How to deal with blurred boundaries between internal and external communications

It is no longer the case (if it ever was) that messages communicated with staff will stay inside the organisation.

In the age of social media everyone now has the opportunity to broadcast to a global audience, so you want to make sure your employees aren’t saying anything they shouldn’t. All it takes is an internal email to be forwarded to a journalist, or for a rogue employee to tweet their grievances – as in this case with HMV – and suddenly all the corporate dirty laundry is out in the open.

What to do

The way to combat this isn’t to force employees to secrecy, but to embrace openness to begin with. It’s no longer enough to target different messages at internal stakeholders (employees), and external stakeholders (everyone else with a stake in the organisation). Both groups should be receiving the same, consistent messages, although of course the methods used to communicate those messages will probably differ.

Of course you’ll want to communicate with staff first, and it helps for staff to hear messages directly from senior management.

How it helps

This ensures staff don’t hear messages from external sources before receiving the information from their own managers. This is important because communication from managers has been shown to improve employees’ trust of the organisation, which in turn boosts staff engagement. It also means that the organisation is behaving in a more authentic way and not telling two different stories internally and externally. All the trust that this builds up helps to ensure that important news isn’t leaked before it’s ready for the outside world.

It can be argued that all internal communication is ultimately a means to improve relationships with external audiences. For example, training employees on corporate values is a way of communicating those values to people outside of the organisation through the attitude and behaviour of staff. So it makes sense to view all communication, both internal and external, as two sides of the same coin.


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