Blurred Lines are an Opportunity to Focus
The lines between internal and external communication continue to blur.That doesn’t mean we are out of focus. It means the opposite.
The first of five articles featured by the Centre for Strategic Communication, deals with the future of the communication profession.The Convergence of Marketing and Communication notes that convergence is a dominant trend in marketing and communication pointing out,“Today’s marketing and communication professionals are experts in some of the same disciplines . . . ” We are seeing the convergence and integration of internal and external communication in the same ways.
It could be argued that the lines have been blurring for a while, however, this has been accelerated since we moved into the 2010s. Social media, collaboration and a deeper understanding of audience behaviour and relevance of the message has sharpened the focus in more ways than we could have imagined ten or fifteen years ago. Nothing is driving integration more than big data, analytics and new tools against a backdrop of alternative truths and fake news.
Where is internal communication heading? I have asked myself that question since I held my first internal communication executive role and created my first strategy over 20 years ago. Have I continued to change my thoughts on the direction of internal communication? Absolutely! However, I have always believed that internal communication is more critical for organisations now than ever before.
In the 90s internal communication was defining its role in employee satisfaction, taking control of channels, and developing new ways of communicating. During the next decade internal communication aligned itself with organisations, providing context and delivering on engagement, while taking a quantum leap to embracing a new online world. Internal communication became a critical business function. During the latter years of the last decade economic times prevented business from investing in internal communication in ways that could springboard into new ways of communicating.Today, organisations continue to realign their thinking, focusing on purpose and the need for employees to have context and meaning driven by who they listen to, interact with and trust through channels and messages.
Knowing our audience
The lines have blurred between internal and external audiences, and we must adopt ways of understanding people at a much deeper level so that we can communicate in a more personal, relevant and targeted way.Taking a lesson from our marketing colleagues about how to use big data and analytics, internal communication professionals can understand where people go for information, how they consume it, who they are and what drives their behaviour. Targeting the right message in the right way to the right audience is critical in a noisy communication world.
Choosing our approach
In an environment where the audience, not the organisation chooses the channel, our approach should be driven by audience insight and business need. What do we want people to know, feel
and do? This critical question, overlaid with insights gained about the audience and aligned with what the business is trying to achieve, will drive the approach.The communication environment is omni-directional and includes multiple channels. Communication professionals make choices based on what we know, what’s available to us, what’s available to the audience and the new choices we and the audience make.
Good strategy is the product of great research, analysis, understanding of the current context and how that context shapes the future.We don’t all have to be strategists to take a strategic approach. We simply need to understand audience and organisational needs, and then facilitate a connection between the two in a purposeful way. Simply put we must build better relationships and be the facilitators of communication within our organisations.
Dealing with the decline in trust
The 2017 EdelmanTrust Barometer didn’t paint a rosy picture when it revealed that“trust is in crisis around the world.The general population’s trust in all four key institutions — business, government, NGOs, and media — has declined broadly, a phenomenon not reported since Edelman began tracking trust among this segment in 2012.” This is worrying yet not unexpected given the mass media world where anyone can say anything in any way to anyone and be believed. It’s bound to have an impact.
One out of every two countries has lost faith in the system.The credibility of both CEOs and government officials has been declining for several years and is now at an all-time low. It is also
interesting to note that 64% of people trusted leaked information over 36% who trusted press releases.Trust in a peer remains on top and non-traditional media continues to rise as a more trusted channel, even though it is open to misinformation.
The influence factor of relationships is the glue that will hold society together as we venture into the next decade.The Edelman report has also put business on notice saying,“when the system is failing, companies must do more.”That includes treating employees well, offering high quality products and services, listening to customers, paying its fair share of taxes and ethical business practices. It is very clear that internal communication will also need to act as an ethical filter.
Opportunities for internal communication
In a rapidly changing world, where a new channel is launched almost daily, we need to go where communication is happening instead of hoping that the audience will come to us. Internal communication has been doing this for years, so we are well positioned to show our external colleagues how it is done, aiming for a conversation with lots of listening rather than talking and spinning.We drive organisational communication by understanding audience and business needs, facilitating that alignment and purposely taking a strategic approach.
A huge opportunity has surfaced with the advent of fake news, alternative facts and the decline of trust in the system.There is an opportunity to do what internal communication does best – listen, be authentic, truthful, build relationships and advise the organisation on ethical communication practices. Internal communication is positioned to lead rebuilding trust in the business community, while spin doctors and government advisors struggle with credibility.