Internal and external communication: comparing and contrasting
Communicating is essential for any organization, organization defined as a group of people with a common goal, to be as efficient as possible in achieving its purpose. There must be a proper flow of information not only internally but also externally.
Internal communication and external communication similarities
As to be expected, both communication types in organizations share common basic elements found in communication theory:
1. They both have a sender and a receiver
Employees, managers or shareholders can seamlessly switch to either role in internal communication and, while roles can also swap in external communication, they nevertheless involve not only internal actors but also actors with no connection to them whatsoever. In this case, they could be actual or potential clients, the media, public administrations or anyone outside the organization.
The aforementioned sender-receiver role swap is particularly important, especially in external communication, where the emergence of digital media has enabled receivers of organizational communications to adopt a more active role, thus converting external communication into a bidirectional channel.
2. There is a shared code for encoding and decoding the message
The communication policies and standards of an organizations determine the correct interpretation of messages in that environment. The same can also be said, though only in part, when we send messages outside the organization. Understanding and working with the codes of each target audience thus proves to be essential, otherwise the messages may only be interpreted as noise in the communication.
3. A transmission channel is necessary
Of course, internal and external communications must both have a channel to transfer the message from sender to receiver. Internal communication channels may range from mere verbal communication when dealing with face-to-face talks to any digital support such as an intranet.
External communication is similar in that. Mass media can also be used to achieve a broader dissemination of the message, though usually at an elevated cost. However, the relentless progress of digitization has also enabled the segmentation of receivers at levels virtually unimaginable only a few years ago, so that we can now personalize messages to get the desired reaction or influence in each case.
Internal and external communication differences
Both communication types clearly differ when looking at them in terms of such factors as purpose, characteristics, participants, etc. However, two basic elements that make them diverge could be:
1. Receivers and their identity
Taking into account the role swapping among senders and receivers in both internal and external communication, most organizations have accepted that it is more beneficial for communication to flow both ways in either case.
It is nevertheless easier to identify participating individuals in internal communication. With the necessary determination and whenever there is a minimum communication policy in place, any sender (at other times receiver) is typified within a company or institution.
Locating external communication participants to such a degree is a much more complex endeavor. A few decades ago, the obstacle was the difficult practical segmentation of the receivers of messages sent by organizations, since existing technical resources could not be precise in that regard.
Digital media changed that drastically, though now the difficulty lies in handling data that can be obtained in real time. We can only get an approximate idea of our target receivers by adequately analyzing data concerning traffic on websites, mobile applications, platforms and social networks. The ability to adapt to such a large amount of information must be much faster and only some organizations really manage to function fluently in such a changing environment.
2. The objectives
Internal communication mainly seeks to identify and share the organization’s objectives with its members at the global, department, team or even individual level. Creating a better working environment, one that favors productivity thanks to having everyone in the organization work together, is one of the ultimate goals of internal communication.
External communication, in turn, attempts to send the desired information to receivers outside the organization. In this regard, external communication requires a strategy so that all outbound messages are coherent and consistent with the values and brand of the company or institution sending the message.
This brings us back to what both types of communication have in common, namely the need to work in unison and in collaboration to achieve organizational objectives. An organization’s communication policy should consider these two types of communications when developing a message, since any worker, collaborator or member could become an outward sender. Any misalignment between internal and external communication messages will emerge eventually, consequentially impairing the organization’s image while also setting the achievement of its objectives back considerably.