘The Exec’ of C-Suite and is usually the Directors and most senior employees of a company.
Snapper: Informal name given to photographer.
Social business: Social business creates an environment of connected conversations; empowering and equipping everyone it impacts (internally and externally) to drive personal and organisational success < this is my definition and you can read more via this article and this book review)
Social media: Social media is the collective of online communication channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction and collaboration.
Social media is the term commonly given to Internet and mobile-based channels and tools that allow users to interact with each other and share opinions and content. As the name implies, social media involves the building of communities or networks and encouraging participation and engagement (definition from Social Media Panel of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, which I’m a panel member of).
Standup meeting:Daily/weekly get together timed 15 minutes or less. Usually one way commmunication of daily missions/process updates etc.
Staff survey: Traditionally an annual quest to ask employees their opinions on key topics. A personal bugbear is a survey without an accompanying action plan – please don’t forget to build in a way to actually act on the feedback you get! Also known as employee survey. Most organisations outsource collating responses to a third party, who can also analyse the results.
Stakeholders: This is people who are ‘interested parties’ in your organisation. So that could be customers, union officials, the press, shareholders etc. Within internal communication, stakeholders often refers to the business partners IC pros have in a company , where they work as trusted advisors to that person e.g. CEO, or specific departments.
Storyboard: A sequence of drawings, typically with some directions and dialogue, representing the shots planned for a film or TV production.
Strapline: A short catchy sentence that can represent a business, project or concept.
Strategy: A plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim. Includes setting the goals, choosing the most appropriate channels and identifying the method of evaluation. Internal communication strategy should be linked to your business strategy. See this example..
Style guide: Many organisations create their own style guides. This is a document that includes the correct spellings of important words (aka your house style), the brand colours (see Pantone), typography and how to refer to people, situations and scenarios in the company. If you’re looking for a style guide, I recommend the Guardian’s.
Sub: To sub means to edit text and can include both proof-reading and designing. Newspapers have sub-editors. These are the people who edit the work of journalists.
Table tents: Folded pieces of paper that are used to display information on a table or other flat surface. Typically used in employee restaurants.
Target group: This is fast becoming an unpopular phrase. It refers to the group of people that you wish to reach with your communication. Remember that ‘targets’ are also people!
Team brief: A regular company update that is often written by the comms team with input from other departments. This is often information that is mandatory for an organisation to communicate. Done well, team briefs should enable line managers/briefers to make sense of it for their department – “this is what it means for us” and provide opportunities for employees to ask questions back.
The IC Crowd: A network of internal communication professionals I set up with my friends and fellow comms pros Jenni Wheller and Dana Leeson in September 2012. Find us on Twitter @theICcrowd or via our blog.
Tone of voice: This is the language of your organisation. It’s the words you use that clearly identify every communication as belonging to your company. You may have key words and phrases that help create the tone of voice and the language should reflect your culture.
Top-down communication: When information flows from the ‘top layer’ of a company downwards. For example, CEO to frontline workers. This is also known as hierarchical communication. The opposite is ‘bottom-up‘ communication.
Town hall: Another name for an all-employee meeting.
Traditional communication: I’ve included this because it’s referred to a lot and means ‘old’ channels. As in pre-internet. Usually means printed materials such as employee magazines, posters, team briefs, plus collateral such as mugs, mouse mats, those furry bug things that sit on top of computer screens (no idea what they are called!) etc.
Unconference: An informal, unstructured conference where attendees set the agenda. See information about The Big Yak that The IC Crowd hosted in June 2013 for more info.
Unverified news: hasn’t been checked to say whether it’s true or false. It means sources haven’t been checked (verified) yet.
Values: A set of words or phrases that demonstrate how an organisation will achieve its vision. Often short, snappy phrases or singular words underpinned with a strapline.
Vlog: Video blogging
Vox pop: This comes from the Latin phrase meaning ‘voice of the people’ and it’s when you ask a small number of people for their opinions. Often accompanied by a ‘head and shoulders’ shot (photo of the person that only shows the top half of their body). Comments are often short and the aim is to know the view of ‘the man in the street’
Vision: The view of the future for your organisation – what you want to be (underpinned by the values – how you will get there).
VUCA: Acronym used to describe or reflect on the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity of general conditions and situations.
Watercooler moment/conversation: What matters to employees – e.g. what are they talking about when they are grabbing a drink from the watercooler/having a cigarette/having lunch? Usually a specific event such as reaction to new ideas, processes or leaders. If you work in internal communication and don’t know what the topics of the watercooler conversations are in your company, I strongly advise you to find out.
Webinar/webcast: Online presentation that employees can dial in to using computers (and/or phones for the audio). Often people presenting with Powerpoint slides or simply talking. Some providers have question and answer facilities for live-chats and to ask questions of the speaker
Widow: The last line of a paragraph at the start of a page. (This makes it hard for the reader as it breaks concentration, so should be avoided).
Wirearchy: “a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology.” Read more online
Wordsmith/word-smithing: Often used in context of “can you wordsmith this for me?” – which means to improve the copy.
Working out loud: Phrase given to idea of employees sharing their skills, knowledge, questions and advice to others via social platforms inside the workplace.
Z-card: This trademarked card is often used in employee communication as handouts. It’s double-sided and folds up to pocket size.
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