Intercomm: how internal + external communications integration will become the new frontier

You’ve seen a lot of posts and articles recently foretelling the trends and technology that will be winners in 2010.

I thought I’d put out a prediction–or two–for the year 2011.

By the time the next New Year’s rolls around those of us in marketing and consulting will be talking all about how external and internal communications have to integrate with each other—and both have to align with business strategy.  And the first  part of this new trend we should consider is the internal.

Everyone talks about marketing and social media affecting the enterprise—but it’s all about how companies talk to their customers.  But we don’t talk much about internal communications—I mean, like not at all.  If you look at most corporate organization charts there isn’t even a person responsible for internal communications.

Doesn’t that seem weird?  We rely on managers in divisions, newsletters and intranets to communicate internally.  Maybe some company meetings and training.  But mostly it’s And now that the era of the Social Internet is upon us, social media will effect internal communications in two very powerful ways:

  1. More and more people inside companies will be in contact with customers.  We will see tens of thousands of employees talking to customers instead of hundreds.  A lot of this will happen in what we refer to as real time– in-stores, online.   This means all those employees need to be on the same page with each other.  How does this happen?
  2. Communications inside companies will organically rely on more and more on social media frameworks for communicating within the enterprise—peer to peer, one to many, many to one. So the CEO may still send out a quarterly message, but it’s going to be in a much, much larger mass of social communications.  This is also going to dramaticaly increase between companies that are strategic partners.  How does this evolve?

So, one prediction is that internal communications will be the great frontier for business communications in 2011.  And companies will be scrambling to outperform each other in building effective internal communications in order to better service customers and to become more nimble.

“Walking the walk” is going to become more and more transparent, and the only cure to get on your feet is internal communications.  It’s the new frontier.

My second prediction is that how internal communication is integrated with external communication—will be the second new discipline we’ll be talking about in 2011.

I call this integration intercomm—integrated communications from business strategy throughout the enterprise and then to customers.  Intercomm is the future art of creating and managing communications through the enterprise. This includes business strategy, branding, messaging, language and communications throughout the enterprise, strategic partners, and clients and customers.

It will be delivered in a new social world where transparency—and the resulting demand for authenticity–make this a critical problem for companies to solve.

Intercomm has to be planned and executed holistically because successes and mistakes will be amplified in real-time.  Without Intercomm companies may preserve the tidy divisions of marketing, stores, and corporate communications but at their peril.  Customers, starting with high ticket B2B markets, will demand greater access and response from the companies they might do business with.  Strategic partnerships will have to operate more seamlessly.  Switching costs for clients and customers will be pushed downward and any company’s strategy for differentiation will depend on how the walk and the talk align in real-time.

(BTW, I have one more 2011 prediction: that the word brand will slowly be replaced by the word reputation—but that’s another post)

The Social Enterprise began to emerge in glimmers first among Internet based businesses like Amazon and Dell and emerging social networks like My Space, Facebook and now Twitter.   But almost at the same time brick and mortar businesses like banks, airlines and phone companies began moving big chunks of their commerce and customer service to the Internet.

Marketing has been stretched across all of the other disciplines of the enterprise, including supply chain management and vendor relationships.    Communications has become so pervasive inside and outside the enterprise that no one discipline can coordinate the communications of the entire organization.

Among corporations, IBM is a leader in internal communications and the move to the Social Enterprise.  Here’s Jon Iwata, SVP of Marketing and Communications at IBM, talking about how social communications are become integrated into the backbone of the company:

Now we are seeing the “atomization” of communications between the enterprises and customers.   I wrote last week about Texas Instruments community for developers called E2E (translation: engineer to engineer) that allows 9,000 members to talk in forums and peer to peer with engineers throughout Texas Instruments.  The result has been a 6X increase in requests by E2E members for chip samples for prototypes.  In addition, TI gets ideas for improvements to chips from members of the E2E community.

Is this marketing? Sales? Customer service? Research and development?

You might say it’s that it’s all of those types of communication.  This kind of B2B community does contain marketing and product messaging, and yes it’s transactional, and yes TI now has a specific service relationship with the individual engineer requesting a chip sample for a product prototype.

But it’s more accurate to say that this is social communication that accomplishes many of the goals of marketing, branding, sales, customer service and so on.

It’s important to acknowledge that this kind of social relationship is both old and new.  We have to admit it is an amalgamation of the traditional organization of corporations because these organizations are comprised of people who have been trained and are experienced in these disciplines.  There’s really no one in most corporations who has specific skills in social networks and social relationships.  Some marketing people are skilled in “loyalty” marketing. Some sales people work in businesses with high customer service requirements like computers or food service.

In enterprise software companies its common for someone to hold the title of SVP-Product & Marketing—there’s a direct link between their clients and the product feature development process.  These software companies have also sponsored or worked with user groups of customers, both in listening for ideas and for providing support.  These kinds of organizational structures offer some bridge to the new social future

But it’s important to acknowledge that this is a new form of relationship between customer and corporation.

And it’s going to require an evolution in how companies communicate internally to deal best with the customer, and then deliver to the customer.  Intercomm is the discipline to make that real and internal communications is the new frontier where it will be built.

I want to post more on how Intercomm can be conceived, planned and executed in the next few days.  Please, I look forward to your comments.

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About Rohn Jay Miller

I'm a strategic designer who works with clients who are transforming their business models because of change brought on by the Internet. Solving disruption is often a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Previously I was a founding partner of Ikonic/USWeb in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President--Product & Technology for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

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