A company has many pathways for communication, running internally and externally. As a company grows, it becomes necessary to better regulate these channels for the sake of your business interests. Communication policy and procedures need to be written out in clear, straightforward language for all employees. During the process, you may find it necessary to separate internal and external communications into different policies. This article covers external communication policies and procedures. Part 1 covers internal communication policy.
In this article, we will cover the aspects of an external communication plan that should be addressed to build a strong policy.
External communication policy and procedures are meant to give your employees guidance for handling information, either outgoing or incoming, that pertains to the organization. The focus should be on spreading important news and information to the public, your customers and stakeholders. By creating clear rules, your goal is to avoid liability issues and embarrassing or damaging situations for your brand. A lot of things fall under the umbrella of external communication – press releases, direct mailings, financial records, newsletters and more – and you need to consider all of the ways they play a role in shaping your image and reputation for the community, future customers and investors.
Policies and Procedures for External Communication
The question should not be whether you need to take the time to form an external communication plan, but rather, what you should include in your plan. Communications with the public are inevitable. By taking the proactive step in adopting formal policies and procedures regarding external communication of information, you can give your employees the tools and guidance they need to handle these situations in your preferred manner. You will also be putting yourself in full control of the creation of your ideal public image and reputation.
There is more to external communication than simply managing ingoing and outgoing information with media outlets – though that should be an important aspect of your policy. Depending on the nature of your business, your communication policy should include matters such as lobbying discussions, the handling of investor inquiries, the disclosure of nonpublic information to investors and other external partners, how information sharing should be handled at conferences and presentations and how to respond to the release of unintentionally leaked information.
Each organization will have its own unique cases, too. Educational institutions may include guidelines on providing subject matter expertise, for instance. Take a look at all of the external entities your business interacts with including other businesses, partners, customers and so on. By including each type of entity in your policies and procedures, you can unify and standardize communications.
Contingent upon your level of activity on social media, you may expand external communications on social media into a standalone policy. Even if you aren’t very active on social media, you likely still have a presence, and if not, you should. Social networking for your business opens up great opportunities for you to positively influence your brand’s reputation and increase brand awareness. Moreover, a mismanaged social media presence carries significant risks for your business.
ComplianceBridge recently recorded a podcast explaining all you need to understand about the creation of social media policy. We discuss everything from disclaimers, cybersecurity and the creation of a consistent brand voice. You can listen to it here.
With so much information coming into your organization, it may be a smart move to appoint authorized spokespeople to handle specific types of inquiries. You may need to have several spokespeople to properly handle communication with local media, the investment community or trade media, depending on their particular knowledge of the organization. Your chosen spokespeople will be a huge help in organizing and streamlining information sharing. You’ll be much less likely to leave inquiries unanswered or respond with misinformation when communications are filtered to the proper individuals.
When starting thinking about building an external communication plan, many of the scenarios that likely come to mind probably involve dealing with a crisis of some kind. You should always hope for the best, but plan for the worst, especially when the future of your business could be at risk. A “crisis” will be different for everyone, but broadly, these are situations such as natural disasters, accidents or criminal activity that may have resulted in damage or loss of property or lives. Often, crisis events are fast-moving, so it’s important to have your policies and procedures laid out and formalized beforehand so your team can respond quickly and effectively.
When responding to the public, there are a few things to remember. First, your organization should describe the steps you’re taking to manage the crisis. Have a plan of action in place before you begin answering external communications. You should also avoid speculations, assumptions or personal opinions; stick to the facts. Don’t disclose sensitive information such as the names of individuals involved until after you’ve spoken with them or their families. Most importantly, be sure that your business is accessible and truthful. During a crisis, you have an opportunity to set the tone of the reporting during the aftermath. Staying quiet is almost never the best option. Even if your honest answer is, “I don’t know,” it’s still important for the public to see you aren’t hiding information.
Press releases are another major area of your external communication plan. They should go out anytime your organization has something of import to announce. This can be anything from new hires, product or service releases, awards or honors, philanthropic endeavors or other relevant organizational news. Press releases are the best way to get your message in front of external entities such as your customers or stakeholders in the business community, and they can be very versatile. Not only can they be helpful for communicating with media outlets, but you can also publish them online or post them on social media.
To ensure information isn’t prematurely disclosed in a press release, be sure your external communication plan details a review process. You may also want to set a review deadline that guarantees a press release will be approved at least 24 hours before publication. For instances where your organization could be included in a third-party press release, you should make it policy that all such requests require review and approval. You must consider how your public association with a third-party might be interpreted and if this will be good for your business.
Have a Plan for Your Policies & Procedures
Having an external communication plan is the first step in finally managing your business’s public image and providing helpful guidance for your employees on complex, nuanced matters. A plan is just the beginning, though. You’ll need to formalize your do’s and don’ts in policies and procedures that everyone in your organization will know they can rely upon. Policy management software streamlines policy creation, automating delivery, attestation and implementation companywide.
TotalCompliance from ComplianceBridge is a complete policy creation and management software. Work collaboratively on one central document, and review content before it’s published. Tools for policy writers include version control, messaging, reminders and notifications to help approval move along smoothly, and a templating system makes the formatting and creation a breeze.
Dissemination of policies to your employees only takes a matter of minutes with TotalCompliance, as well.Send to single individuals, groups of employees or distribution lists. When new policies and procedures are sent out, employees are notified to acknowledge and test their comprehension of new material. Quizzes can be as simple or complex as you need them, using a variety of question types. Monitor attestation efforts in real-time.
Make TotalCompliance part of your external communication plan. Request a demo with us to learn more about how our robust policy and procedure management software can strengthen your organization!