I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people who work as part of internal communications teams.  Intranet Now, CIPR Inside and many of the companies I’m working with these days are packed full of people helping their colleagues work smarter, be happier and understand the workplace more easily.

Internal communications is one of the toughest disciplines: over-worked, often under-funded, sometimes misunderstood by the rest of their organisation.  Not listened to when times are good, and told to solve low morale when times are bad.

Unlike marketing or press office where a multitude of obvious online channels mean there’s no shortage of opportunity, I have sometimes found it difficult to know how to pitch digital with internal comms teams.

Lately, those teams that I have known for a good few years seem more confident and feel less restricted than in the past. I have started to notice a proper acknowledgement that staff conversations take place outside of official channels. Five years ago, internal communicators told me that if a colleague complained about something at work, on social media, it didn’t count. That was a relatively small Government department, but big organisations responsible for tens of thousands of staff, like NHS Employers, have since developed some good work to better understand the role of digital for staff.

In amongst the pitches I heard from LinkedIn in the past 12 months, there have been some good examples of how this platform’s popularity is shining a light on roles and responsibilities. Organograms confidential in your organisation? Unlikely.

And when I invited Tom Warner to present to a room full of senior civil servants, there was an audible gasp when he described Glassdoor. Scary stuff if you still believe in the possibility of influencing where and what staff say about their workplace.

I loved working in an organisation where Yammer, far from being a corporate messaging tool, was the place to go and complain about the toilet flushing mechanism. Which, it turned out, was much further up people’s list of concerns than blogs from board members.

So, with comments, reviews and conversations about workplaces taking place everywhere but the intranet, it turns out there is a very important digital role for internal communications teams. It doesn’t look a whole lot different to digital in marketing or press office:

  • first, give your audience the information they are looking for
  • understand how to listen
  • get involved with the conversation, as you, not The Management
  • be prepared to work outside of owned platforms

There’s an interesting read here about how internal communications teams can go further with their use of digital, and social media in particular. Health warning: you need to do the bits above, really well, before you start asking for online support from staff.