Internal Communication: Coping With The Digital Evolution

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How do professional communicators persuade Executive teams to consider social media for internal communication in their organisation? How can employees convince management of the value collaborative communication has and encourage them to participate? What social tools exist for internal communication?

Sound familiar?

Many companies have moved beyond such questions, are in the implementation phase, or are even years down the line in their journey. But for many internal communication professionals, the reality is they have skeptical senior leaders, a workforce requesting social tools and access, and chaos and confusion is reigning.

How do you cope with the digital evolution?

This was one of the biggest areas of concern (46%) identified by 2,200 professional communicators from 42 countries as part of the 2012 European Communication Monitor, the largest transnational survey on strategic communication.

It is led by professors from 11 renowned universities within the framework of the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPREA) together with the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD) and Communication Director Magazine, and sponsored by Ketchum.

Now in its seventh year, it addresses topics including CEO reputation, crisis communication, international communication, communicating with digital natives and the influence and status of the communication function.

You can watch a summary of the 2012 results below:

The 2012 results highlighted communication professionals’ biggest areas of concern including:

• Lack of understanding of communication practice within top management (84%)
• Ethical issues are more relevant than five years ago (58%)
• Coping with the digital evolution (46%)
• Linking business strategy and communication (44%)
• Addressing more audiences and channels with limited resources (34%)

At the start of this month I spoke at the annual Central Region seminar of the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) in Leicester, UK. The event was structured around these topics and I opened the conference by speaking on Coping With The Digital Evolution for the delegates, who were all internal communication professionals.

Conversations on the day highlighted how employees are more connected with technology than ever before and communicate collaboratively in their personal lives. However, when it comes to displaying the same traits professionally, anecdotal feedback reveals that once people shift into professional mode, collaboration often stops. This can be for a variety of reasons including organisational culture, technology limitations, geography and nature of roles. Or simply that the appetite is not there from the company’s perspective to cater to social diets.

The role of internal communication professionals is to join the dots, influence stakeholders and make smart choices to benefit employees and the company.

That’s always been the case, but it’s brought into sharper focus due to the internal scrutiny that exists around social media. It’s not true to say all senior leaders are skeptical; the call to investigate possibilities can come from them.

Coping With The Digital Evolution often manifests itself for internal communication professionals as a series of questions including: should I be ‘doing’ social media, how do I keep up with what’s happening, how do I introduce social communication to my workplace, what is available, how do I choose what suits my organisation, and should I be using social media personally to help me professionally?

Some of these topics have been covered in my previous columns: Why Use Enterprise Social Networks for Internal Communication and 10 Reasons Why Internal Comms Pros Should Participate in Social Media. I will be addressing the others in future articles.

I challenged the delegates not to view social media as something you need to ‘cope’ with, but to treat introducing something new into the workplace in the same way you would any other communication channel: with due care, attention, time and resources.

It’s not something you do ‘to’ employees, but ‘for’ and ‘with’ them.

In my chapter of Share This: The Social Media Handbook for PR Professionals, (Wiley, 2012) – Employee Engagement: How Social Media Are Changing Internal Communication – I highlighted some of the questions to ask as part of this thought process when thinking about introducing social tools:

• What am I trying to achieve?
• Who is my audience/publics 
• What do I want people to think, feel or do differently as a result of my communication?
• What action or behaviour am I driving?
• What’s my message?
• How will the conversation start?
• How can it be two-way?
• What tools and channels will I use?
• How will I capture feedback?
• What will I measure?

Note that the channel/tool you will use is towards the end of that list. The focus is on the action you are driving and what you’re aiming to achieve. Once you know the answer to the preceding questions, channel choice becomes easier. It then triggers other considerations such as budget and time.

Simply choosing a channel or social tool to be seen to use it will not work if you’re not clear as to why it’s the best choice for your culture and organisation.

In the words of the late Steve Jobs: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.” This is true for internal communication because you need to start with the communication and message and work back towards the technology and channel choice.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has just released its annual benchmarking member research: 2012/13 State of the Profession survey, which includes the thoughts of many internal communication professionals.

Around half of practitioners (51%) say that departments now work more closely with each other to share responsibility for social media management. My last column looked at the blurring of the lines between internal and external communication. These results suggest that shift has started.

The CIPR survey states ‘the biggest future and current professional organisational challenges are digital and social media developments.’ However, it also shows that ‘practitioners are well aware of the implications that the changes will bring, and can therefore be prepared to meet these tests.’

Jane Wilson, CEO of the CIPR says: “Our practice is moving away from having a primary media relations focus to embracing the opportunity presented to us by social media to participate in two-way conversations with our publics.”

How are you doing with your internal communication? Are you coping or hoping to cope with the digital evolution?

Rachel Miller
This monthly Social Media for Internal Communications column is contributed by Rachel Miller. Rachel is an Internal Communications and Social Media Strategist. She began her career as a journalist in 1999 and has worked in Internal Communications agency-side and in-house for global companies across the financial, automotive, healthcare and railway sectors. Rachel was named in PR Week’s Top 29 under 29 professional communicators in the UK list. She regularly speaks and writes on internal communication and social media and lives in London, UK. +Rachel Miller
Rachel Miller

@AllthingsIC

I consult, speak & blog on #internalcomms & soc media @ All Things IC. CIPR Fellow. Share This & Share This Too co-author @theICcrowd co-founder, Mum of 1+twins
Great brand hack from McVitie's http://t.co/CKFXCiBhq2 #MontyThePenguin http://t.co/84A8TRk475 - 4 hours ago
Rachel Miller
Social Media Marketing World

Comments

  1. Paul Thomas says

    I think all the questions we should ask ourselves as comms professionals are more than valid. Of course you should ask yourself “why” and yes, technology comes later.

    If those questions are sometimes
    hard for us, then they’re doubly hard for board level or business sponsors to get their heads around. So focus on business objectives because their own objectives will mirror these. If we as communicators can give context to how social and digital tools can help them reach these objectives then we get closer to what we all want.

    On internal/external – I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday (I sit in comms but spend almost all my time with marketing people) where I was asked if I wanted to join marketing. Because of my social/digital/web role there is still a big misunderstanding about where I should exist.

    The sooner organisations understand that this stuff is all pervasive and that the communicators should go where and when they’re needed most, the more connected we’ll all be.

  2. says

    Thank you for your comment Paul. I agree with your points, particularly around mirroring business objectives in any focus and providing the context to demonstrate the journey.

    Sounds like an interesting discussion! What was your answer to the query re: marketing? Thanks for taking the time to comment, Rachel

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