Will the receding internal-external wall expand IC’s horizons?

 
IABC EMENA Region Vice Chair Mike Klein debates the fine line that divides the internal and external communication disciplines and audience in our latest Board Blog.
 
One of the perennially hot topics in the world of internal communication involves the extent to which it is converging with external communication.

Indeed, there is a strong belief, as expressed by Cameron Craig in this year’s IC Kollectif E-Book, ”Disrupting the IC Profession” that “the wall between internal and external audiences has not just come down, it has imploded.”

Even though social media and the accelerated speed of word of mouth have made it harder to keep internal and external messaging separate, the distinction between internal and external populations is becoming even more important – and less obvious to the naked eye.

Internal communication is bigger than “employees”

Historically, “internal communication” referred to communication focused on employees, and “external communication” focused on all other stakeholders: customers, potential customers and government officials in particular. 

Indeed, Shel Holtz, longtime internal communication expert, recently challenged the profession to shed the name “internal communication” for “employee communication” to reflect this traditional distinction and appropriately honor the central role of the employee.

But shifting the focus to employees ignores a prevalent trend at the heart of nearly all businesses today: that the “work” of the company is increasingly being done by people other than employees, and that there is a larger and increasingly diverse group of people whose participation in the organization is critical to its success.

In any office or factory or distribution facility today, you will likely see different color identification badges. One color for employees, for sure. But another for contractors, and another too for “visitors” whose ranks may include consultants and others more casually on the company payroll.

From “work” to “participation”

The definition of “work” itself is shifting as well. Promotional work in many sectors is as much done by happy customers on Instagram, Facebook, TripAdvisor and the blogosphere, and some of those advocates may even maintain direct advisor relationships with actual employees.

So, instead of the main distinction between internal and external audiences being the extent to which they are “owned” by the organization through employment contracts, it is now more of a function of the extent to which they participate actively in the organization’s value chain. 

This means internal communicators have an opportunity to seize.

By recognizing a shift in the internal population from employees to participants, and by considering that channels and voices outside of an organization’s ownership have a role in influencing organizational participation, the opportunity emerges for a more strategic, dynamic and influential role for internal communicators. The wall between internal and external messaging may have imploded, but in so doing its fall has opened a new space for far-sighted internal communicators.