The Role of Internal Influencers in Communications Strategy
— March 23rd, 2023
Charisma? Confidence? Superior intuition? Or a magnetic presence? It’s hard to put your finger on it, but some people are just natural-born influencers. And we’re not talking about Tik Tok or Instagram here. Internal influencers within every organization are being written into communications strategies the world over.
Many companies have long relied on external influencers, such as industry experts, analysts, and thought leaders, to communicate their message. But the rise of employee advocacy has given way to a new breed of influencers—internal influencers. These key people, located within the heart of your business, can be crucial in shaping your organization’s employee communications strategy.
According to a study by HBR Ascend, 70% of employees are likelier to trust information about their company that they receive from their colleagues than from the company’s official channels. When you think about it, this makes a ton of sense. Who better to understand the decisions made by the leadership team than those directly affected by them? Who better to disseminate a new policy or initiative than someone “on the inside”?
The Ultimate Guide to Internal Communications Strategy
In this blog post, we’ll explore the importance of internal influencers and how they can make—or break—your employee comms strategy.
But first, let’s ensure we’re clear on what an internal influencer is and what they do.
What are Internal Influencers?
Internal influencers are employees who can shape their colleagues’ opinions, beliefs, and behaviors. Sometimes referred to as employee influencers, these individuals are highly respected and trusted by their colleagues. By leveraging their power, internal influencers can significantly impact your company’s culture and communications.
It’s important to note that influencers are not confined to the upper tiers of your company; they can be anyone from entry-level employees to executives.
However, all internal influencers share some common traits. They’ll often have specific expertise or skills that make them stand out among other workers; for example, they are naturally perceptive, they share astute insights, they possess excellent knowledge and experience. Other times, they’ll have a strong personality and natural leadership qualities, such as wisdom, empathy, self-assuredness, and charm.
Many internal influencers have an innate understanding of human emotions and how they impact people’s behavior and decision-making. Internal influencers with high emotional intelligence are better able to navigate complex social situations, build strong relationships, and influence the behavior of others.
Regardless of which category they may fall into, internal influencers are key players in helping your organization to improve communication, build employee trust, and cultivate a positive company culture.
How Do Internal Influencers Play into IC Strategies?
As we now know, internal influencers can significantly impact employee communications within your organization. They achieve this by acting as;
1. Role Models
As well-respected members of your company, the actions of internal influencers can have a powerful impact on their co-workers. For example, suppose a new wellness initiative or volunteer activity is announced, and an internal influencer reacts positively on a shared comms channel and engages in the new initiative. In that case, others are then encouraged to follow suit.
Internal influencers can also provide valuable feedback directly to you about the effectiveness of a particular message and how it can be improved.
2. Community Builders
Internal influencers foster community and collaboration, increasing employee engagement and participation in company activities.
Internal influencers can share their own stories and experiences with their colleagues, highlighting the impact and value of their work. For example, a customer service representative could share a positive customer experience they helped facilitate, demonstrating the importance of providing excellent customer service. This helps connect employees to your company’s larger goals and objectives and reminds them how their efforts contribute to its success.
Internal influencers can help to build relationships and networks within the organization, by connecting their colleagues with resources, opportunities, and people who can help them to succeed. This creates a more collaborative, supportive work environment.
3. Agents for Change
Employee influencers are seen as trusted sources of information within a workplace, and their endorsement of a message can inspire their colleagues to follow suit.
If an organization is announcing a policy change, internal influencers can act as change agents to help build trust in the message by sharing their perspectives. This can help humanize the message and make it more relatable to employees, increasing support for the policy change.
Internal influencers can be brought on board at the outset of the process to communicate the need for change, then encourage employee buy-in and participation, and ultimately facilitate the adoption of new behaviors, practices, or technologies. By leveraging their social capital, they can influence the attitudes and behaviors of their peers, making the change management process run smoothly and effectively.
4. Social Media Stars
Social media and influencers go hand in hand. The widespread adoption of professional social channels—LinkedIn in particular—has enabled internal influencers to elevate and amplify their personal brand and that of their employer. Internal influencers can use their platforms to share their work-related experiences, ideas, and insights with their followers in a way that is accessible and tangible, and because it feels so much more personal, more enticing than a company edict.
As a result, internal influencers can become the go-to source of information and viewpoints for not only colleagues and management but, crucially, also for potential recruits and interested third parties.
There are some obvious pitfalls related to this, which we’ll discuss later on, but companies are getting ahead of these challenges by creating internal influencer programs. Employee influencers are identified and then provided with training and resources to help them build their personal brands and increase their influence within the organization and beyond.
For example, Adobe has a program called "Adobe Insiders," which identifies employees who are passionate about the company and its products. These employees are given exclusive access to product releases and events and are encouraged to share their experiences on social media. Adobe Insiders has successfully generated buzz around new product releases and increased customer engagement. Other examples include “IBM Voices” and “Microsoft MVPs.”
5. Comms Champions
Finally, internal influencers can help to foster a culture of communication within the organization.
A report by SHRM found that companies with effective communication practices are 50% more likely to report lower employee turnover rates and are better able to make informed decisions.
By encouraging collaboration and sharing of information, internal influencers can help to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding business goals and objectives.
For example, let’s take a manager known for their excellent communication skills and ability to motivate their team. The company might recognize this manager as an internal influencer and task them with developing and delivering training programs and workshops that help other employees improve their communication skills. Their ability to influence and engage their colleagues promotes effective communication and helps to advance the goals of the organization.
How to Identify Internal Influencers for Your Organization
When identifying internal influencers for your company, look for employees who are respected and admired by their colleagues. They could be natural leaders, experts in their field, or simply passionate about their work.
At the same time, choosing internal influencers aligned with your brand values and messaging is essential. Seek out employees who are already acting as brand advocates and who believe in your company’s vision.
Once you’ve identified your internal influencers, provide them with the training and support they need to be successful. This may include social media training, content creation workshops, or easy access to resources and tools.
Internal Influencer Challenges
Here are a few things to bear in mind before you put together your comms strategy or begin a program for internal influencers.
- Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
Remember, any employee can hand in their notice at any time. It is prudent to build a team of influencers of varying ages and levels from across the business.
If an internal influencers program only focuses on a small group of employees or a certain demographic, it can lead to a lack of diversity and inclusion within the program. This can create a perception of favoritism and may alienate some employees.
- Inconsistent Messaging
Internal influencers may have different communication styles and preferences, leading to inconsistent messaging and confusion among employees. Guidelines and training are essential here.
- Think Omnichannel
Internal influencer programs may focus too heavily on social media, which may not be the preferred communication channel for all employees. It’s important for organizations to consider a variety of channels, such as email, Intranet, mobile and in-person meetings, to ensure that all employees are reached and engaged.
Tools like Poppulo’s Harmony platform mean the right information gets to the right people, wherever they are. This omnichannel approach can help to broaden the reach of your communications. Because it functions across multiple channels, it provides a flexible and effective way for employees—including influencers—to communicate.
- Conflicts of Interest
Internal influencers may promote their own personal brand or agenda over the organization’s goals and values. Again, those guidelines and policies must be clear, and in place from the outset!
The Ultimate Guide to Internal Communications Strategy
While external influencer marketing is a key tactic, don’t underestimate the people sitting right in front of your nose. After all, who else will be a bigger cheerleader for your company than a team member you have nurtured and developed?
By leveraging their relationships, expertise, and credibility, internal influencers can help to build trust, drive engagement, and achieve key objectives such as promoting policy change. And by recognizing and harnessing the power of internal influencers, organizations can improve their communications efforts and enhance their reputation.
The future of internal influencer marketing is bright, with companies recognizing the potential of their employees to act as powerful advocates for their brand and messaging. As this trend continues to evolve, companies prioritizing employee engagement and empowerment will likely emerge as leaders in this space.