Internal and external audiences are converging according to some communications professionals or people involved in implementing and managing digital workplaces. The design of both internal- and external-facing channels sometimes reflects this view, for example with a social media feed appearing on the intranet homepage, or a website open for the general public to view which predominantly includes content aimed at an internal audience.

However the majority of internal- and external-facing channels are still considered separately, due to the different needs, characteristics and intended calls to actions for the audiences. For example, a recent post from Mike Klein used an analogy of the variations between rugby and American football to explain the differences between internal and external communications.

I agree with Klein that audiences are fundamentally different in many respects, but that doesn’t mean considering these audiences in isolation when designing internal and external digital offerings and producing related content.

Look at global workforces — they are incredibly diverse, but content is still produced which is intended for the entire workforce. Should we consider internal and audiences together more often?

The Consequences of Separating Audiences

Considering internal and external audiences separately usually results in the internal employee experience being de-prioritized. For example, years ago when visiting a well-known UK high street furniture shop, I was unlucky enough to experience the employee bathroom. The toilet was dirty, crumbling and cramped, which was grimly ironic considering the customer showroom was packed with brand new gleaming bathroom suites.

Here was a company that clearly had prioritized the customer experience well above that of its employees. In this instance, there appeared to be no interest in investing even in something as basic as a clean bathroom. It perhaps was not that surprising then when the company became a high profile retail victim of the global financial crisis.

This pattern plays out in digital projects and channels as well. Compare intranet and website spend, or the maturity of custom enterprise mobile apps and those intended for customers if you don't believe this.

This happens for multiple reasons, ranging from shareholder expectations to internal reporting processes to good old-fashioned short-termism.

Structural reasons can also play a part. For example, many internal and external facing digital projects and teams tend to be separately funded, managed and delivered. It's quite possible that the bathroom situation mentioned above was in part a result of lack of coordination.

Internal and external audience needs are rarely considered together apart from at an application level, and that tends to focus on the employee interaction with the system, not the whole employee experience of it.

Taking the Holistic View

Some larger programs take a more holistic view. Sometimes they come in the guise of wider digital transformation programs, which view the internal digital ecosystem as an enabler for the corresponding external digital ecosystem, from both a process and cultural point of view.

Taking a more holistic view of the needs of internal and external audiences results in multiple benefits, including:

  • Employees who are more likely to be advocates of your products and services
  • A more joined up and seamless customer experience
  • A more consistent brand experience for everybody
  • A digital environment optimized for end to end processes
  • More engagement from focused groups such as the supply chain, alumni or participants in customer loyalty programs
  • A more integrated and efficient digital workplace
  • Convincing digital channels which attract new hires

Identify the Common Ground

Taking a more holistic view means considering what employees and external customers have in common and identifying synergies between their needs. This can aid in planning channels and content, as long as it doesn’t lead to designing channels or producing content based on the lowest common denominator.

For example, here are nine elements that internal and external audiences may have in common, which could inform and influence the design and approach of digital channels and related content. Note that the focus of the “common ground” may be quite different for B2B and B2C companies.

  1. Both experience digital channels in general: Both audiences consume digital, so do you have optimal and high quality usability and accessibility standards across internal and external channels? Do internal channels go through the same usability testing as websites?
  2. Both view your corporate website: Your employees read website content too. Relay content on the corporate website to internal employees via internal channels, and make sure that content aligns with internal messaging.
  3. Both may have similar professional backgrounds: Perhaps more relevant for B2B and professional services, access to some of the same technical and professional content can be of value. Audiences have similar professional and cultural reference points for content.
  4. Both may need to track the same processes: Internal and external audiences may both want to track the progress of the same process or transaction. Can both be served by the same view of progress for their own information needs and can this also allow staff to help customers with a common reference point?

  5. Both need to access company and product information: Could your external audiences actually directly benefit from accessing the same company and product information designed for your internal staff? And vice versa?

  6. Both may have worked for your organization: Some of your external audience may be alumni. Could they continue accessing some of your internal channels after leaving to drive loyalty, advocacy, referrals and even encourage them to return as an employee?
  7. Both are customers of your organization: B2C organizations likely have employees who are also customers of the organization. What experiences do internal staff have as external customers? How does this impact their view of your organization and attitude towards customer services?
  8. Both are brand advocates: Brand loyalty is exhibited by customers and employees, and can be vibrant and vocal in social channels. What’s the relationship between any brand advocacy programs you run inside and outside your organization?
  9. Both may support users: User support, particularly relating to technology, is still primarily an internal process but increasingly external communities are answering queries within open forums.

The Common Experience

Personalizing channels and content is still a major way to drive value. However, I believe internal and external audiences sometimes have more in common than we give them credit for.

Considering common experiences across both of these audiences can give us new ideas for how to design both internal and external digital channels, which in turn drives advocacy and maximizes efficiency.

Title image by Kent Henderson