Internal and external communication: are the differences really that big from a measurement point of view? This episode is about how measurement of external and internal communications can be aligned and how the last boundaries inbetween are going to fall.
As expert on this topic, Steph Bridgeman joins us on the show. Bridgeman has been working in the PR measurement sector since 1999, she supports media monitoring agencies, media evaluation consultancies and PR companies with flexible freelance knowledge. Learning her trade in the earned media content analysis space, she also works with owned, paid and social media data to provide counsel to external comms departments and marketing teams. She has worked with clients across all sectors: finance, pharma, government, consumer and NGOs to assess media sentiment, strength of message delivery, reputational strengths and weaknesses. And, since 2021 she is also on the international board of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC).
Bridgeman did not have her first board meeting yet, but as she has been involved for 22 years in the industry, seeing it change and grow. She is a so-called individual member at AMEC, part of a group that run our own consultancies or are freelancers. In the past few years at AMEC, she has been really active on their education committee, working on an introductory course for those new to the media monitoring and measurement and evaluation sector. She plans to continue the work on the education committee and hopes to find opportunities for connections, particularly amongst the individual members, to work together.
Media Content Analysis: benefits and problems
Bridgeman’s core business is media content analysis, analyzing media coverage, news coverage and social media coverage as well. It’s about analyzing the earned media, looking at what’s being said about an organization, normally from an external point of view, what’s being said by journalists, influencers and other stakeholders. It’s about analyzing sentiment, how favorable it is towards the organization or towards an issue perhaps about looking at the messaging and other factors that could be affecting reputation.
And increasingly, its not about one data source, but about incorporating that with lots of other data sources – information from in-depth stakeholder research, analytics data from organizational internets and social media posts.
“Increasingly now [media content analysis] is about blending different data sources together, and I think that that might have some similarities with how you measure internal communications too,… a lot of that boils down to similar kinds of metrics, I would imagine.” Steph Bridgeman
How media analysis has changed
Our last episode was about how natural language processing will revolutionize the way media is being analyzed. But Bridgeman does not think people will be made redundant by machines any time soon. A lot of what media analysis teams traditionally do changed a lot. When she started out, they would know how busy their day would be by how many sacks of posts the postman would bring. Humans would then log on every piece of information about that news coverage onto a database.
Now, as media content has been digitalized, a lot of that comes with the metadata already there. This allows companies to pay humans to do the things that humans are good at, e.g. analyzing sentiment or understanding sarcasm, Bridgeman says. Analyzing social media slang is almost like analyzing a whole new language. At the moment she thinks we’re still at the stage where the humans need to teach that AI to behave like a human.
The job shifted though from counting to interpreting data that are not yet combined, not yet blended. This is what analyst will do more often in the future. A human mind is necessary to make sense of the dashboards and make a decision based on the data, says Bridgeman. And you also need humans to carry out the changes within the organization for that information to take effect. She says digitization so far helped to elevate the role of a consultant because, with the task of data and processing taken care of, analysts can concentrate on the consultative tasks.
“How will the system ever going to be able to find these nuggets of insight that we as humans can sometimes do by just changing the brief, halfway through a project. We see a pattern, imagine it merging and we go down a different route and sometimes, that’s where some of the more interesting insights are actually found.” Steph Bridgeman
Why internal comms is more important these days
These developments concern internal communications as well as external communications. In the past, internal communications always seemed like the ugly sister of external communications. The teams were smaller, the budgets were smaller. The teams were expected to trickle certain messages down from the top management to everyone. Regardless of what employees wanted to know, information was distributed top-down. Today, we treat our internal audiences maybe more like we would treat external audiences, taking them seriously, carefully packaging information to cut through the noise, being more service oriented. Internal communications seems to have become much more important.
White collar employees in global companies receive an overflow of information. They are checking external communication on top of internal because they are interested in their brand and the competitors. With blue collars, it’s much more difficult to engage them in a dialogue, And at this point external communications and internal communications have changed. It’s no longer about top down communication, it is about conversations, about inspiring excitement and engagement and different ways in which you can do that, says Bridgeman.
“An awfully important change to point out ist the importance of the upward communication, as well as the downward communication.” Steph Bridgeman
Companies strive to work with intrapreneurs, to enable their employees to help develop the company further. For that, they need to treat their employees as partners, to offer them inspiration and information that helps them to think out of the box. Leadership communication has become more important, the more with so many people working from home in 2020, says Bridgeman. She thinks that there is no longer the need to go through the manager necessarily in order to communicate. There can be a direct conversation between the CEO and the person right at the bottom. That is a parallel to how external communications have changed through social media: brands being able to directly communicate with their audiences without the interference of a journalist.
Measurement of internal and external comms growing together
Another feature that takes the boundaries down is the newsroom concept, integrating all stakeholders in a content hub to decide there what content is served for which stakeholder with which channel.
Also, there is a shift from a push model (like a daily internal newsletter via e-mail) to a pull model (providing information on the intranet). Bridgeman considers this interesting, for the interaction can be counted easily when it’s on the intranet. Also, the shift has a positive effect on the environment with less data being sent often pointlessly around the globe.
This seems to be a complete change of mindset: in order to make people pull information, the content needs to be attractive, helpful and relevant. Dialogue means wanting to hear the stakeholders’ opinion about the content and what else would be helpful for them. But sometimes big organizations seem still afraid of what people might say internally. It’s not possible to stop internal discussions, occurring in the coffee kitchen, by walking around the company buildings, from creeping out to the external world. Maybe fear pushes those conversations out into the open, says Bridgeman. And, in any case, she thinks it’s sign of poor leadership to not be able to deal with the negative views within the organization or even keeping this feedback from the superiors. But she wonders if people behave differently in this situation now it’s effectively all being digitalized and activities can be tracked to employees.
It seems a question of company culture. Taking employees’ feedback serious can take a lot of work and preparation, maybe comparable to the preparation for an investor conference. Some companies avoid these conversations and to try to co create happy places on their intranet. But anyway, controversial or happy, it is digital content that could serve as an early indicator prior to surveys. The comments, the sentiment could be helpful to assess the discussion culture and the culture in the company and the result of internal communications too. Across both internal and external communications the metrics have become more numerous.
One big opportunity in internal communications is that communicators really know their target audience. And if they start measuring outreach, they can measure how many people are of the target audience they have reached. In external communications that it is much more difficult.There’s an awful lot of estimation going on in external communications’ reach calculation in terms of how many people actually did read an article.
“With measuring reach to a target audience or reach to specific audiences, I think you can probably trust the internal comms reach metrics better than you can for the external comms”. Steph Bridgeman
Core metrics of measuring internal and external comms are not so different
From categorizing items into broad topics to being able to focus narratives and responses, onwards to breaking it down into business units to assess why a certain field internally is more favorable towards the leadership lessons then another, there are similar metrics in external comms measurement. Also social media metrics like reactions or engagement with content begin to straddle both internal and external comms.
“For example CEOs with a big LinkedIn following or big Twitter following communicating through their own social media channels – what proportion of that is actually due to an external audience versus an internal audience? It’s important to count the responses, the likes, the comments, the shares. But do internal staff who are responding to social media content count as external people? Internal comms and external comms teams should think about that overlap in their audience and how they can use their assets more collaboratively.” Steph Bridgeman
Bridgeman believes there is a lot of similarity between measuring internal and external comms and that communicators should collaborate more. It can be a lot easier to measure internally. When conducting e.g. internal surveys, the participation rates are much higher than what you would expect from an external survey. So you’re getting more information.
On the other hand, you might have a problem with tools, for example a tool like Facebook Workplace, which provides not the same measurement options as you get for every external Facebook Page. Communicators might not be marketing, but they still need the good filter opportunities, maybe the same analytics behind this to be effective in their communication. Internal tools are lacking the analytical capability that external tools often have because their business model is to attract companies to do advertisements.
Our key takeaways of this episode
- Obviously the boundaries aren’t there anymore. They are only in the organizations, how they organize things, but in the terms of the topics and how they should be communicating, the boundaries are already down.
- The methodologies are the same, basically internal and external communicators are trying to measure the same things, using similar indicators, oftentimes even the same.
- Internal comms has it easier to accomplish some of these things because they have to work with less assumptions than external coms
- There’s still some homework to do for companies, to teach the tool providers which kind of data they need..
The budget for internal communications is often scarce, and the budget for measurement even more so. But if companies do their homework. communications managers should be able to prove the value of what they’re doing to the organization and how it pays into the strategy of the organization. Maybe tp the degree that better discussions with the top management to then also say what communications could be doing for them.
Get in touch with Steph Bridgeman via
- Experienced Media Analysts
- Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC)
Bridgeman’s career in PR measurement started in 1999 at Metrica. Her consultancy, founded in 2004, provides media insight services (powered by Experienced Media Analysts – that’s the name of the website too) to the media intelligence and measurement industry. Steph also works with PR agencies and organisations directly to provide guidance on best practice measurement. She has served on AMEC’s Young Leaders and Education groups and supports organisations of all sizes with their ambitions for measurement maturity.