One prediction making the rounds in early 2010 is that of far greater integration of internal and external communication, as employees are likely to be recognised as playing a more crucial role as the outward face of their organisations, and form a far more critical focus to external corporate communications and reputation management.
While this is not an entirely new trend, the accelerating uptake of social media, which circumvents traditional communication flows inside and outside organisational walls, and above all its ability to turbocharge the spread of news and rumours, leaves organisations exposed like never before, with customer-facing staff in particular often left to act as front-line spokespeople.
At the same time, social media also offers organisations some attractive benefits:
* timing–satisfying the desire for instant and efficient communications, and allowing key messages to be distributed with appropriate dispatch
* mapping–helping to identify meaningful internal communities and communities within the market, and within them, the people who influence others
* relevance–allowing employees greater flexibility in subscribing to communications that they wish to receive
* targeting–building on community mapping to provide alternative local sources of news and credibility to relieve pressure on line managers, who while a favored communication channel, are often overburdened and unreliable
For some time, despite a reputation for spin and superficiality, PR professionals have recognised the need for meaningful dialogue with external stakeholders. More recently, they have recognised the increasing importance and influence of internal stakeholders as well.
The recent embrace of social media in the public sphere has helped highlight the realisation that employees, as they also operate as citizens, consumers and often, churchgoers, both operate and communicate within other influential stakeholder groups and use mainstream social media tools to do so.
For their employing companies to engage them as advocates interacting with local communities and politicians, and at a broader level customers and shareholders is an intriguing if challenging prospect; one which could benefit considerably from the expertise of the Public Relations profession to produce effective and positive outcomes.
Mike Klein is a Brussels-based communications pro specializing in internal communication and its interactions with other communication and PR disciplines. A one-time manager of political campaigns in the US, Mike is an MBA graduate of London Business School, a former Senior Consultant with Smythe Dorward Lambert, and has worked with major UK companies like Barclays, Reuters, easyJet, Cable & Wireless and Diageo.