The distinction should be rather obvious. Internal communication occurs within an organization between members of the staff. External communication occurs between the organization and the outside world – typically customers and consumers.
Yet, some businesses are trying to make communications skills so much more complicated. It is becoming a trend for organizations to make content that does double-duty, informing both employees and the outside world of goings-on at once. Ostensibly, by doing this, they can eliminate slow and costly internal methods of communication and improve transparency with their paying audience.
However, businesses rarely consider the disadvantages of this communication strategy. Before you start uninstalling internal messaging services or disabling external social media, here’s what you should realize about the differences between internal and external communication.
All About Internal Communication
Not to be confused with intrapersonal communication – which is the sensing, thinking, evaluating, and interpreting a person does within their own mind to understand and respond to communication – or interpersonal communication – which is the exchange of information, ideas, feelings, or opinions between two or more individuals – internal communication is strictly related to the transfer of messages within an organization.
The primary purpose of internal communication is to allow different individuals and departments to share information, so the business can more seamlessly find success. While the scope of internal communication depends largely on the size of the organization, there is typically little distance between senders and receivers. Thus, communication can occur relatively smoothly because messages can be directly sent and understood.
There are two types of internal communication: horizontal and vertical. Horizontal communication occurs between employees, departments, and divisions of the same level. Often, horizontal communication occurs through instant messages, emails, and face-to-face conversations. Conversely, vertical communication is the transmission of information through different levels of an organization’s hierarchy. Because professionals at different levels do not frequently interact on a daily basis, this communication typically occurs in meetings and through memos. It is largely vertical communication that some businesses are hoping to eliminate by blurring the lines between internal and external communications.
All About External Communication
External communication is a much broader category of communication and thus much more difficult to define. An organization can participate in external communication with other organizations, groups, and individual consumers as long as these exist outside its formal structure. External communication is performed to maintain relationships with external parties, for example to establish and sustain loyalty in a buying audience.
In the past, external communication occurred less frequently than internal communication – and rightfully so, as consumers needed to know less about a business’s maneuverings than employees did. However, as consumers have developed different buying habits, as they have become interested in patronizing those businesses that uphold their values, and as businesses have amplified their marketing efforts, external communications have increased in quantity and scope. Now, businesses are not merely responsible for occasional advertisements; they are engaged in constant contact with the outside world in attempts to improve their company communications and become the brand that all consumers support.
As a result, more and more internal communications are doing double-duty as external communications. In fact, within many organizations, external communications are consuming internal communications entirely.
Pros and Cons of Blurring the Lines
Social media is largely responsible for blurring the lines between internal and external communication. Because many employees have long been using social media for customer service, many businesses have implemented social media messaging as internal communication. However, as consumers gained interest in organizations’ inner workings, many businesses recognized inefficiency in sending several messages with the same content. Thus, they combined internal and external communication into a single venture.
An optimistic example of this is twitter accounts that tell the stories of the employees at a certain company. This accomplishes two worthwhile goals: engaging employees and improving the brand. However, other organizations are merging internal and external communication with less positive results. For example, in 2014, Microsoft published a memo both internally and externally that detailed a massive 12,500-employee layoff deep within its text, so many affected employees didn’t know until half of the world was writing about it in the news.
There are some communications that should always remain internal, no matter how beneficial business transparency becomes. Therefore, businesses should always have discrete internal methods of spreading information between and among employees – methods that can’t be confused with those used to market to consumers or contact other groups.