Internal Comms – poor relation no more?

Considering the Business Leaders in Communications Study (BLCS) 2012 findings from the perspective of an internal communications specialist, I wondered how many of the survey contributors could claim internal comms as their core specialism?

The minority I would guess.

I would speculate that the majority of respondents have a background of PR or investor relations or corporate affairs.  I make this assumption because internal comms has only relatively recently got the credibility and gravitas to earn it a seat at the Boardroom table and thus position the practitioner as a candidate worthy of the comms top slot.

The focus and activities of internal comms are distinctly different from those of an external-facing comms role.  I wonder how many Heads of Comms truly appreciate the subtle complexities of this specialism … even though 97% of respondents recognised employees as a key audience, with 90% of them confirming that they had specific, differentiated messages for employees as an audience group?

The BLCS2012 report states that senior communications professionals do not agree that internal communications is prioritised over external communications by a factor of nearly two to one.  The surprising aspect of this Q&A for me, is not the response, but that someone thought that the response might swing the other way.

I do agree however that it is a useful question against which to benchmark future responses as I anticipate that there is going to be an ever greater blurring of the lines between internal and external comms from 2012 and beyond.

I say this based on the explosive impact that the continuing rise of social media is having on the role of corporate communications, plus the fact that 2 out of 3 survey respondents selected “overall reputation management” as the single most important role of the comms function in their organisation.

Never again will management be able to exercise the level of control of the corporate communications agenda as it has previously enjoyed.  A very informative e-learning course run by the Quadriga Academy in which I recently participated summarised the impact of social media on the way we all receive and share information through the definition of five megatrends:

Megatrend 1 : The death of control

Old Era : The age of control

New Reality : The age of influence

  • Big organisations had a monopoly on mass communications and were used to controlling the message
  • Anyone literate with an internet connection can self publish for free
  • It is very hard to control; organisations can only hope to influence

Megatrend 2 : Disintermediation (the removal of intermediaries)

Old Era : One to many

New Reality : Many to many

  • Control of the gatekeepers
  • One-way, broadcast model
  • Managing reputation = managing the media
  • Less reliance on the media – people get information direct from the source or from each other
  • New-style corporate comms must reach  beyond traditional media to a complex interactive model

Megatrend 3 : Fragmentation

Old Era : A few, centralised channels

New Reality : A huge cloud of interaction

  • People get information from a handful of news media
  • Organisations could efficiently manage…or at least monitor
  • Conversations are distributed wherever people form opinions – blogs, social networks, You Tube
  • Most communication happens not in ‘owned’ space, but in open (privately owned) space

Megatrend 4 : The New Web Landscape

Old Era : Push communications

New Reality : Pull communications

  • The Web (1.0) was used as a distribution channel for pushing out information
  • Sites were static e-brochures
  • It was largely utilitarian and people largely felt neutral about it
  • The Web has become a community with users spending most of their time on interactive social media
  • It is informal, immersive and emotive

Megatrend 5 : The New Journalism

Old Era : Ordered and predictable

New Reality : Messy and opinionated

  • The world of press releases, news conferences and interviews was well ordered
  • Journalists knew the rules of the game and were predictable
  • Balance, professionalism and accountability
  • Huge and distributed
  • Everyone’s a reporter
  • Each sets his/her own rules
  • No obligation to be balanced
  • Complicated recourse for inaccuracy
  • Opinion dominates content

                                                          Source : Jon Worth for the Quadriga Academy       

The success of an organisation will increasingly depend on the advocacy of its employees. In his book “The Now Revolution”, Jeff Baer tells business owners that “… a single terrific employee can literally change your business fortunes through unusually adept usage of social media.  And the converse is also true.”  He makes the point that “…your customers are paying extra attention to the whole of their experience with your business.  And …how they connect the dots between their experiences, perceptions and the attitudes of your employees, figures into their buying decisions.  You need to equip every employee to be an ambassador, a representative and an advocate in the very moment they need to be.”

In  today’s ‘New Reality’ it is more critical than ever to ensure that internal and external messaging is aligned and consistent and that management ensures that the new, extended comms infrastructure is strategically on message.

With so much at stake, it’s time for more internal comms specialists to gain their seat at the top table.


About madeleinekavanagh

Internal comms specialist with a career spanning advertising, car sales and management consulting. My greatest legacy (so far) - my son!
This entry was posted in Corporate Communications, Internal communications, Social media and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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