Why internal communicators are beating ourselves (as illustrated by Beyonce and Breitbart)
BY Mike Klein
One of the most prominent features of Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign was her reliance on celebrity surrogates to take her message to like-minded audiences around the country. Whether it was politicians like her husband Bill and President Obama, or performers like singer Beyoncé or controversial rapper JayZ, the surrogate force allowed the campaign to cover a lot of ground with programming to energize live and supportive audiences.
At least that was the theory.
Indeed, if one looks at Abraham Lincoln’s timeless laws of running political campaigns, the idea of having people who have high credibility speak to targeted audiences is one of the most sensible campaign tactics imaginable. (Law number 2: “For those who are undecided, send someone in whom they trust to persuade them)
But then this happens:
The inflammatory portrayal of the event on Breitbart, a news service targeting Clinton’s most hostile opponents, brings Lincoln’s law number four to the surface: the imperative to "turn out the 'Good Whigs'” on “Election Day.” This means “don’t turn out anyone else!”
It does little good for a political campaign to make great effort to mobilize their supporters…if they also end up mobilizing their opponents. But Hillary Clinton is hardly unique.
Indeed, nearly all internal communicators beat ourselves with the same blunder every day.
Internal communicators are spectacularly good at mobilizing, antagonizing and agitating the opponents of the initiatives and activities they are paid to promote.
To a large extent, this is the fault of a number flawed strategic demands over which they have little influence:
“Engage everyone”: the standard view that internal communicators should try to spread messages to all employees and maximize awareness as a matter of principle
Maximize visibility: the desire of sponsors to see banners and desk drops and other all-pervasive visuals, even if moving them into the space of skeptics and resisters produces unnecessary friction
Measure eyeballs: the measurement philosophy that focuses on the number of readers and viewers rather than their social relevance or positional importance
Present initiatives as a done deal: the idea of positioning support as mandatory, or enen claiming success as having been achieved before the facts line up—which fuels cynicism and perhaps even outright sabotage
As the world moves into potentially a more contentious business communication culture reflecting the current political tone, an internal communication approach that does not deliver clear strategic benefit to businesses will become increasingly unsustainable.
Influencer identification and mobilization can help internal communicators focus on their target objectives more effectively, reducing friction, opposition and cost
Influencer identification and mobilization also communicators to understand their populations better.
Through the use of one of a number of survey methods, communicators can identify the most influential peer communicators (informal leaders) and get some useable insights about how those informal leaders perceive and prioritize the main items on the organizational agenda. Then, they can shift a key portion of internal communication away from broadcast channels and towards those leaders—who actually drive most of the main internal conversations anyways—thus reducing the excess visibility and noise that is harmful to initiative success.
Some organizations start with pilot programs, others focus on shifting part of their organizations, and other develop full-blown social maps covering the entire enterprise.
Shifting from the indiscriminate “engage everyone” approach to one that focuses on the real informal leaders doesn’t just make internal communication more efficient and effective…it also changes the terms.
Internal communications pro with a bent towards increasing impact while reducing noise and friction. Former US political consultant, London Business School MBA. Tribal loyalties include IABC, EACD, Tottenham Hotspur FC and the Wisconsin Badgers.