Written by: Minari Shah
About the author: Director-Public Relations at Amazon India
Once upon a time, communications had distinct categories, most specifically internal and external, and it seemed never shall the twain meet. Back then, Internal comms was somewhat infra dig, a poorer cousin to external communications. I recall in my first comms role, I spent maybe 20% of my time on internal – it was what someone did at the back-end, maybe produced some newsletter, put some articles up on the intranet, sent out some emails. It was never the right way but few realized it. Till changes in technology made companies sit up and take notice – the primary catalyst was that bridge between internal and external, namely social media. Then tools and tech enabled internal comms for more robust campaigns.
It started slow – as audiences in one part of the world could see headlines reverberate across the global virtual world, one couldn’t have silo-ed messages across geographies. Then came social media. FB/ Twitter/ Instagram/ Linkedin etc. became our not-so-private archives, as much replacing old-world personal journals as (some level of) professional networking. This was the great melting pot of audiences – customers, government, investors, media, employees. It was now impossible to regulate “only internal” messages and we learnt, sometimes the hard way, to respect that everything in internal communications was grist for media headlines, social media controversies or memes. The harder task was to teach business leaders to understand this change in how they communicated to their teams and employees at large!
Smart comms professionals recognize this as an opportunity rather than a challenge. It has finally brought the due importance to messaging as well as the channels/tools available to internal comms. There was always the truism about employees as company’s best brand ambassadors but companies did little to harness it in any systematic fashion. Companies are now looking for seamless ways for consistent messaging across audiences for a multiplier impact so the sum is bigger than the parts. Right internal message has a strong resonance for employees to carry it outside, especially through social media – think of it as amplified word-of-mouth with the power to build or destroy reputation more than ever before.
This is a two-way street – employees are reading, are impacted by what’s said outside; they question the companies on their policies, have concerns based on reports, social posts & memes. Any failure to tackle this authentically costs credibility, eroding reputation within and without. In short, not only must everything in internal comms be treated as external (and planned accordingly), but also everything said externally must resonate internally. This is therefore not just blurred boundaries – it has broken what was perhaps always an artificial wall between the two; making possible one single narrative, comprehensive campaigns and joint messaging where merely the emphases may differ as per audiences.