Communication is vital to your business. Whether you’re talking to your employees, your customers or the general public, you need that constant two-way flow of information in order to keep the momentum going, and the profits rolling in. Both external and internal communications strategies are needed, working in tandem to push the company message across all audiences.
It goes without saying that your internal communications strategy will not be the same as your external marketing messages. You are putting across different messages to different audiences, using different channels. Both your focus and your aims are distinct and separate. However, this isn’t the full story.
The two forms of communication need to work together. When it comes down to it, the communication needs of internal and external stakeholders are not that different. They need to hear the same core messages about your company and your brand. Keeping your messaging coherent and consistent will boost understanding, engagement and ultimately, profits. A survey by Lucidpress revealed that revenues increased by a third when the brand was presented consistently across both internal and external communications.
In this blog, we explore the differences between internal and external communication in an organization. We then take a closer look at why your internal and external communications strategy needs to be aligned. How can you bring the two together and approach them with a joined-up mindset? Manage this and your business will benefit significantly.
The differences between internal and external communication
So, what is internal and external communication? On a basic level, we can differentiate between the two with the following points:
- Your focus: the members within your organisation
- Your aim: to guide, inform and motivate employees
- Your focus: your customers and the outside world
- Your aim: to promote a good image to the public
Digging a little deeper, it becomes clear that external and internal communications differ in four keys aspects:
It’s all about your employees. They need to be talked and listened to. They need to know where they sit in the bigger picture, what their goals are and how to meet them.
An internal communication plan sets out and promotes the objectives of the business or a project; it devises plans to achieve these goals; helps train employees; and leads and motivates them to be their best while they are at work.
It’s about capturing the attention of the public. You’re looking to convey your value to your customers and connect with the world at large.
An external communications strategy will aim to share your marketing mix with the public. It will focus on broadcasting your brand, your product offering, your personality and your developments to customers and potential customers.
The ways of relaying information within an organisation are many and varied. It can be formal, using pre-defined channels to pass on key information. However, it can also be informal, flowing freely in every direction as a result of individual needs.
Internal communication channels can include staff newsletters, presentations, minutes of meetings, video clips, seminars, Q&As etc. Consider the benefits of an internal communications app; it provides two-way channels for optimal reach across both office-based and remote workers.
Unlike internal communication, this is mainly formal in approach. Messages are delivered from top leadership, fed through pre-defined channels and followed up with official documentation.
Examples include online, print, television and radio advertisements, customer feedback material, websites and social media, invitations, operating instructions, annual reports and business-to-business White Papers.
You’re focusing solely inside your organisation. Your aim is to reach every single employee, from remote teams in the field to senior leadership at head office.
Effective internal communication will transmit key information between business units, departments, multiple sites and remote workers to ensure you’re all operating with the same level of knowledge and understanding.
You’re aiming to build brand awareness with the world at large. This goes beyond just customers though. Don’t forget to communicate with everyone else who has an impact on your business success.
Your external communication relationships include suppliers, investors, creditors, prospects, regulators, government and the general public, as well as your customer base.
It’s important to keep up a steady flow of information and updates within an organisation. In fact, it is a common error to relay news in an intermittent fashion, leaving employees in a temporary information black out. Steady and consistent messaging is one of the key internal communication best practices.
As such, internal messaging tends to be more regular and frequent than external promotions. Use a variety of methods of internal communication to reach employees in different ways.
External communication tends to be less frequent. There is a very real risk of information overload if you push your brand message too hard.
It’s a delicate balance to get right. Send too often and you’ll lose your audience; send too infrequently and you’ll lose them too. The trick is to judge your audience carefully and listen to feedback.
Why internal and external communications need to be aligned
We’ve explored the differences between the two forms of communication, but what about their similarities? When you look at the bigger picture, they both have similar goals. Your internal and external information will be corresponding in the overall objective. If you can develop messaging that both motivates employees and entices customers, you’re on to a winning ticket.
Here are the key reasons why your internal and external communication will benefit from a joined-up approach:
1. It will keep all your messaging on brand
Your brand message is the most important element of any external communication. However, unless this brand message is also understood and implemented by your employees, the message will get diluted and lost in translation.
This is where the importance of internal communication is really felt. By ensuring your brand promise is internally communicated, employees will be able to talk more effectively with customers and the general public. Provide staff with a clear brand positioning and you’ll be giving them the ammunition to take on customer interactions with confidence.
2. It will ensure information flows freely
In many companies you’ll find external communication departments working in isolation from the rest of the business. Unless employees understand the overall business strategy, they are unlikely to achieve the required outcomes.
When there is a divergence between internal and external communication in an organization, you’ll find problems start to occur. For example, it is never a good idea for employees to find out something about their company in a press release. The IC department should always know which media releases are in the pipeline so they can inform employees through the approved internal communications channels.
3. It will keep everyone rowing in the same direction
A report by Schiemann revealed that only 14% of employees understand their company’s strategy and direction. It’s impossible for a company to operate successfully with so few people working towards the same goal. This is where external and internal communications need to pull together.
Effective communication in the workplace is reliant on strategic alignment. External communications need to feed their strategy through to internal communications, who can then cascade this through the organisation. Once employees understand how their work fits into the bigger picture, engagement and productivity start to rise.
4. It will create brand ambassadors
Employee advocacy should never be underestimated. It’s a powerful sales tool, quickly becoming all the more effective with the rise of social media. It’s no longer enough just to tell your brand story through external messaging. You need to live and breathe it too, and this is where your employees play an important role.
One of the roles of internal communication is to create brand ambassadors. This will only happen when external and internal departments are working hand-in-hand. An employee app is a simple way to ensure everyone has access to the right information, and secure social spaces in which to discuss and voice their opinions.
5. It will help you handle change & crisis
Whether your company is undergoing a merger or acquisition, or it’s trying to ride out a crisis such as the recent pandemic, change is hard to manage successfully. However, it’s a great deal easier when internal and external communications are working in harmony.
Building trust is crucial if you want to avoid your employees feeling confused or cynical. Mixed messages, with external communications publicising something different from the internal memos, will only increase the fear and worry. In times of crisis, transparency is key. Make sure everyone receives exactly the same information, at the same time.
So, what does this alignment of internal and external communication look like in practice? These examples of internal and external communication show how the two can be successfully blended.
Nationwide Building Society
Nationwide Building Society ran an award-winning five-week BIG Conversation, gathering ideas from all its 18,000 employees in a company-wide collaboration. Both staff and members had the opportunity to contribute to the company’s future in this huge listening exercise that broke boundaries.
Royal Mail’s staff-focused website www.myroyalmail.com combined a survey about new uniforms with content of interest to the general public, such as news from the CEO and performance information. This blurring of audiences proved highly successful.
The HSBC NOW twitter feed uses social media internally to talk to staff and externally to promote the bank and interact with customers. A great example of social media giving a voice to employees and creating a positive business image at the same time.
Both internal and external communications are crucial to enhance any business. Whilst distinct in their focus and aims, it is also important to remember that they should also work in harmony to promote a consistent message across the board.