Sarah Browning, freelance internal communications specialist, reflects on how far the internal communication profession has come in the past 20 years and offers advice as the sector enters a new phase.

25th June 2018

We are no longer passive consumers of information, we want to be actively involved. With everyone able to produce their own content, what does that mean for our role as internal communicators?


At the recent Big Yak unconference, the subject of our changing role as internal communicators came up frequently; the implications of the new ways that people communicate and how we can use our skills and expertise to continue to support our colleagues.

This is an exciting time for our profession, but can also be unsettling as we negotiate our way forward.

I think it’s fair to say that when I entered the world of work in the late '90s I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. Having followed the well-trodden path of school, university, travelling, I finally came home and went into a local recruitment agency to find employment.

I was duly dispatched to a pensions administrator role. Not my dream job, but they were offering a decent salary and a large team of after-work drinking companions. And that’s where this story might have ended, were it not for the fact that once a month our team received a newsletter, giving updates from around the business.

I was fascinated to discover that there was a small team whose job it was to find the stories (or be told what to include) and write the newsletter. I made it my mission to get to know the team and find out more. Then I told anyone who would listen that I wanted to do that job too, until finally an opportunity arose.

And so my career in – and love for – internal communication began.

We have come so far
The profession of internal communication has come so far since the late 1990s. At that time, the team was known as “the girls who do the newsletter”, in a vaguely derogatory way.

There was some recognition from managers that the newsletter was a way to get information out to staff, but I doubt very much that anyone knew why. Or that any thought was given to two-way communication or understanding the audience.

As long as someone was producing something, a box could be ticked and leaders could move on to thinking about ‘real’ business.

Over the years, internal communicators have been upping their game, demonstrating their worth and proving that we make a positive difference to our organisations and their success. There is still a way to go, but today we are far less likely to be simply the people “doing the newsletter”.

That is down to our collective determination, persistence and professionalism. I am sure I wasn’t the only one who felt proud when the old Communicators in Business organisation became the Institute of Internal Communication in 2009, reflecting reality and demonstrating aspiration to develop more.

The story continues
Having established ourselves first as credible producers of meaningful content and channels, then as a strategic partner to deliver content and channels in service of business goals, we are now witnessing another shift.

As the way we communicate in our lives changes, mostly due to digital channels that enable anyone to communicate anything to more or less anyone whenever they want to, so employees expect to be able to do that internally. We are no longer passive consumers of information, we want to be actively involved.

With everyone able to produce their own content, what does that mean for our role as internal communicators?

There is some concern among some of my colleagues that if people produce their own communications, they won’t do it "properly". This usually refers to bad grammar and punctuation, but I think we need to look at the bigger picture. Communications don’t need to be perfect, but it would be a shame to lose that sense of purpose, audience understanding and strategic delivery that we have worked so hard to achieve.


Tips for our new role
As internal communicators we now need to coach and support our colleagues to understand the "why" and "who" of effective communication, not just provide them with the "what" and "how". Here are some ideas for where to start:

  • Build relationships with key communicators and influencers in your business, so that you become their trusted advisor. It is far easier to influence how they communicate if you are a credible voice who demonstrates that you understand their concerns and motivations.


  • Talk to people about their stories, help them to identify what will interest their colleagues. Individuals don’t always recognise that their experiences will resonate with others.


  • Provide simple, easy-to-use narrative structures that employees can use when telling their stories. Tools that make them feel supported will build confidence as well as skills.


  • Recognise leaders’ personal communication styles and suggest opportunities that play to their strengths. For example, an introvert may be comfortable having one to one conversations with a few key influencers who will then spread the word more widely, rather than standing on a stage in front of everyone.


  • Set up skill shares to help others understand why, when and how to use the communication channels available. Use videos, calls, face to face events or whatever channel works best for your business.


  • Share widely the knowledge you have of the different audience groups within your organisation. When employees are focussed in their own departments and locations, the silo mentality can build up and effective communication is difficult. As internal communicators, we usually have a broader view and understanding.


  • Develop a mind-set where you see your role as facilitating conversations between others, not broadcasting messages.


Whatever you choose to do, there is a world of possibilities in the future development of internal communication and we can continue to make a positive difference to our organisations’ success. For me, that’s a really exciting prospect.

Sarah Browning is a freelance internal communications specialist, working with organisations to help them identify and solve business problems that can be addressed by an effective, planned approach to communication delivery. She works with large and small organisations from a range of sectors including not-for-profit, higher education and local government. You can follow Sarah on Twitter and read her advice on improving communication at


We are no longer passive consumers of information, we want to be actively involved. With everyone able to produce their own content, what does that mean for our role as internal communicators?


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