It’s undeniable that lines between internal and external communications have blurred, in large part thanks to technology, as well as the decline of trust in institutional sources of information globally. This convergence brings both challenges and opportunities for communicators⏤from accepting the technology that has led to the convergence, to adopting new approaches to our communications strategies to embracing the role of a well-rounded communications strategist.
Rand Lalaina, a communications professional for a large-scale mining operation in Madagascar, notes that the emergence of social networks and smartphones has completely changed the nature of communications, and the immediate and individual contact these tools offer has revolutionized marketing and public relations approaches.
One approach that needs to change, argues Adrian Cropley, CEO, and Founder of Cropley Communication, is how we get to know our audiences. He suggests that to do so, internal communicators must take some of the data analysis expertise from their marketing counterparts, and “adopt new ways of understanding people at a much deeper level so that we can communicate in a personal, relevant and targeted way…[which is] critical in a noisy communications world.”
He also notes that “in an environment where the audience, not the organization chooses the channel, our approach should be driven by audience insight and business need,” and we must constantly adjust our approach when available insights suggest audience choices are shifting.
Transparency and alignment
Cameron Craig, a veteran communicator and now Head Of Communications – Australia and New Zealand at AWS, notes that new technologies and blurred lines mean transparency is key. “Anyone who believes you can keep information shared on intranets or internal memos from getting out is deluding themselves,” according to Craig.
In fact, he notes that this can be used to a company’s advantage. External messages that make their way into the organization can be used to rally the troops, as Steve Jobs did at Apple in the late 1990s with the now famous Think Different campaign. And internal messages can be used to confirm news or beat back rumors, putting a company’s positive culture on display for the world to see during difficult times.
These are great examples of how a thinner wall between internal and external communications can be a boon to a company. However, they are not without risk, and they demonstrate the importance of aligning messaging internally and externally.
Lalaina also points out that whether or not a communications strategy is intended for external or internal purposes, the messages must be aligned.
This means greater integration of departments and communication efforts. If all messages for external stakeholders will get back to employees through media or social networks, all internal communications should also be designed with the understanding that they will eventually be taken outside the organization. The teams in charge of internal communications, media relations, and social media must work together to define the message and strategy.
And that leads to the role and skills of today’s communicator. In one of my favorite communications blog posts, “PR Career Rule #1: Thou Shalt Not Do Internal Communications” Craig examined the divide between internal and external communicators and their career choices. He argued then and confirms again here that a successful communicator today must be well-rounded and employ strategies, channels, and audience across both sides to build a company’s reputation.
As someone who has zig-zagged across the Corporate Communications function my entire career, I couldn’t agree more. From crisis communications to proactive PR campaigns, the most successful communications initiatives I’ve worked on have brought together a multi-disciplined point of view to achieve the desired business outcome.
The blurring of lines not only changes our role within the Communications disciplines, it also crosses the organization. Like authors of other chapters in Disrupting the Function of IC: A Global Perspective, Cropley notes that we must build better relationships and be the facilitators of communication alignment within our organization.
And finally, in a world where walls are crumbling and trust is eroded, “internal communications will also need to act as an ethical filter,” says Cropley.” There is an opportunity to do what internal communication does best⏤listen, be authentic, truthful, build relationships, and advise the organization on ethical communication practices.”