Finding the right signal for modern comms

Believe it or not, “internal corporate communications” has a history dating back more than 150 years. It’s obviously changed a lot but actually, in essence, much remains familiar.

Given that history, the disruption of the traditional communications function is not unexpected and not something to be feared. Professional communicators should see the shift as an opportunity to refresh their roles and work with businesses leaders to encourage them to be the ‘real deal’ — ultimately driving better business outcomes.

In addressing the fear many organisations are talking about taking the social media plunge, consultant and writer Euan Semple makes a blunt assessment of how management is playing out in large organisations today.

“A lot of management is about tidying things up and making things look organised,” he says in this video. “If you try and make everything look tidy, all you are doing is killing some of the potential signal and you miss stuff.

“You want lots of conversations, lots of stuff happening so you get lots of signal.”

That view packs a punch when I think about the state of internal communications today. 

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" The digital economy has disrupted the traditional flow of information inside and outside organisations."


Once, being effective involved building relationships with leaders and counselling them on how to best deliver messages in a transparent way. Much of our work involved managing one-way communication with fairly limited feedback channels.

IC operatives were effectively broadcasters with considerable influence over the company signal — what would be communicated and when. Life in IC was a reasonably tidy affair.

Three key points

  • Get used to applying your skills in a broader role — beyond IC — as a connector in your organisation.
  • Address the trust deficit — teach leaders to be their authentic selves and engage the social influencers in your organisation.
  • Be social, work out loud and be generous in sharing what you have learned in your IC career.


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Source: Edelman Trust Barometer.

Today the digital economy has disrupted the traditional flow of information inside and outside organisations.

Trust in media, NGOs, business and government is in decline and we consider our peers to be as credible as experts when it comes to information about companies, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

New technology is transforming how we engage with one another and get work done. People rely on the networks they have created but staff engagement remains stubbornly static.

No longer are we tidying up communications or acting as information gatekeepers.  Today a different kind of fearless is needed from IC to find the signal and facilitate business progress in a changing, messy, digital world.


The Arthur Page Society in the US highlighted this ongoing evolution of communications in a report on the Future of the Chief Communications Officer.

“Our roles are increasingly moving across the spectrum from elements still within the remit of the function,” the report said, “…towards the performance of the company which requires deeper degrees of collaboration and involve multiple responsibilities that the comms function does not own.”

Here’s a lived example: around two years ago, my team and I worked with our technologists to lead the deployment of ANZ’s first enterprise social network (ESN).

At the start of this project the conversations we had with our businesses were about connecting people to enable collaboration and bring leaders closer to them. Next we became drawn into conversations about taking the use of social to the next level — doing ‘the business of the business’.

This involved coaching newly minted community managers to marry existing data with ESN analytics to determine if they were on track to achieve hard business goals. Today we’re even intertwined in conversations about focusing on key platforms from a user perspective rather than as pieces of technology to keep alive.

Trust deficit

The increasing use of social media is leading to the rise of the wirearchy, where even relatively junior people can be extraordinarily influential based on the shape and size of their online networks.

An organising principle identified by futurist Jon Husband, the wirearchy is putting a blowtorch on traditional leadership communications and engagement.

Social media creates greater transparency in a low-trust world and IC professionals can ill afford to keep writing sermons from the mount. People can spot a message that’s not genuine and will quickly dismiss it.

Smart IC professionals know we must strike a balance in enabling unfettered — and at times chaotic — conversations to take place around our organisations while coaching leaders in how to find and engage with the signal personally and with humility.

Yes, it’s likely to be a harder road to travel with leaders who prefer a command-and-control style of communications but IC will never address a trust deficit by perpetuating inauthentic leadership communications or by ignoring the voices of powerful influencers— no matter their job grade.

No ifs or buts

It should go without saying but in a digital world you need to be social.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting out in your IC career or have been around for a little while — if you’re not being social it’s like you’re standing in the corner of a room at a party by yourself. 

It’s impossible to encourage others to discover new ways of working if you haven’t experienced them. Experiment with different social channels and identify what’s will work for you, personally, professionally or both.

Next, nurture your networks, work out loud and be generous in sharing what you’ve learned in your IC career with others who may benefit from your experience.

Do it without expecting anything in return. Over time, I guarantee the social world will have a way of rewarding you for making this selfless contribution.

Rita Zonius is Head of Internal Digital Communications at ANZ

A version of this story originally appeared in the ebook: Disrupting the Function of IC – a Global Perspective


The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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