Are the traditional lines between internal and external communications blurring?
Although nuanced, this fact remains constant for all communication professionals. And I have to stress from the outset that the opinion below is the opinion of a person who has to surf between the lines out of necessity.
In fact, the increasingly accelerated evolution of the integration of internal and external communication over the last few years has blurred the lines between the two communication fields. Even organizations bear the mark of critical moves that reinforce this trend.
In the mining industry, which applies to me, as well as in the other activities sector, it becomes less and less common to see internal communication falling under the purview of Human Ressources. The secular trend is now that communication departments oversee both communications and that evidence ties in with the subject of our article.
Having the privilege of being the leader of an integrated department that has, within the same structure, both internal and external communications, these blurred lines are day-to- day realities for me. If all messages for external stakeholders unsurprisingly come back to employees through the means of media or social networks, all internal communications are also designed with the understanding that they will eventually be taken outside the organization.
In the different aspects they are conceived, especially regarding messaging, internal communications are also expected to be picked up by the press. That being the case, whether on purpose or not, with malicious intent or not, we have repeatedly seen memos sent by the CEO to employees published in the press the day after. All companies, big or small, are faced with such situations almost every day when the content of their internal communications presents some informational value. Therefore, it has become a rule for the overall internal communication approach to anticipate such cases.
Countless cases demonstrate that the lines are becoming increasingly blurred between internal and external communication. Some companies use the same sites to communicate equally to employees and internal stakeholders and to external stakeholders. To a more critical extent, there are internal communication campaigns that when taken out of the company create a stir that are, in the best of cases, embarrassing or even harmful to the company’s reputation. Conversely, there are external communication campaigns that employees can find offensive.We are definitely in an era where the lines between the two types of communication are blurred like they have never been before.
That has been generating growing difficulties, both internally and externally for communication professionals and for some creating managerial nightmares. Thus, it is no surprise that this has been the topic of research and debates over the last few years.
The emergence of social networks and smartphones
The emergence of social networks and new communication tools, such as smartphones, has completely changed the nature of communication, whether internal or external. Social networks
have become more than imperatives. They have earned a position of high importance for themselves in communication strategies. The immediate individual contact these tools offer has revolutionized a certain number of marketing and public relations approaches. In internal communication, it’s curious to see how the practice of BYOD has irrevocably changed many things within an organization.
In the broader sense, this new setting allows for a freer expression and increases scrutiny over everything that is said and done, and even on what is left unspoken or unaccomplished within an organization.
A question of content and messaging
Whether for external or internal communication purposes, a double-sided question has to be considered, and answers to this question significantly impact messaging development. What if the content of an internal newsletter is posted on Facebook, or if a journalist gets interested in it? Or on the other hand, how will internal stakeholders understand the message especially if the topic creates controversies inside the organization?
The first implication is, therefore, to get the messages used internally and externally aligned. The time when someone could work in his or her respective corner is long gone. The message for
employees and internal stakeholders and for the public and external stakeholders should be the same.
This seems quite simple, but in practice, it is complicated and requires new ways of working. How can we avoid internal stakeholders getting offended or embarrassed by the content or the form of information they see on theTV when coming home from work in the evening? How can we manage the consistency between information distributed within the company and that sent outside the company without mentioning the eventual dissonance between what is broadcasted outside the company and what the employees are experiencing? The situation can be very deleterious to the credibility of the organization’s messages.
The ambiguity, which raises a number of questions, is first and foremost a matter of messaging and content, and of uniting them internally and externally.
A matter of integration and common strategy
In the aforementioned example of the memo sent to employees a sort of integration outline can solve this issue. When drafting communication for employees, teams in charge of media relations,
social networks and external relations work with the internal communication team and define proactive or reactive actions depending on the common strategy.
Since there is no longer any content specifically designed for only internal or external distribution, the message is the same and the whole strategy is agreed and known by all. A common strategy is the most crucial element. It is the key to real integration.
To conclude, it is indisputable that the lines are really vague between the two branches of communication. If the distinction is far from disappearing then integration, working together and a common strategy are the conditions for success. Whatever the situation, internal and external communication are condemned to work in total collaboration.
Three Key Takeaways
Social networks and smartphones have revolutionized the nature of communication as never been before, and have made the lines between internal and external communication unclear.
Message alignment is one of the most striking developments in this profession. No matter how you approach it, the message is definitely the same both internally and externally.
If the lines are hazy, one of the practical consequences is the need for coordination, leading to a common internal and external strategy in the implementation of an organization’s communication.
This is an excerpt of our 222-page book Disrupting the Function of IC - A Global Perspective. Click here to download.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rand Lalaina is a Senior Communication Professional. He leads an internal and external communication team for a large-scale mining operation. Accredited as a Chartered Public Relations Practitioner by the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA), he specializes in corporate communication and has become a practiced follower and active participant in the fields of crisis communication, internal communication and employee engagement in the mining industry.
Working at the convergence of external relations, stakeholder engagement, and CSR, he is intrigued by matters regarding the social license to operate. Likewise, he has significant experience in communication for development (C4D).