PR and Internal Communications: Changing With the Times?
The focus of internal communication function has shifted from pursuing outputs to achieving outcomes – and that is a significant step forward.
Matt Gonring, Vice President of global marketing and communication, Rockwell Automation
Internal communications is changing with the times. Or it should be. It has to. The impact of our 24/7 focus on obtaining information in real-time, and using mobile and smartphone, digital tools and social networks to communicate, is changing the world—and the workplace.
Defined by Wikipedia as “the function responsible for effective communication among participants within an organization,” internal communications can be deemed a less immediate need than external communications, underfunded, and, at times, overlooked altogether.
Until a crisis takes place.
Internal communications strategy and programs designed to support crises are undoubtedly essential to an organization’s short-term recovery and long-term success. However, developed strategically, internal communication programs can, and should, be used for more than managing emergency situations.
Smart organizations understand the value in maintaining an ongoing dialogue with their employees, with the right strategies and tactics these dialogues can yield valuable feedback from employees and can help foster a sense of belonging and investment in the company.
Employees are more important today than ever before as their ability to interact with each other, customers, prospects, media and the general public, increases with each technological advance. Employee insights can offer valuable perspective to both leadership and customers.
Employees often serve as a de facto sales force, and are especially effective when they clearly understand and can communicate their organization’s business goals and product and service information. Developing and managing ongoing strategic internal communications programs provide a wide range of benefits and can help deliver results that can positively impact a company’s bottom line.
Historically internal communications programs have focused on top down delivery of information from leadership to employees, with an emphasis on outcomes. However, today the current and projected focus is more on achieving measurable outcomes, a pattern we see developing across the public relations industry, albeit slowly.
Strategic internal communications programs are being impacted by many of the same trends that impact public relations as a whole. This makes sense, since many of the projected trends apply to other industries and to people as a whole. Among these, for 2015, are continued growth in use of:
- Real-time information sharing
- Mobile technology and platforms
- Visuals including infographics
- Customization of messaging
- Internal social networks
- Social software
- Employee influence measurement
However, this growth may not come as quickly as some experts suggest, as evidenced by the results of the Internal Communication and Technology Survey 2014, conducted by Newsweaver and Melcrum. The survey focused on how internal communicators are using technology to create, implement and measure their employee communication strategies. Key findings from the survey include:
- Less than half of respondents believe their team have the digital / technological skills necessary to do their jobs.
- The three most used channels are the intranet (93 percent), email (90 percent) and leadership communications (84 percent).
- The least used channel is the print newsletter, with more than half saying they’ve stopped using or don’t use them.
- The three most effective channels, in order of most effective: Email, Intranet and Leadership communications.
- 50 – 60 percent of respondents always use email for the tasks of: employee newsletters, change communications, HR/Rewards/pension communications, events, pulse surveys and leadership communications. Surprisingly, only 43 percent always use email to drive traffic to their Intranet.
- By a large margin, the two most popular new communication technologies to be deployed in the next twelve months are: Internal social networking tools (46 percent) and Intranets (45 percent).
- The state of Bring Your Own Device: 61 percent said their organization allows employees to access company content via their own device.
The change in PR’s internal communications practices will inevitably mirror broader based changes across the industry and the world at large.
“We live in the most complicated environment that leaders have ever known, one sometimes described by the acronym ‘VUCA’ — volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, “ says David B. Rockland, Ph.D., in a post for PRSA. “In this hyper-connected age, networks rule and the planet is shrinking, thanks to rapid advances in transportation, technology, education and global businesses. This changing environment also demands that businesses adapt their internal-communications capabilities.”
Change is inevitable. It is already happening. However, the question of how quickly, and how broadly, things will change in both public relations, and its internal communications programs, remains to be seen.
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