We’ve all heard it before, communication is key. And after all these years, it still rings true — especially in the world of marketing. Today, a brand’s communication strategies are increasingly vital for long-term business success.

However, if you’ve been considering a re-evaluation of your organization’s approach to communication, it’s essential to assess both your internal and external comms. Making the most of these distinct messaging efforts, while finding a suitable balance between the two, can go a long way toward reaching the right people, with the right message, at the right time — all for the benefit of your business. 

With this in mind, let’s dive into the key differences between these approaches, the best practices to incorporate for both and how to find a strategic alignment that works for you. 

Internal vs. External Communications: What’s the Difference? 

Before looking at the top strategies for optimizing each communication method, it’s critical to understand what distinguishes these approaches. Some of the most notable differences between internal and external communication are:

  • Audience: An internal audience encompasses an organization’s employees and members, while external channels are used to reach parties outside of the business such as customers, shareholders, investors, clients, the general public, suppliers and more.
  • Goal: Internal efforts aim to exchange information between various business units and departments. Alternatively, external messages focus on communicating with external parties.
  • Flow: Internal messaging is designed to flow within the organization, while external communication circulates in the external environment. 
  • Formality: Both forms of communication can be formal or informal, however, the majority of external efforts are formal and highly documented. 
  • Frequency: Internal and external communication are both regular, but as you might’ve assumed, there’s a lot more opportunity for internal comms — making it a much more frequent occurrence. 
  • Preferred modes and means: Within these distinct approaches, a brand can leverage many communication channels, but the preferred and most effective means are different for each (we’ll dive deeper into that a little later).

These approaches to organizational communication are clearly distinct and valuable for their own intentions, but they’re certainly not mutually exclusive — which is just a fancy way of saying that internal and external communication is happening simultaneously, with a number of intersections that keep them connected. 

So, what are some of the similarities to take into account in terms of business communication methods?

  • Internal and external communication both have considerable influence over the growth and productivity of an organization.
  • Multiple channels can be leveraged throughout each communication approach.
  • Thoughtfully considered and conceived messages are critical for success. 
  • Messages aren’t designed for one-way communication, but rather to foster valuable conversations.
  • Regular feedback can be used to modify them along the way.

Taking a Closer Look at Internal Communications

Communication is considered internal when ideas, information, facts and opinions are exchanged within the organization itself. When it comes to good internal communication, some of the most popular communication channels that are used to exchange messages today include:

  • Personal contact.
  • Business phones.
  • Email.
  • Intranet.
  • Workshops.

Keep in mind, your options don’t end there — not even close! The consistent advancement of technology means your organization has access to a host of modern tools that can support and improve your internal comms. Moreover, the growth of the digital workplace is giving teams more opportunities for valuable communication and collaboration.

As you start to take a closer look at your unique internal communication strategy and the adjustments you should make moving forward, there are two main types to note: 

  • Vertical: Internal communication is considered vertical when it occurs between employees on different hierarchical levels. This includes downward communication, from managers or leaders to employees, and upward communication, from employees to leaders or managers.
  • Horizontal: Communication can be horizontal, on the other hand, when messages are being exchanged between employees on the same hierarchical level. 

So, What?

Internal communication is inevitably necessary for every organization, but fostering a system for effective internal communication is a different story. In fact, the majority of employees feel like they’re missing out on company information and news — which makes more sense when you consider that most companies don’t have a long-term internal communication strategy in the first place. 

Good internal comms are crucial to ensure individuals and staff members across the business stay informed, as well as support developing organizational objectives. Essentially, providing an efficient flow of information between an organization’s departments and colleagues — which applies both up and down the employee/management chain — helps outline communication plans for driving business results, organizing resources, training, appraising and more, all while motivating employees to reach their full potential. 

Top Strategies For The Best Results

Effective internal communication is a linchpin in increasing employee engagement and business growth. Here are some of the best practices to help you get there: 

  1. Ensure consistency: Communication might be key, but without consistency, it’s considerably less effective. A strategic and effective internal communications system can guarantee steadfast messaging across all departments and levels.
  2. Take advantage of metrics where possible: The best way to continuously improve internal comms is to incorporate systems for measuring an organization’s current performance. With greater insight into daily operations, you have a clear view of what communication approaches will be necessary moving forward to enhance outcomes.
  3. Assess, strategize and devise: When all is said and done, effective collaboration, feedback and consistency rely on your initial communication strategy. Taking the time to understand your specific messaging needs and building out a comprehensive plan of action will make the company more efficient in reaching internal communication success. 
  4. Implement channels for feedback: A strong internal communications program will have systems in place for consistent, two-way feedback. This ultimately encourages open conversation across an organization. 
  5. Avoid information overload: One thing to be wary of along the way? Communication overload. Internal communication is not only helpful, but a necessity — up to a point. This makes it critical to communicate regularly, but only what’s vital.

Understanding the Role of External Communications

External communication, on the other hand, refers to the exchange of information between the company and any other person or entity from the external environment. These external stakeholders — which often involve customers, suppliers, investors, clients, dealers, society, government agencies, the general public and more — inevitably have a considerable impact on an organization’s business. 

How So?

Well, external parties are ultimately the groups or individuals that interact with your brand, whether that means monitoring business activities, buying products and services, creating basic expectations, etc. And while different stakeholders can have different needs from the company, it’s safe to assume that their opinions matter, and these key parties and their level of engagement hold a lot of influence over your organization’s long-term success.

Organizations typically document external comms, which provides valuable guidelines for how all information and messages should be shared with an external audience throughout day-to-day business matters. For most brands, top leadership will likely take charge of refining and delivering these messages through predefined channels. Some of the common external channels that brands leverage for successful business communication include:

  • Website content and blogging.
  • Advertisements.
  • Social media.
  • Live events and conferences.
  • Email and newsletters.
  • Client meetings.
  • Press releases. 

While the channels for effective communication are practically endless, bear in mind that external communication can also be both formal or informal.

  • Formal communication: External communication is considered formal when structured and professional items are intentionally created for brand communication, which might encompass anything from carefully created letters and reports to presentations or web pages. Note: external comms are generally formal, and they are often regarded as the initial step toward building the appropriate corporate image.
  • Informal communication: Conversely, informal external comms are something that organizations can’t regulate directly. Instead, this type of communication is spontaneous and generally arises through personal contact. This is incredibly valuable considering just how powerful word-of-mouth can be for your brand.

The Best Practices to Leverage

Effective communication created for an external audience is meant to inform the outside world about the organization’s work and quality. The following are common strategies to do this successfully:

  1. Know your audience: To the average marketer, this might seem pretty obvious. But, it’s worth repeating every time. Having a thorough understanding of who you’re talking to is the cornerstone of communicating with external parties effectively. This will ultimately serve as the foundation for all of your marketing efforts
  2. Be deliberate with your chosen channels: With a clear knowledge of your audience and brand identity, you can strategically determine the external communication channels that are most supportive to your messaging or objectives. 
  3. Keep customers involved: Your customers are incredibly close to your brand, products or service — likely closer than other external stakeholders. Because of this, it’s beneficial to keep these key parties involved, as they can offer feedback and help you understand how your brand is being viewed at any time. 
  4. Provide value every step of the way: Providing value is at the heart of any external communication strategy. As a result, this value should be weaved throughout your content, while avoiding fluff, to better connect with these audiences and provide the most positive experience along the way. 

Creating a Unified Communications Strategy 

At the end of the day, both internal and external communication are fundamental for a business to grow and function properly. Internal communication channels are often a keystone in informing, guiding and motivating employees to work with higher efficiency for the benefit of the organization, whereas external comms are valuable to build a good image of the business to the general public. 

However, the most effective way to foster a positive company culture, improved customer and employee experiences and long-term business results is through a thoughtful alignment of these communication strategies. 

By creating a unified communications strategy, your external and internal efforts can go hand-in-hand to help your organization:

  • Strengthen strategic alignment.
  • Boost brand image.
  • Craft more effective messages.
  • Improve engagement (in employees and customers).
  • Build long-term trust.

While every brand will inevitably require and leverage a unique combination of internal and external communication approaches, a comprehensive strategy will be the foundation for superior marketing results for years to come. 

Samantha Finley is a Brafton Content Writer in Texas with a background in social media coordination. Her creativity extends beyond her work life, as she's also a competitive hip-hop dancer, choreographer and now teacher.