What can Internal Comms learn from marketing?
Like it or not, Internal Comms is the Cinderella of the modern corporation. We are asked endlessly to tidy up after others, clear up the mess, given thin resources and even less thanks, while other services – PR, marketing, external comms, IT, even HR – get all the attention. When were you last invited to the ball?
In recent years, the advent of social tools has meant we have heard endless promises of how things could change. And undoubtedly some businesses have produced compelling case studies of transformation led by introducing them. And, in a lucky few businesses, the transformation has been led by Internal Comms themselves, who have championed and embodied the behaviour change, mentored the bosses to understand how to use the tools to get their message out, how to listen in to what their colleagues are saying, how to make people feel good about their work successes.
But all too often, the fine words come to naught, as the need to support the new tools with training, with engagement and adoptions programs, and with business change planning has been ignored in favour of “delivery”. This is an especially common experience when IT takes the lead in giving the business tools it thinks it ought to want but doesn’t properly understand.
Not surprisingly, many talented, inspirational and energetic IC professionals have found that their efforts to introduce social tools have produced underwhelming results.
What can be done?
One option is to take a look at marketing, and think how they use social. Of course, they use social media channels to get their messages out there, to reach the key audience segments wherever they are. But they do more than this. A good marketing or social media team will also be listening, holding conversations, engaging. Not just listening to the direct feedback, but more indirectly they will listen to what the market is doing, how customers are making their purchasing decisions, what they need and what they are saying about the brand. All of this is vital information to a business which wants to be able to deliver on its brand promise and to stay ahead in the market. And it’s information that social tools, and the analytics behind them, are uniquely capable of providing.
But there’s more. The marketing team won’t just broadcast the brand messages, listen in to the market, analyse customer behaviour. It will collate and collect all this data, and present it back to the business, so that vital decisions can be taken – new products, new markets, new pricing, whatever’s needed to stay ahead. A marketing team that failed to take this step of feeding back to the business would soon be out of work.
How does this relate to Internal Comms? Well, an Internal Comms team running an internal social platform doesn’t just put messages out. Through the conversations and engagement it can inspire, and through the analytics it can run, it has access to a huge amount of information about the people who work there, what they are doing, what they know, what they want, what they feel. They can find out how those same colleagues work together, how they make decisions, how they learn, who they interact with and who they avoid.
In short, IC professionals are in a unique position to know, in detail, how the business and the brand look, from within the business – just as a marketer will know how the business and brand look from the outside.
Yet how many of these IC people take the next step of feeding back what they know to the business? If no-one takes responsibility for acting on the knowledge that the social tools produce, then who can be surprised if the business treats them as an add-on that needs no support when times get rough?
The most agile, future-proof businesses are those that are prepared to be transparent, to break down the walls between internal and external, and to see everyone who works for a brand, and who purchases it, has a vested interest in the success of that brand, and have all sorts of interests – even passions – in common. If this is so, then IC people must see the “internal” part of their job description not as a pair of blinkers to block off any distraction from outside, but as the central focus of a gaze that can range much more widely.
IBM amongst others have identified that staff who use social tools internally for their work are likely to bring in 50% more revenue than their less socially-active colleagues – irrespective of whether or not they use external social tools to promote the brand. Probably social behaviour leads colleagues to be more efficient or effective, but beyond this, it leads them to be brand advocates, to be natural (if informal) marketers, to see that working for a brand and purchasing a brand are two sides of the same coin, inseparable.
If all your colleagues are or can be informal marketers and brand advocates, then so can you. And that means learning from how the more formal marketers go about their business.