In defence of the difference between internal and external communications
The line between internal and external communication is blurring. But both disciplines are not the same.
Until now ‘internal’ or ‘employee communication’ has been a distinct and specialist activity with its own industry bodies, qualifications and career path. But some say the line between internal and external communication is becoming so blurred it’s barely visible. The terms should be laid to rest – we are all simply ‘communicators’ now.
Certainly the drive for transparency, authenticity and consistency supports this argument. What’s more, today’s employees are sophisticated, challenging and vocal. Workplace communication has moved on. It cannot be contained or controlled by a few from the corporate centre. It has become a more involving and compelling style of communication working hard to capture the attention of a time-poor – and often distrusting – workforce.
Marketers are masters at capturing attention. Internal communicators can learn much from the process of defining target markets; building personas; creating strong branded content and, of course, telling stories with emotion and creativity. Take the need to develop a compelling employee value proposition. Before joining, new recruits will only have seen your external face to the world. To ensure you attract the right people, you need alignment, consistency and shared learning across all communications.
But before we declare all communications essentially the same and assign the term ‘internal communication’ to the history books, let’s re-examine the facts.
Every day employees see under the hood of our organisations. Unlike other audiences – customers, investors, analysts and the media – they see the unvarnished truth. This unique perspective gives employees intimate, behind-the-scenes knowledge. As a result, they are almost impossible to fool or beguile.
Communications to employees must be exceptionally honest and open. It must take a ‘warts and all’ approach, acknowledging failings, foibles and frustrations. It must be truly worthy of people’s time – a highly relevant and useful interchange that helps get the job done. Internal audiences require an altogether higher level of accuracy, integrity and applicability in their communications.
You cannot ‘market’ your organisation to your workforce as you might market it to customers or clients.
As consumers we happily wear a multitude of branded logos. But how many of us would wear our employer’s name on a T-shirt unless it was a uniform?
We hold the organisations that employ us to a higher standard than those we buy from – and rightly so. Employee communication reflects this difference.
Far from being indistinguishable from other disciplines or a subset of something greater, employee communication can hold its head high. It provides the infrastructure on which all other communication is built. Take it away – reduce its strength – and organisations wither from within.