The false binary of internal vs. external communications

woman in black long sleeve shirt had a job interview

By Lori Friedman

We live in a world where one tweet can quickly transform an “internal” issue into an external one. If there is a wall that separates the internal from the external it is tissue-paper thin.

Lately I’ve been wondering if the very idea of external vs. internal communications is a false binary, or at least, no longer as useful as it once was. The last few years has shown us that the internal audience is a crucial one, but really not all that different from other stakeholders in their need to hear from leadership about issues that matter. The “internal” audience is, if anything, an organization’s most engaged audience, or should be. They are the ones who can be the company’s greatest cheerleaders, or its most vocal detractors. They could also easily become disengaged and indifferent if they aren’t getting the information they need or not liking what they hear.  

Many companies are hiring more people who are focused on developing and executing internal communications strategies – which is great! It is vital that these individuals and departments who are in close alignment with the ones that are more externally focused. Being intentional about how these communications efforts work together is a must. The rise of social media and increasing demand for accountability from institutions means that all audiences must be considered in every aspect of an organization’s communications, whether that’s an email to employees, a press release or a promotional video.

What can you do as a communications practitioner? Incorporate internal stakeholders into your communications strategies, whether or not your title contains the word “internal.” Keep your ears to the ground in terms of internal audience sentiment. Are a lot of your internal audience members active on social media? Log in. Listen. Solicit feedback. And then take positive action in response to what you hear.

One step I have taken in the last few years to keep my skills sharp is to learn as much as I can from internal communications professionals. I take advantage of such learning opportunities through the professional organizations to which I belong, including PRSA and PRSA Oregon. Among the great roster of events hosted by the Oregon chapter in the coming months is a panel focused on internal communications in November. Keep your eye out for it!

Communicators have always had to keep up with the fast pace of a changing world and a field that is continually evolving. Advocating for a more holistic approach to communications that considers all audiences is one way we can take the lead and be a force for good for our clients, companies and organizations.

Lori is a senior communications professional and Director of Media Relations at Lehigh University in Bethlehem PA.

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