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 be,coming even more important â€“ and less obvious to the naked eye.
Historically, â€œinternal communicationâ€ referred to communication focused on employees, and â€œexternal communicationâ€ focused on all other stakeholders: customers, potential customers and government officials in particular.
Why internal communication is bigger than â€œemployeesâ€
But shifting the focus to employees ignores a prevalent trend at the heart of nearly all businesses today: that the â€œworkâ€ 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 â€œvisitorsâ€ whose ranks may include consultants and others more casually on the company payroll.
From â€œworkâ€ to â€œparticipationâ€
The definition of â€œworkâ€ 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 â€œownedâ€ by the organization through employment contracts, it is now more of a function of the extent to which they participate actively in the organizationâ€™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 organizationâ€™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 horizon for far-sighted internal communicators.