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.
- 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
In addition to these top-line differences, we can further differentiate between internal and external communication by considering the following four points:
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 strategy 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 include can include staff newsletters, presentations, minutes of meetings, video clips, seminars, Q&As etc. There are also internal communications apps available, which provide two-way channels for optimal reach.
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 internal communication mistake to relay news in an intermittent fashion, leaving employees in a temporary information black out.
As such, internal messaging tends to be more regular and frequent than external promotions. Use a variety of internal communications channels 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.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WORKING TOGETHER
So, we have looked at the key differences between internal and external communication. But they also have to work together. It is essential that employees have guidance on what information they can share outside the organisation, who to share it with and how to share it. You need to ensure your messages are working in harmony.
Keeping 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 effective internal communication comes into play. 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.
WHEN INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL MEET
Internal communication strategies are usually kept separate and distinct from external plans. However, lines of communications can become blurred, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can happen when organisations blend audiences for social media campaigns, or undertake a listening exercise that covers both employees and customers.
Here are three examples of a successful blending of internal and external communication:
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.
In conclusion, 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 brand message across the board.