Ilana Como, head of marketing and communications at global talent acquisition and management consultancy Alexander Mann Solutions, on why internal company communications is at the core of an effective marketing strategy.
While the need to publicise a business to external stakeholders has been universally recognised since ancient civilisations carved adverts in stone, engaging with internal populaces has perhaps historically been viewed as a less vital element of the marketing mix. However, the two are not mutually exclusive: communicating the vision and direction of a business internally is crucial to enhancing customer brand perception – particularly at a time when social media means that every employee is effectively a spokesperson.
The case of HMV staff infamously commandeering the company’s Twitter account to live-tweet mass redundancies is an extreme example of what can go wrong when effective employee engagement falls short. But aside from preventing a potential full-on PR crisis, the wider benefits of a detailed and dedicated internal communications strategy cannot be ignored.
According to research from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), senior leaders identify a link between good internal communications and strong financial performance, with a recent report revealing that 77% of practitioners feel that CEOs and MDs now truly value the function of internal communications. Good news, when you consider that the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has likewise found that lack of employee trust in their organisation is one of the top five challenges identified by both HR and business leaders – and over a quarter of respondents to the CIPD’s latest HR Outlook survey believe that communicating their strategy – and what it means in practice – is one of the main leadership skills needed by their organisation over the next three years.
While much noise has been made around the expectations of millennials and Gen-Z talent when it comes to fostering a culture of collaboration and feedback, the reality is that, in the digital age, all employees now anticipate a level of transparency that was not the norm just a few short years ago. But how do marketing and HR teams ensure that internal stakeholders get the attention they expect and deserve when it comes to engagement?
The CIPD outlines the core principles of an effective internal communications strategy in its Employee Communication factsheet. That is: a campaign which is built on a shared sense of purpose and aligned to business strategy; receives attention and support from senior leadership; is driven by genuine dialogue; and draws on a range of digital channels and tools.
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Data collected by the European Association for Internal Communication reveals that the corporate intranet is still the main channel through which internal communications is shared, with 74% of respondents seeing it as very important. However, other methods were viewed as equally effective, with face-to-face (73%), digital media (60%) and traditional print (43%) all seen as viable channels.
Technology is undoubtedly having a huge impact on the way that internal messages can be delivered. Traditional social media channels and enterprise social networks – which operate like an ‘in-house Facebook’ – are enabling employee interaction and a sense of unity, encouraging collaboration across teams or departments while offering employees a greater voice. This is particularly important when workers, whether they are directly employed by the organisation or not, are increasingly working remotely, or spread across the globe.
These digital tools also offer immediacy in gaining insight into issues that affect employees and their work, which is crucial at a time when, according to data from internal communications agency Gatehouse, nearly 70% of organisations rely solely on annual employee engagement surveys for feedback. And a worrying 12% do not measure the impact of their communications at all.
Aside from boosting engagement and productivity, internal communications is also crucial in ensuring that employees share positive experiences and messages of the brand within their own networks.
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In today’s digital world, it is unrealistic to expect every communication to be channelled through an in-house marketing department. For this reason, it is now more important than ever before that employees are trained in the art of communication.
Teams should be encouraged to engage across all channels in a way that is simultaneously on-brand and yet authentic. This relies on not only robust brand guidelines, but also a central point of contact to act as a sounding-board for queries. Digital technologies are shifting the balance of power and, as such, managing customer brand perception is now heavily reliant on how messages are communicated internally.
Additional data shared by the European Association for Internal Communication reveals that 64% of practitioners firmly believe internal communications will gain greater importance in the coming three years as it both matures as a specialist discipline and gains greater attention within the broader communications function.
Brands with longevity are built from the inside out, and employee engagement should never be overlooked as a vital element of an overarching brand and marketing strategy. Ultimately, increasing productivity and improving performance can be linked to an engaged workforce. And employees have the potential to be a company’s most passionate and authentic brand ambassadors – they are an audience which you cannot afford to forget.