Even though your organization may have officially designated spokespeople, the truth is that anybody from your organization who speaks publicly—be it at an event, on the phone, or on a social media feed—is representing you.
Organizations make significant investments of time and money to educate the public, the media, potential donors and partners about their work. But they often miss one of their most important audience: their own staff.
It may not be intuitive, but it’s critical, especially in times of organizational change, to engage your team with the same energy you would for external audiences.
Let’s face it, communications teams spend hours strategizing (and agonizing!) how best to engage external audiences. Hours upon hours are devoted to crafting, executing and analyzing everything including presentations to donors, newsletters to supporters, social media posts, and pitches to journalists.
But staff can be an organization’s biggest ambassadors and, at times, its greatest critics. Intentional internal communications efforts play a critical role in helping employees feel knowledgeable, connected, and appreciated. Plus, it can help extend an organization’s reach to new audiences.
Your internal communications goals can fit into three categories:
- Alignment, that is your staff and your leadership are all moving in the same direction.
- Engagement, which creates a greater connection and commitment to your mission, vision and organizational goals.
- Ambassadorship, where your staff is so passionate about what they do that they will act in ways that amplify the organization’ mission, including helping you reaching new audiences, talking about the work positively in public and on social media, which all serves to build your brand and reputation.
Think of this as an opportunity, not a warning. Non-profit organizations that don’t have formal communication or marketing departments can cultivate a team of ambassadors and spark a culture of communications.
Your staff is some kind of wonderful
Internal communications should command the same strategy, planning, and execution that goes into your external communications efforts. This can help get everyone on the same page and moving toward the same goals, which in turn creates a more cohesive strategy and reduces confusion and inefficiencies.
Plus, it helps maintain and strengthen trust among staff.
Again, internal communications should never be an afterthought nor thought of as an optional. It should be thought of as a must.
Internal and external communications should be linked
As you develop communications strategies to reach your audiences, you should think of your staff as both a target for your communications, and a smart way to test your messaging.
If you can’t convince your staff to buy in to your mission and vision, how can you hope to persuade donors and stakeholders?
Everyone is communicating in your organization, to their cohorts, and to external audiences such as friends and customers, so it is vital to work to harness these exchanges to advance your goals. Additionally, by explaining your purpose, practices, and processes to your staff—the same as you would to do for external audiences, you’ll be able to get that buy-in that is critical to getting things done.
The lessons from external communications can and should be applied to internal communications. For example, I adapted crisis communications techniquesto help manage organizational change.
And there are some big benefits for organizations put their workers first.
Fostering internal communications can expose new audiences to your work
Employees have families, friends and social media followers with whom they communicate—often beyond the reach of your organization’s official channels. In those situations, they are spokespeople for your organization—like it or not.
Of course, staff have the right in their private lives to speak about their jobs. The challenge is these lines are blurred when it comes to statements on social media that can be viewed by all. If you’re communicating well with your staff, this can inspire them to do their best work and share their passion with the world, exposing new audiences to your efforts.
The followers of your staff on social media likely aren’t the same as your organization’s followers. First 5 LA has nearly 8,000 followers on Twitter. If all of our staff to tweet out something, we could reach more than 50,000 followers, exposing new audiences to our work advocating for young children.
At the very least, the organization should educate their staff on the best ways to talk about their places of employment on social media and other public platforms.
Boost morale and motivate staff
Including staff in a communications strategy can be as simple as broadcasting their accomplishments. For example, it’s highly effective and encouraging to regularly post and share information about what a team or company has achieved. A sense of attaining goals together increases feelings of teamwork and progress and can help encourage staff to want to communicate positive aspects of their job to the outside world.
Internal staff as influencers
You also should look to your staff as an important messenger to help you tell your story.
A common mistake many organizations make is to carefully train individuals at the top of their hierarchies and in official communications roles how and what is important to share publicly. But plenty of information is going out through other individuals at all levels of the organization and failing to include them in communications efforts misses an important opportunity. You’ll also reap a bonus: Gaining feedback from staff at all levels to strengthen your understanding of what’s happening in the field and motivate staff by acting on it.
If you’ve ever seen “Undercover Boss” on CBS, some of the best solutions for challenges a business faces come from front-line employees who often feel their input goes unheeded. Internal communications that encourages constructive feedback can influence your work for the better.
Investing time and resources in communciations is a smart idea for any organization. It’s critial to include internal communcations as part of this investment. This will help:
- Strengthen your strategies
- Connect staff to your mission and vision
- Create a better understanding of your values
- Boost productivity and increase purpose
- Prevent misunderstandings and distortions
- Provide valuable feedback for managers
- Create a culture of communication
- Keep your brand promises
Internal communications is as important and necessary as external communications for the long-term impact and sustainability of your organization.
We live in an era when nearly everyone has a public persona constantly sharing information on social media platforms. In a way, every employee can be seen by the public as a spokesperson for your organization. They can share details of your successes, or they might express themselves in ways that damage the public perception of your organization.
That’s why you must have a deliberate strategy to equip, empower, and mobilize your staff to authentically represent your organization and to raise brand awareness with external audiences.
Everyone’s a spokesperson. Rather than fearing this, use it to your advantage.