The line between internal and external communication is blurring. But both disciplines are not the same.
That was the opening line of a LinkedIn article I wrote back in August 2017. I argued greater alignment and consistency between internal and external communications was highly beneficial, especially given organisations’ desire to be more transparent and authentic in the way they engage with the world.
However, all communication disciplines – like all audiences – have unique characteristics. Employees see under the hood of our organisations. Unlike customers, investors, analysts and the media, they know the unvarnished truth. This unique perspective gives employees intimate, behind-the-scenes knowledge. As a result, they are almost impossible to fool or beguile.
For this reason, you cannot ‘market’ your organisation to your workforce as you might market it to customers.
I also argued that we hold the organisations that employ us to a higher standard than those we buy from – and rightly so. Smart internal communication reflects this.
I shared these views at the CIPR’s national conference last year and at this October’s CIPR Inside conference in Birmingham. Before each presentation, I asked communicators to respond to an online survey designed to assess the degree to which they feel internal and external communications are converging inside organisations today.
This report brings together the responses of around 90 communicators on the issue of convergence. It makes for fascinating reading.
The majority of respondents (60%) believe we will see ‘slight’ convergence between both internal and external communication, but major distinctions will remain between the two. Only 11% believe the disciplines will converge to the point where there will be no major distinction.
Most are already using the same content to communicate with an internal and external audiences simultaneously. Indeed, nearly a third (27%) are doing this at least once a week. And regardless of what happens today, an impressive 80% believe the content they create for employees could be of interest to wider audiences.
However, there is only some evidence of a closer working relationship between disciplines. When it comes to joint planning, 44% say this does not happen at all or takes place only occasionally. A significant minority (43%) do not maintain a shared internal and external communications calendar.
Although more than 60% say they actively encourage their employees to act as brand advocates, a surprising number (47%) do not know how many of their employees follow their organisation on social media.
How do we feel about convergence? While the majority welcome closer alignment, many raise concerns. These fears centre around a lack of appreciation of the importance and nuances of the employee audience, which is evidenced by an historic lack of budget, influence and status when compared to other communication disciplines.
However, as organisations strive for a competitive edge in increasingly crowded markets, attention will inevitably fall on employees. A competitor can – and will – copy many things. But, for better or worse, the way your people think, feel and behave is unique. This explains why no two company cultures are the same. In the long term, it’s this culture that differentiates. Business leaders are increasingly realising that investing in the employee audience can deliver real business benefits.
I predict those of us helping organisations inform, inspire and converse with their employees will have a greater, not lesser, role to play in the future.
But we must bring insight, data and smart solutions to the table.
To gain from the convergence, we must do what no other communicator can do – demonstrate and help create the link between energised, informed employees and superior organisational performance.