There are many myths, misconceptions and untruths about internal communication.
I’ve addressed eight of them. They reflect the reality of working as an internal communicator today and are conversations I’ve had with clients, peers and people in my network.
What have I missed? What would you add? Feel free to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.
Read more: What is internal communication?
Myth 1) Internal communication ‘belongs’ to one person or team in an organisation
If it does, it shouldn’t. Internal communication is too important to be left to one department. It should be everyone’s responsibility in an organisation.
The purpose of internal communication is to help an organisation achieve its objectives.
Yes you need accountability when it comes to budgets and overseeing the strategy, but even though it’s in your job title, I bet it’s in your stakeholders’ job descriptions.
“The intranet doesn’t belong to Internal Communications or IT or HR. It’s never yours. It will always belong to your audiences. You invest in it long before it’s even a project and long, long before it’s a reality. You may own the content and usage strategy, but ultimately it’s not yours.”
When I’m auditing internal communication or judging industry awards, I’m looking for evidence of the correlation to company strategy.
Everything you do as a communicator needs to align with the objectives of your company. That’s how you prove your worth/the worth of internal communication.
Working with a clear focus on the purpose of the company (e.g. cure more patients, sell more widgets, transport more people), will help you weed out what distracts you from that primary purpose.
- How the National Trust created their intranet.
- Do you have the right skills to do your job?
- What CEOs think of internal communication.
Myth 2) External communication should be kept separate to internal communication
If external and internal communication are viewed independently and there’s no correlation between them, you’re doing internal communication wrong. Stop thinking about internal and external as separate.
Many companies have converged teams and merged their thinking when it comes to internal and external communication.
Do what companies like the Post Office do and focus on content and where you can use it.
Get to know your external and public affairs colleagues. While you’re at it, get to know your HR colleagues too.
Why? You are all focused on the same thing. Corporate reputation. Employees are critical to your brand and reputation.
All internal and external communication campaigns aim to enhance, maintain or create your reputation.
If you view what you both do through that lens, you’ll see where the disciplines overlap, align and can strengthen each other.
Effective communication, both internal and external, is about communicating the right message to the right person at the right time. Additionally you need to use the right language/tone and create opportunities to check for understanding and encourage feedback.
- Blurred lines: internal vs external comms
- Internal and external comms – aligning the message
- Blurred lines – communicating from the inside out
- Learning from the past – emerging trends
Myth 3) Social media has no role to play in internal communication
Social media can play an excellent role when it comes to internal communication.
I’ve been researching the use of social media for internal communication since 2008, and every year since, more examples have emerged of companies using social media to transform their communication.
A medium is only social if it allows for interaction and this is the mindset you need for internal communication.
One of my favourite examples is Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust and how the NHS Trust is encouraging its employees to communicate via social media.
Messaging apps such as WhatsApp are being increasingly used for internal communication. They often fly under the IT radar (known as Shadow IT), Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report highlights their popularity.
I recommend extending your current social media policy to cover the use of social media for internal communication, including messaging apps.
You will not be able to control it. Instead, take the opportunity to identify where your channel gaps are and why employees are filling it with their own methods and channels.
This isn’t as bad as you think, get ahead by joining the conversation, don’t look to lock it down, but open up the channels of communications, in all senses.
- Listen to social media’s role in internal communication
- Employee engagement and social media
- How employee advocacy works using social media
- Ten of the latest internet trends
- Who’s using what for internal social media?
- How to conduct an internal communication audit
- 300 social media policies.
Myth 4) Internal communication is about telling people what to do
Err no. It’s about creating shared understanding and meaning.
However, in many organisations it is still about telling people what to do (aka broadcasting or one-way communication).
Employees expect and deserve more. The eras of internal communication have shifted from being all about us (the entertainers, informers and internal journalists) to being all about employees. Therefore the role we need to master includes community management and collaboration.
The difference in approach is tell and sell vs engage and consult – outlined by Yaxley and Ruck (2015) in Dr Kevin Ruck’s book Exploring Internal Communication.
What approach does your company have? What do your leaders think?
- The rise of wonky communication
- Do you have the right skills to work in IC?
- Mind the comms skills gaps.
- How to become a Chartered PR Practitioner
- 31 books to help you learn about communication, PR and social media.
Myth 5: Internal communication is about Sending Out Stuff (SOS)
At #ICExcellence a few years ago I heard Government Comms Chief Alex Aiken talking about the perception of Sending Out Stuff (SOS) and how that’s a myth they are keen to dispel.
Writing on the Government Communication Service (GCS) excellent The IC Space website, Russell Grossman, Director of Communications, Office of Rail and Road and GCS Head of Profession for Internal Communications says:
“Internal Communications’ function is to help leaders in your Department or Agency inform and engage employees, in a way which motivates staff to maximise their performance and deliver the business strategy most effectively. It is not about ‘sending out stuff’.”
In its Snapshot of Communications Competencies, The IC Space describes part of our role as: “Provide support and guidance to leadership in the delivery of internal communication. Coach leaders on their communication style and on how to engage and build dialogue with staff. Ensure consistency of voice and message across all internal channels. Lead internal communication planning and provide timely advice to leaders in response to crisis scenarios.”
The main problem with Sending Out Stuff is the fact there’s no opportunity for two-way communication. What happens to employee voice in this scenario?
It’s also not positioning internal communication as being strategic if it’s merely a postbox.
Professional communicator Helen Reynolds @helreyolds created a Comms Cupboard cartoon for me last year. It highlights this point – we’re called on last-minute to send out the shiny stuff to accompany campaigns, rather than being involved from the start.
There’s a myth that all comms pros have a cupboard/drawer primed with just the right sort of collateral to accompany a campaign. Sigh.
I hope that’s lessening, but I know from my Masterclasses it’s still a reality for many:
- How to teach internal communication
- How to study internal communication
- The trend IC pros need to know for 2018.
Myth 6: You can’t measure internal communication
You can. There are various models and frameworks to not only help you measure but use the data to transform your communication.
Measuring communication effectiveness today cannot be answered by searching for a new magic bullet metric or single score or index.
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve judged industry awards and been frustrated by the lack of measurement in the entries. You should, and could be able to measure what you do. It’s essential.
Why? In the words of Liam Fitzpatrick, Managing Partner at Working Communications Strategies: “Come with data, leave with respect.” In other words, you need to have your stats and data (outputs) and then know how to translate them into outcomes.
I recommend exploring the AMEC framework, which builds on work done in the past. (AMEC is The International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, you can find them on Twitter @AmecOrg).
It replaces both the AMEC Valid Metrics and the AMEC Social Media Measurement Frameworks, for the first time providing one integrated approach to the measurement challenges of today. It is clear, concise and exactly what the industry needs. I encourage you to take a look and see how you can apply it to your work.
Alex Aiken, Executive Director of Government Communications, UK Government, says: “Evaluating communications effectiveness has never been more important. Across the UK Government, the AMEC Barcelona Principles have helped us to make sure we are measuring what matters. The Barcelona Principles need to be applied in practice so I welcome this new AMEC Interactive Framework which brings these Principles to life in a user-friendly way.
Not heard of the Barcelona Principles before? You can view them below:
- How to measure communication
- Surveys, sentiment and strategy in internal communication
- Learn more about measurement – sign up to my Strategic Internal Communication Masterclass
Myth 7) Employee generated content threatens IC pros’ jobs
The rise of employee generated content threatens internal communicators. Why? It shouldn’t. Our role is to equip, empower and enable organisations to communicate.
It’s not about your byline. It was never about your byline. Drop the ego and facilitate the communication. Think curation not creation of content, that’s our role.
“But everyone thinks they can do comms” I hear you say. Ok, that may be true, but what does that mean for you the professional communicator?
I think it gives you an incredible opportunity to coach your organisation and employees to communicate in a different way.
If employee-generated content is happening in your organisation, I encourage you to embrace it and help your employees do it brilliantly.
It’s what you do, it’s what you know, you are the expert – so why not use that expertise and give them advice and guidance?
Coach them on areas like tone of voice, channel choice and use of appropriate language. This doesn’t take away from your role, it can enhance it.
- The rise of wonky communication.
- Marry, date or dump, helping teams with tone of voice
- The future of work is still human.
Myth 8) Frontline employees aren’t concerned with company strategy
How do you know? Have you asked them?
If the role of internal communication is to help an organisation achieve its objectives, then every employee has a part to play.
The IC Space states: “The principle of good communication is to inspire a change in behaviour. The best way to do this is to know who you’re talking to and what they think and feel about that change or the underlying issue.
This assessment of who your audience is, and what is already known about them, is part of the communications planning process. It’s something you should be thinking about at the start of a project.
Your communications strategy or plan will be more likely to achieve its objectives if you segment your audience and develop audience insight.”
A research report I wrote about a few months ago from Comms recruiters Ellwood Atfield revealed:
- More than four out of five (86%) internal communications professionals agreed that internal communications has the primary focus of aligning people with the organisation’s purpose and strategy.
- However, only around half (49%) agree that they have access to the tools and resources they need to develop high-quality internal communications.
These are just some of the myths surround the wonderful world of internal communication. What would you add to my list? Do comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.
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Thank you to everyone who has answered my question to define internal communication. I’m collating your answers and will be sharing this week.
Update: Here’s the article: What is internal communication?
Thank you for stopping by,
Post author: Rachel Miller
First published on the All Things IC blog 10 July 2017. Updated December 2017.