Communications and how they’re delivered are the basis for a company’s survival. To keep a business running smoothly, quality communications in various ways must be delivered both externally and internally.
Not too many years ago, leaking internal communications to the outside world required much more work than it does today. If something leaked to the press, the company would investigate to locate the source — the “mole” — in the organization.
These days, with the advent of social media, internal information is disseminated within seconds by moles not ashamed to reveal themselves. Most organizations have company policies about sharing company information online, usually resulting in termination if the policies are violated. Yet despite such policies, companies cannot control what employees post and certainly can’t force them not to post.
While some companies view this as a hinderance to the positive appearance they would like to present, others realize this can be used to their benefit and have changed the way they communicate.
For example, most businesses recognize that loyal customer growth begins through word-of-mouth. With so many apps available that allow for customer reviews, such as Yelp, Amazon, and paid services such as Angie’s List, consumers shop for products and services based on others’ feedback and experiences. Even savvier businesses realize that positive comments and the sharing of experiences that come from their loyal employees are the best way to build loyalty outside the company walls.
But before a company can advance its communications program to better ensure survival in today’s social environment, those at the helm must answer some important questions.
Is there a divide between internal and external communications?
Companies sometimes miss the point of communications programs. First and foremost, communication is always about people.
A company serves two audiences — its internal audience and its external audience — and both must trust you and be loyal to you in order for your organization to survive. Without trust, your organization will crumble.
Of all the businesses that have made costly mistakes over the years, only those that have effectively communicated about their mistakes continue to thrive. Through thoughtful and targeted communication, their loyal audiences watched these businesses admit their mistakes, make changes, and always stay focused on their people, thus strengthening their trust.
The key to this strategy is “transparency,” which in the case above would be a good thing. But not always. Unfortunately, communications are not as sacred as they used to be. What this means is anytime you have a meeting, conversation, or share a memo, it’s likely the contents will be posted on social media with hundreds to thousands of views within minutes, because within your band of loyal employees sit disgruntled ones waiting for an opportunity to discredit you. Alternately, your loyal employees may think that sharing such news is a good idea, when instead it’s their naivete typing the messages. They mean well, but their intended outcome does not occur.
That’s where the divide between internal and external communications has shrunk and is thin. To remain successful, businesses must acknowledge that internal and external communications complement each other and share a similar channel, and they must have a clear strategy to make this channel work.
Is it possible to keep internal communications internal?
Only your most trusted team members and advisors will keep sensitive communications internal. This means that as you prepare certain messages to share with the rest of your employees, having a clear communications strategy in place, as suggested above, will help keep the news on a decent path.
Recognize that once any news hits your 500–50,000 employees, it will hit social media and beyond at lightning speed. Use that to your advantage. Before communicating internally, prepare follow-up communications aimed at your external audience, but…
Do not allow news to go external before it’s shared internally. Employees who hear company news from their neighbor before hearing it from their own supervisor will sour in their relationship with their employer. Remember, your goal is to strengthen trust with your employees. When employees are “in the know” before the outside world, you’ll boost their morale and they’ll be compelled to speak positively about you.
What are some ways to harmonize internal and external communications and keep the lines clear?
Keeping your communications clear will require you to gather your leadership team and make sure every team representative understands the messages. Holding weekly and/or routine meetings with all communications departments — internal, external, corporate affairs, marketing, etc. — will ensure your messages are consistent and on point.
The feedback you receive from each department will help you to make informed decisions and adjustments where necessary. Having several different heads involved in the discussions will further ensure there are no gaps in the information. They can raise potential questions so you will all be prepared for the responses that will be needed.
Additionally, if your communications are clear, employees are not left to wonder if you’re hiding something from them. Suspicion erodes trust.
Can employees be ambassadors for the company, or is sharing internal information a cause for concern?
Your employees are your best advocates for your business. They understand the intricacies of how your business operates because they are a big part of helping you run it. When employees speak honestly and positively about the company they work for, rave about one of its products or services, and tell their friends to buy its products, that is a great way to continue building a loyal following. Employees are enhancing further trust in your organization.
Make sure your communications help your employees understand how the news personally benefits them. Since your main focus is on the people within your organization, you want them to feel as though they have a stake in how the business operates. Everyone needs to feel valued in their work, so let them know how important their contributions are.
If you have a change in policies, if you have a change in general, if you have a new product or product change, if there are organizational adjustments — make sure your employees are aware of the benefits to them. They need to know you place their ideas and trust at the top of your list so they will loyally back you in your decisions.
Keep the lines of communication open, whether you leave your door open for discussion or you simply take the time to listen to their concerns and answer their questions. This will help them strengthen their trust in you, and psychologically they’ll be impelled to think positively even if the communications might be a bit negative.
On a similar note, just as your employees can be great advocates for your business on an external level, they are supporters for you internally as well. Rumors cause damage when they are not cut off early. The way to stave off rumors and false stories is through your other loyal employees who step in and defend the company. If these employees are aware of the communications and are kept in the loop, they will have the confidence — and sense of ethical duty — to step in and correct whatever negative message is being spread.
Allow your employees to be your most powerful marketing tool — treat them as ambassadors. If they share your passion and purpose for your organization and you treat them fairly, they will help you grow your business.