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Internal Communicators need to act more like Marketers

28th July 2016

 
In a past post, we touched upon the notion of Content Marketing for Internal Communications. We explained how it was high time that content in the internal communications world is given the same treatment as it is in the external communications world. Achieved primarily – and somewhat obviously – by providing valuable content to help the user answer problems and inform decisions, in an attempt to ultimately influence and when needed, change behaviour.
 
Furthermore, we outlined the key areas IC pro’s need to focus on when creating internal communications content that mirrors the best types of content found externally. You can read the full post
here.
 
But, stick with us for now, and have a read of this post. In this post we’re going to build on our thinking of how internal communicators need to think like content marketers, by advocating that they should now also be thinking more like general marketers too.
 
Without further ado, here’s how internal communications can be approached with a marketing mind-set:
 
 
 

Audience research and understanding

Disappointingly, for far too long internal communications were simply being disseminated without too much thought or attention given to the audience who’d be receiving them. Audience understanding was minimal, and so internal communicators did not know if the communications were relevant to the intended audience(s).
 
Thankfully, with more and more internal communications pro’s coming from a marketing background, a blurring of lines between internal and external audiences, and organisations recognising the importance of internal stakeholders; the way in which IC campaigns are being approached is changing, notably through improved audience research and subsequent understanding.
 
Therefore before any communications are created, let alone sent out, a clear understanding of the audience should be established. Employees are overloaded with information, so internal communicators need to ensure that if they are to try and be heard, the message must be of interest to the recipient.
 
 
 

Personalisation

This is drilling down even further on employee research. You could view the initial audience research and understanding – previous point – as the foundation of understanding employee’s needs and wants. The best organisations will then take this a step further, building on this foundation, by focussing on the individual needs of employees, to try and provide them with:
 

The right information, at the right time, in the right place, and on the right device.

 
 
To do so, internal communicators need to inspect all of the available channels that employees could use – and importantly would prefer to use – when seeking and gaining the information they want. This is a crucial aspect of the marketing mind-set – always seeking new ways to best engage with their audience. And it is understanding that yes, two-way communication is important for, but arguably this is a step beyond that.
 
Importantly IC needs to recognise this is not taking a step back to one-way communications. The channels being deployed will in the main provide two-way exchanges, and internal audiences will have go to channels that they can turn to if they want to take part in further conversations around specific communications. Plus, even if audiences don’t engage in direct conversions, their behaviour towards the communications can be measured, and so will do the talking for them.
 
However the overriding principle now, arguably should not be focussed on creating two-way conversations with the target audience, just for the sake of it. But providing the audience with:
 

The right information, at the right time, in the right place, and on the right device.

 
Yep we did just say that a few paragraphs ago. But it’s a point we really do want to drill home. As it is the ultimate quest of all the leading organisations.
 
 
 

Measurement

We touched upon the importance of measurement in the previous point. Stating how employees don’t necessarily need to engage in conversations to provide feedback on the internal communications they have experienced. Instead employee activity can do the talking for them. Yet, many internal communicators are still failing to do any measurement at all. It’s staggering. If a marketer was told that they didn’t need to measure any of the communication campaigns that they activate, well, they’d be gobsmacked.
 
Not only would they probably ask what they were supposed to do with the enormous amount of free time they’d now have. But they’d also wonder just what they would use to inform any further communications. Again, reasons why a marketing mind-set is so important for internal communicators to now have.
 
Additionally, the real value would then come by not only combining the audience understanding with the measurement of communications, but also combining all of this information, with the information being measured and analysed by other departments.
 
Just imagine how good an employee profile you could build, and the subsequent communications you could create by understanding all of the connected data. That’s actually a bit of an insight into the workplace of the future, when the Internet of Things takes hold – best for Internal communications departments to get into good habits now.
 
 
 

Closer relationship with the marketing function

What’s the best way for internal communicators to improve their marketing mind-set? Yep, for them to work more closely with marketers – the organisations marketing department.
 
The blurring of lines between internal and external communications is now forcing – in a good way – internal teams to work more closely with external one’s, to help ensure everyone is singing from the same page, so to speak.
 
There are a number of reasons for this. Notable one’s include:
 
– Employees to be clear on the changes/communications happening externally. Alignment is crucial, as employees can feel disconnected if a fake external perception is being created.
 
– Organisations are no longer in control of communications. A single employee tweet has the potential to cause huge reputational damage. Internal communicators should be wary of communicating anything internally that they do not want to be seen by external audiences – again alignment is needed.
 
– Employees are now largely recognised as the most powerful organisational advocates – they should be encouraged to share internal stories, externally.
 
 
While, the internal/external lines are being blurred, we are still some way from an all-encompassing communications department. You’ve only got to look at the budgets allocated for external communications compared to internal communications as evidence of that. But more organisations are recognising the benefits of alignment – with one being to help internal communicators develop a marketing mind-set.
 
 
 

Creativity

With the abundance of competing messages in the marketing world, as well as messages needing to become more personalised, marketers have realised that messages need to be creative in order to stand out and connect. Therefore, what has risen in importance in the consumer world are creative communications that tell stories – stories that resonate with, and involve, target audiences.
 
Internal Communications need to focus on becoming creative storytellers, embedding storytelling into everything they put out. Whether that be telling the organisations bigger picture story, the story of the frontline worker who is playing a key role in the company, or fictional stories of how certain behaviours can effect individuals and the company when not adhered to correctly – think health and safety or information risk campaigns.
 
Creativity really is key. IC teams should no longer see themselves – or be seen by the rest of the organisation for that matter – as more of a management function, instead they should be viewed as more of a creative function. Well, at the very least, seen to be being far more creative anyway.
 
 
 

Conclusion

There you have it! They’re the ways we believe internal communicators can start acting more like marketers. Which when summarised, it can be put that it’s now:
 

time for IC pro’s to take the next leap beyond content creation and channel management.

 
We’ve no doubt; the development of a marketing mind-set will greatly improve the performance of the internal communications function. In doing so, organisations can reap the benefits that greater engagement of internal audiences brings. And the internal communications function will continue to rise in importance. Who knows, it may rise to such a level, that the budget allocated to it mirrors more closely that of the external communications department. Well, we can but dream.
 
 
Mirroring is a word we’ve used a few times in this post, so one quite apt to finish on. As we do feel in the – not so distant – future, the internal communicator will mirror that of their external counterpart. And in the slightly more distant future ‘internal’ and ‘external’ may no longer proceed ‘communicator’, such is the blurring of the functions and roles.
 
Until next time…
 
Rima
 
 
 

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