Should internal and external communication be treated as separate entities? I get asked this question a lot. There are constantly debates at conferences and online with comms pros mulling it over and offering various points of view.
Today in his latest guest post for my blog, Ashley Freeman (pictured), INVOLVE agency’s Head of Sales and Marketing writes on this topic to share his thoughts. I’d love to know yours – feel free to comment below.
I’ve included links to articles I’ve written over the years at the foot of this post about this issue.
Over to you Ash…
Internal and external communication – aligning the message
We often talk about internal and external communications as if they are completely different things.
Communication is about finding the correct way to engage an audience with values, strategy or products. Whether internally (to your own team) or externally (to customers, clients or the general public), the general message should be the same.
Internal and external comms should be porous and interchangeable. After all, mixed messages are one of the biggest causes of disengagement.
Importance of integrating strategies
As part of the recent Melcrum Summit & Awards, Tom Barton, Head of UK Communications at technology outsourcing company Capgemini, gave a presentation about the importance of integrating communications strategies, and making sure that internal comms and external comms are kept in line with one another.
He shared the experiences of how his own organisation, over six years, brought separate comms functions – internal, external, web and social media – together around a single unified message.
(You can see Tom talking about his presentation below and via the Melcrum blog – Rachel)
Of course the information shared and intricate details given will differ between the two, but the important thing is that the message and spirit of the communication strategy is the same.
Consistency across communications platforms is the only sure way to engage your employees with the values and message that you are trying to communicate. (Tweet this)
How can you do this?
All communication platforms should be integrated so that information can be shared across them by osmosis.
Social media is an extremely effective and ever-changing medium for aligning external and internal communications. It is an effective tool for sharing information, values and strategy quickly to a large number of people, before they are rolled out externally.
Employees should always be the first to hear about changes and developments within the organisation, and social media is a powerful way to achieve this. Employees should always be kept in the loop.
It allows an employee to share information across an organisation no matter the subject or audience. When you are dealing with workforces of 100,000+ like at Capgemini, it is an essential tool for aligning external and internal communication, and improving the efficiency of both.
Effective internal communication is the most powerful way to keep your employees involved and on message. External communication is the most effective way to engage your audience and customers and get across your message.
If you are doing things right, those two messages should be the same. So why do you separate internal and external comms?
We would like to know what you think, or about your own experiences of aligning comms strategies, so please get in touch!
What do I think?
I think the lines are blurring between internal and external communication and will continue to do so. I’ve written about this topic numerous times since starting my blog in 2009 and you can read my thoughts on it via the previously published posts below.
For me, it’s all a matter of reputation. Your potential employees get a glimpse of your culture, the way things work and what they can expect from the moment they interact with your organisation – be that through a job advert or experiencing you as a customer.
You need to approach internal and external communication with a joined-up mindset. Employees hear about the company via external channels, and will also share their own experiences with their own networks.
Treating internal comms and external comms as mutually exclusive causes more trouble than it’s worth, because of those increasingly blurring lines. (Tweet this)
The primary community for internal communication remains employees, but other external parties are often in the mix too. This can include union officials and work councils, shareholders and investors and future/previous employees.
When viewed in the context of the broader communications team, internal communication is often deemed the same as or under the umbrella of corporate communication. Semantics aside, external communication is with customers and media, public and government affairs, corporate social responsibility, sponsorship, brand, events and more.
Increasingly we are seeing the divide between internal and external comms being shattered and the focus shift to sharable and useable content. For example, theblueballroom agency in the south of England announced last year it has merged its internal and external communications divisions to offer an integrated approach.
At the time they said: “This was in recognition of the fact all audiences need to be considered, so we combined internal communication and PR. This brings greater credibility, consistency and value to business communications as employees, customers, shareholders, partners and suppliers are all important stakeholders in business.”
It’s always been the case that internal communication has the potential to be shared externally, and my advice is to create and oversee internal communication with that in mind. Social media make it easier than ever for internal information to find its way to the outside world.
I recently commented on this article by Gerald Corbett on Spin Sucks that looked at “Should we take the internal out of internal communications?”
Further reading via my blog on this subject:
How HSBC is using social media for internal communication
Communicating on both sides
Blurred lines – communicating from the inside out
How TfL is communicating 24 Tube changes internally
Why use enterprise social networks for internal communication?
Thanks as ever for stopping by, do let me know your thoughts below or by Tweeting me @AllthingsIC.
First published: 3 November 2014.