The main purpose of communication from the standpoint of an organisation is its successful functioning. Internal and external communications are considered to be very important resources for corporate communication.
Should we consider them to be two distinct entities? Yes. They have different objectives, deliver messages to different audiences and support business in different ways.
Should they work separately? No. They both need to align their efforts and make sure their messages are unified and clear.
If your corporate communications and internal communications teams don’t work together then they’re going to deliver inconsistent and mixed messages. This will lead to your employees and even your customers feeling confused and disengaged.
How will you prevent that from happening? That’s what we will be discussing in this mini-guide. First, we will learn more about the terms internal and external communications, then we will look into the key differences and walk through the main reasons they need to work together.
Definitions and tactics
Communication is said to be internal, when the exchange of information, facts, opinions, etc occurs within the organisation itself. In internal communication, messages can be exchanged via personal contact, telephone, e-mails, intranet, modern communication tools or digital workplaces.
It usually helps in developing plans for accomplishment, organising resources, training, appraising and motivating employees to put their best foot forward.
Internal communications can be vertical or horizontal:
- Vertical: when communication occurs between employees on different hierarchical levels such as downward (from managers or leaders to employees) or upward (from employees to managers or leaders)
- Horizontal: when communication is between individuals on the same level in their company’s hierarchy
External communication can be defined as sharing information between the company and any other person or entity from the external environment such as customers, suppliers, investors, clients, dealers, society, etc, as their opinions on the company and brand have a great impact on the business.
External communication is usually documented for the most part and determines the way in which an organisation communicates information to its external audience about day-to-day business matters. The messages are delivered from top leadership and fed through predefined channels.
External communication is mainly formal in approach but can also be informal.
- Formal: by creating the appropriate company image through newsletters, reports, press releases, presentations or web pages
- Informal: in a way that organisations can’t regulate directly.
What are the Key differences between internal and external communications?
Both internal and external communications are crucial to business success and even though there are a lot of similarities between the two, they have many differences and distinct priorities such as:
- The audience: the parties of internal communications are employees and the company’s management whereas those of external communications are customers, shareholders, investors, clients, general public, suppliers, etc
- The goal: internal communications aim to transmit information between various business units and departments, while external communications focus on exchanging information with parties external to the organisation
- The frequency: the frequency of internal communications tends to be higher than the frequency of external communications as on one hand it’s important to keep up a steady flow of updates within an organisation and on the other hand there is a high risk of information overload if a company pushes its message too hard.
- The flow: internal communications flow within the organisation. External communications flow in the vast business environment.
- The means: Internal communication uses memoranda, agendas, seminars, videoconferencing, chat, wikis, for communication. External communication includes online media, print, television and radio advertisements and customer feedback.
Why they need to work together
Alignment between internal and external communications is absolutely critical to create a positive organisational culture. So for a company’s success, they both need to work together.
Let’s walk through the reasons why external and internal communications need to work hand-in-hand to ensure brighter business results.
- Strategic alignment
Did you know that only 14% of employees understand their company’s strategy and direction?
That’s mostly due to the fact that external and internal communications don’t collaborate as a team. So when internal communications work on communicating to employees what external communications have been working on, employees are more likely to be inspired to achieve better results and have a clearer understanding of the business strategy.
- Brand image
Internal audiences are just as important as external ones and it’s imperative for brands to ensure that there are no gaps between their product, their message, their customer experience and service and their external campaigns.
So unless your brand message is understood and implemented by your employees, the message will get diluted and lost in translation.
By ensuring that your brand promise is internally communicated, employees will be able to talk more effectively with customers and the general public and even become your brand ambassadors and advocates. Provide them with a clear brand positioning and they will help your company get more brand awareness, generate more sales and attract top talents to your organisation.
The worst case scenario would be for a company to share conflicting information with its employees and investors or stakeholders. It’s not uncommon for a company to communicate about new features coming up on their product (because the engineering team said so) while the customer success department is not aware of that and is struggling to answer a client’s question regarding that. This could lead to bigger issues.
So the best way to avoid this scenario is by aligning the brand from the inside out. Needless to say that internal and external communications need to work as one in order to achieve that.
This is where effective internal communication platforms come into play. They help a lot in keeping everyone aligned and on the same page and in equipping employees with the knowledge and tools necessary to deliver on what is expected and also to understand the goals behind these efforts.
Employee experience and customer experience are interconnected and therefore companies that lead in customer experience have 60% more engaged employees.
When it comes to maintaining a long-term relationship with your employees and customers, engagement can play a huge role. In order for a company to generate engagement, it should rely on community management and building strong communities around the brand.
If your employees ever feel that you are keeping information from them or that your external communications don’t reflect what’s actually happening inside the company then don’t expect them to engage that much with content or with your customers. Strive to create and deliver usable, believable and shareable content that they’re happy to engage with. Clients stories can be a great way to build bridges between your employees and your customers.
This can be extremely hard to achieve, especially at large corporations, if all your employees are not connected with a single communications platform where the right message reaches the right employees.
- Building trust
Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, whether it’s personal or professional, and when trust is broken, relationships become rocky and challenging.
That’s why one of the main goals of any employer around the world is to build trust among their employees and within their organisations.
However, very few employees trust their employers. In fact, a survey of 33,000 individuals in 28 countries have shown that almost 1 in 3 employees don’t trust their employers.
One of the main reasons for that is that internal and external communications are not unified. Both departments need to do a better job not to deliver contradictory information to their audiences. The last thing you want for your employees is to feel confused or skeptical about your messages.
Three pillars for effective communication
Without the right communication plan, solutions and synergy in place, it’s hard if not impossible to align different stakeholders in the organisation. These three pillars are what will make your communication a success and help you achieve your company goals.
- A plan
A carefully monitored and successful plan is essential if you want to gain maximum value from your strategy and your assets. That requires an understanding of the different parts of your internal as well as external communications, namely your audience, your goal, your flow, your means, etc.
It’s also important to align your plan to communications with a thought for the wider business strategy. If your company’s current goal is to build a stronger employer to improve talent acquisition and retention, then this should be reflected in your communications plan.
- A tool
Corporations should consider implementing solutions such as digital workplaces in order to connect all employees and give them easy access to information, thus avoiding misalignment.
Modern communication tools countain a rich set of features to help meet employees’ needs. They play a huge role in facilitating communication internally whether it’s horizontally through chat apps, communities of interests and social interactions or vertically through tasks, wikis, documents, page creation, news 7or something else.
Not only that, they also help with corporate communications by centralising all the social media posts within the digital workplace so that everyone is in the loop of what’s happening outside the company too. By aggregating RSS feeds from social channels or any other information websites, the management can make sure that both internal and external communications are aligned.
- A synergy
Your internal communications strategy shouldn’t be an immutable fixture and should therefore be open to analysis and adjustment, especially if it works hand in hand with your external communications strategy.
Keep in mind that technology as well as employee preferences are changing and evolving and so should the synergy between your internal and external communications tools. The more social media tools evolve, the more your internal communications tools should follow their lead.
This synergy shouldn’t be reinforced only between your internal and external communications tools but also between your overall strategy and your employees.
Getting your workforce involved in the development of your strategy can contribute to its success and raise awareness and support for your plans across the entire organisation.
It’s important to get the backing of decision-makers, so you can access the budget and resources you need, but also to get buy-in from employees that can turn into brand ambassadors.
Having a diverse coalition of stakeholders invested in the creation and delivery of your communications strategy will give you access to a wider range of skills and insights, ultimately increasing your chances of success.
Internal and external communications are both vital to the success of a business and its sustainability. One helps to guide, inform and motivate employees to work efficiently and effectively and meet their targets while the other helps in presenting a good image of the business to the public and enticing partners and customers.
Organisations should always try to make them as complimentary as possible!