The digital age has changed the landscape of workplace and employee communication; the evolution of social media tools has presented opportunities to engage employees on a cultural foundation of collaboration.

It is collaborative tools that will drive the future of Internal Communication. The concept of being able to build digital communities and to facilitate conversation in a virtual environment is an exciting development in Internal Communications.

The primary purpose of Internal Communications is to facilitate conversation in business; and to deploy and manage tools that encourage two way discussions.

So what will Internal Communications channels look like in the next 5-7 years? It is safe to assume that as more businesses embrace different working practices, and more employees become part of virtual teams, digital and social media is likely to form the backbone of a channel strategy.

These are five of the channels I think will be commonplace in business within the medium-long term:

1. Video blogging
Video blogging in business is a channel that can provide face 2 face interaction in a virtual world. I am a great fan of blogging, and it has an important role to play in the modern channel mix. But often in business a message is more suited to a personable delivery; and a video blog is a channel that gives you that option digitally.

With a video blog employees can log on at home or in the office to view. It helps to manage profile and visibility of leaders, as well as to deliver difficult and sensitive messages.

2. Mobile apps
In a fast paced world it is important businesses look at consumer trends to help inform an engagement strategy. It is likely that how people engage with the world outside of work, will translate itself at work as well.

Mobile phone apps are a growing trend. There is definite scope for businesses to develop an application to a channel such as an internal TV station or e-newspaper that employees can download to a smart phone.

It is all about making content and communication accessible to employees. And as the future unfolds, there is real opportunity for businesses to push the boundaries.

3. Podcasts
Making leaders accessible to employees is one of the challenges in Internal Communications. Time constraints and commercial pressures often mean that leaders rarely get the opportunity to go out into the business and provide context behind decisions.

One way of addressing that is for your business leaders to get together and produce a monthly podcast. With a set agenda they can discuss business issues and priorities; and provide context to decisions that have been taken or forthcoming.

This is an invaluable way of leaders sharing information in a format that is digestible and accessible. It can even be delivered as a mobile app!

4. Digital communities
I have a strong sense that as the social media landscape continues to evolve businesses will find real value in building ‘online’ or digital communities. Where a workforce is quite disparate, digital communities provide a platform for innovation and conversation.

Facebook is the obvious consumer facing example, but perhaps LinkedIn is more the kind of digital community that we will begin to see grow in the workplace.

Being able to connect to colleagues, build networks and relationships, showcase your expertise and skill set, and perhaps most importantly join groups and participate in knowledge and idea sharing.

Taking the LinkedIn concept internally is something I think we will see more businesses look to do in future years.

5. Web chat
Web chats are an incredibly useful tool in facilitating discussions or Q&A. It provides an interactive forum for employees to engage in discussion with business leaders in a virtual environment.

Web chats can be moderated by Internal Communications to keep discussions on track. They can also be published via an Intranet after it is complete.

Summary
As businesses continue to adapt to the digital age I think there will be far more reliance on digital and social media as a primary form of communication. There is real value, especially for business leaders, in using digital media to engage with employees.

One of the key benefits is that it is an enabler for more regular and frequent communication from the top of a business.

I think there is a very real possibility that in the medium-long term the five channels I have outlined above will be an integral part of the channel mix.

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