|Internal Communications: Good for Me, Good for You
By: Patrick Foughty, APR
With a quick glance across the majority of PR blogs in the digital space, one will see that most talk about how to gain more followers, raise awareness with customers, or latch on to the most recent viral campaign, all focused on one element — external audiences.
While external communications gets the majority of the fanfare (and why not, external audiences produce direct, measurable impacts to the bottom line) there is evidence to suggest that PR pros spend upwards of 52% of their time thinking about a key but often overlooked aspect of this profession — internal communications.
Internal communications predates modern PR by a long shot, going back as far as the 1840s, when companies in Britain started some of the first internal newsletters, usually framed as a sort of "management propaganda." This continued well into the 1970s, when internal communications finally began to evolve and use some of the basic principles we use today. Companies doing internal communications well in the 21st century now look towards employees for their involvement and aim to communicate with them as a diverse group of stakeholders rather than just a bunch of sad saps collecting a paycheck.
While internal communications is essential in any organization from small, family-owned businesses to huge multinational conglomerates and government organizations, it gets exceedingly difficult and more important the larger and more spread out things are. More than just communicating to the employee — a PR person needs to take care to acknowledge all affected publics: employee family members, contracted employees, retired and even former employees, and other stakeholders with an internal slant. Within the individual employees themselves there will most assuredly be demographic differences, whether they are as fundamental as gender, education level, or ethnicity; or more refined, like how one division of an organization is managed versus other divisions.
A PR pro must approach communicating with her internal audiences with a strategic mindset first, conducting research, determining goals and objectives, and finally using various tactics as described below:
Use of social media — sure, social media is widely used for external audiences; everyone knows that. But there are great tools within LinkedIn or Facebook Groups for your employee audiences so long as those allowed to join are verified employees and the place can be a safe forum where issues and concerns can be aired out. It also needs to be well managed and include an occasional visit or post from top leadership.
Newsletters — in some circles this is a laughable concept. It seems and sounds archaic, and in many instances the traditional, color, hard-copy newsletter is dated. But tools like constantcontact.com and issuu.com have become great resources for posting and distributing your well-made internal newsletter; one that employees can access from mobile devices, when they’re traveling or simply sitting at home. Remember, content is key. If it has reliable, relevant content, it will be read.
Leadership Engagement — probably the most essential aspect of internal communications. More than just having a "leadership column" in a newsletter, the PR pro must advise and push management into engagement with employees, even when they don’t want to. This could include anything from contributing directly to online forums to "all hands calls" or company meetings. If the organization is spread out (across the town or globe), invest in the technology required to allow employees to have access, not just to see leadership talk but to contribute questions — then ensure all questions, even those not addressed during the meeting, are followed up on.
There are many more ideas and tools PR pros utilize to tell their story to the internal audience. What’s important is to realize, not just for the PR pro, but for management, is that the internal audience is a vital stakeholder and time spent communicating with them is time well spent, even if you can’t tie it directly to profits.
(See this website for more great internal communications reads: http://www.exploringinternalcommunication.com/blog)
Patrick Foughty is a former helicopter pilot turned PR lover. He pays bills by playing the role of Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. Navy in Washington D.C. where he manages media operations and digital media for his organization. When he's not thinking about PR he's working on his first novel or studying medieval history.
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