Internal communications is dead. Long live… whatever comes next.

Emily Swanson
Feb 1, 2016 · 3 min read

Alright. I confess. I work in ‘internal comms’. And the declaration it’s dead provides me with immense satisfaction. That might seem paradoxical (but it’s what you do), self-defeating (does this mean you’re out of a job?) or self-loathing (actually I rather like my job — and love what it could be!) but actually it’s none of those. Rather, it’s a coming of age story; embracing ambiguity, and being excited about what’s next. Or instead. Or what never was, really.

Lost in the mire

I am very much what industry pundits would term ‘a generalist’; my professional background ranges from marketing to PR to varying breeds of communications— corporate, change, internal, investor, digital, employee and ‘other’. I don’t see this as a disadvantage, but rather think it’s one of my greatest strengths.

Because I have this range of experience and an abiding interest across the spectrum, I am better able to see where they overlap (almost everywhere), where one discipline has the edge over another (always blurry, and getting blurrier) and how they advance and develop.

Of these traditionally classified industries, marketing has been at the forefront, always. Maybe slow at first to embrace the digital space their audiences were playing in but now right up at the pointy end; harnessing data, influencing product and operating with agility. Expanding beyond the traditional leaflet factory and encompassing the gamut of customer experience wherever it might take place. Changing. Growing. Providing services and experiences. Being influenced by other professions, new ideas, new technology.

A case of arrested development?

Internal comms, by contrast, feels stuck in the dark ages. We shy away from measurement while insisting that we’re indispensable to corporate success. We preach values like transparency and accountability without showing willing to practice them ourselves. We are tasked with fostering ‘innovation’ — the current corporate buzz concept — without the aptitude or support to implement tools that might help do so.

But we bring it on ourselves. We draft presentations and ghost-write emails for leaders who are ‘too busy’ to do it themselves. We talk about channels and tactics like they’re the big picture, rather than a small part of it. We sit in HR, or marketing, or IT (rarely) but don’t know where we belong and are never everywhere we need to be.

We talk about enterprise social networks like they’re a new concept and email analytics like it’s something special. Like it’s different from what marketing have been doing for ever.

We hate Sharepoint with a passion (because we’re normal human beings) but get stuck inventing new creative curse words to describe the frustrations of using it. Every. Single. Time. And we say nothing at all about how rubbish it is or how building a traditional intranet is probably a complete waste of time and money.

And I, for one, find it frustrating that this is all we seem content to be. That we’re insular enough to think that we don’t need to change faster. That we’re arrogant enough to assume we’re integral without taking the opportunity to prove it. That we’re scared enough to think that this is all we can ever be.

So I want to talk about what’s next; what’s the more, the aspirational state, there where we could be if only. It’s a little to do with professional pride and a lot to do with the future of work, and mostly to encourage my own and others thinking about what we really can contribute in our privileged position as the people-formerly-known-as-internal-communicators.

Company culture is so important, and tools, and talking and the whole employee experience and that’s where I think we should be. Right at the front of it.

Emily Swanson

Communications person who aspires to be already living the #futureofwork. Loves include London town, travel, service design and people with a social purpose.

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