Being an internal communicator can also feel a bit like an endless battle sometimes: you’ve got an ever-growing group of stakeholders each fighting for priority, and an ever-changing audience that’s constantly demanding a more advanced experience. Yet, just like everyone’s favorite vigilante orphan, being ready for anything can turn a no-win scenario into a success story that cements your place around the boardroom table.
Building a robust communications capability
Picture the scene: you’re hanging onto a rope ladder, feet dangling dangerously close to the shark-infested water beneath you. Any moment now you’re expecting to see two jaws, wide open and full of sharp white teeth, bursting through the waves to snap shut around your leg. In short, you’re in trouble – unless of course you’re Batman.
Bruce Wayne isn’t a mythical god or an all-powerful alien from another planet, but somehow he’s held his own in a world full of supervillains. His secret? Great planning. When he’s about to get eaten, he’s got a can of shark repellent on hand to dispatch his attacker. When he’s facing impossible odds, he’s got a grappling hook ready to lift him to safety. Whatever the universe throws at him, Batman is ready.
Being an internal communicator can also feel a bit like an endless battle sometimes: you’ve got an ever-growing group of stakeholders each fighting for priority, and an ever-changing audience that’s constantly demanding a more advanced experience. Yet, just like everyone’s favourite vigilante orphan, being ready for anything can turn a no-win scenario into a success story that cements your place around the boardroom table.
Plan for every eventuality
Unfortunately, the real world isn’t quite as simple as a graphic novel, which means that relying solely on pre-planning isn’t going to cut it. How many times have you designed an entire campaign and rehearsed all your answers to the questions you think you’ll be asked, only to have your audience take you by surprise and react in an entirely different way? If you want to be ready for this, you need to stop planning for one eventuality and start preparing for any outcome.
Take COVID-19 as an example: most communicators had some form of crisis communication plan in place, but hardly any of those plans survived contact with an unprecedented situation that put a complete stop to face-to-face communication for months on end. The organisations that bounced back the fastest were the ones agile enough to find new ways to solve problems they hadn’t foreseen. That level of agility is the real gold standard of a robust communication team, and it’s built on intimate knowledge of the contents of your toolkit.
Know your tools and use them well
Start with your channels: what do you have, who controls them, and what are they commonly used for? Once you know how to get your messages out, you’re ready to assess your expertise. For example, do you know how to make the most of each channel, and who you might rely on to keep those channels fresh and active? These questions form the basis of a channel strategy, and answering those means you’ll be able to identify the best medium for each of your messages.
If you think you’ve got a comprehensive strategy in place, try testing it by selecting a random channel and imagining what would happen if you lost it. Which messages will need rehoming? Will you be unable to reach a particular audience segment? Almost all channel strategies have pockets of exclusivity – where one type of message can only be delivered over one channel. Solving these dependencies will therefore make reacting to change so much easier.
Stay flexible, stay ready
Once you’ve got your arms around your channels, it’s time to focus on the actual content you communicate – as well as the way you communicate it. Almost three quarters of organisations feel they implement their tone of voice through internal communications, but as messages fragment across channels and media, how able are you to retain that ‘essence’ in new and novel ways? As a communicator, you need to be the expert when it comes to making messages look and feel as intended, no matter the medium. Take a moment to ensure your guidelines are flexible enough to be applicable whenever the business wants to try out a new way of communicating.
When you not only know how to communicate but can also teach others, you become the go-to expert for every communication need. But beware that this is a double-edged sword. It means you’re going to be asked for a hundred different things and chances are you won’t be an expert on everything. Keep your advice flexible enough to apply in situations you might not predict: that way you’ll never be caught out by someone who wants to try something new. As long as your guidance can adapt to new channels and media as they appear, you’ll never be left behind.
Feedback is your friend
With a good view of where and how you’re communicating, the next step is to know who your messages are being sent to. But remember that good communication is always two-way. Implementing a good listening strategy means you can instantly advise on the reaction any given message evokes. It also makes it easier to quickly measure sentiment as you work through your comms calendar. Make sure you have ways to collect regular feedback from across your audience, as well as identifying key people or teams you can check in with for more nuanced information.
Don’t be afraid of feedback. As you create new ways to collate opinions from across the business, you’ll find evidence of things not being quite as positive as you might like. While it’s only natural to take this feedback to heart, think of it as a way to measure your future success instead – if your stats are perfect from day one, you’ve got nowhere to go but down. Some of the most valuable feedback you’ll get will appear negative at first, but if you focus on quantitative data rather than relying on basic stats, you can uncover new ways to answer concerns.
Your ‘why’ is your value
Perhaps the most important – and by far the hardest – element of your capabilities to define will be the ‘why’. Every message you send should have a defined purpose beyond your company vision statement. Even the dullest compliance message should have an objective that you can clearly articulate: if you can’t work out why you’re sending a message, then how do you expect your audience to react appropriately?
Answering the ‘why’ question might open up some awkward conversations with stakeholders who can’t understand why their message isn’t important. Don’t be scared to push back, but remember that being too much of a blocker will be counterproductive. Take time to re-educate your stakeholders on how to approach message creation, how to prioritise messages to fit into your natural cadence, and ensure they understand the wider communications landscape.
A robust communications team isn’t one that reacts instantly, knows everything, and has a plan for every eventuality. It’s a team that knows how to adapt to change, and how to apply consistent guidance across current and future channels. It’s a team that truly understands the ever-changing world of their audience. The more you know about the environment you operate in, the faster you can react to change, and the more valuable you become to the business.