There’s no such thing as internal comms anymore

Last week, teen clothing store Wet Seal made headlines for giving staff just a few days’ notice before closing 60 stores.

As if it weren’t enough of an HR and PR disaster already, the script used by managers to break the bad news has gone viral. This, despite being headed: ‘Confidential – not to be copied or reproduced. Destroy after conversation has been conducted.

It’s not that the writing in the script was particularly awful. On the contrary: the first paragraph comes across as clear, honest and empathetic; everything you’d want in this kind of situation had they got the timing right. So the script didn’t dominate the story – which is lucky for Wet Seal. But the whole situation is a valuable reminder that internal communications can easily become external.

It’s the latest in a series of incidents where so-called ‘internal’ messages have gone public. Microsoft VP Stephen Elop probably wishes he could recall and rewrite last year’s jargon-riddled memo that famously left the bad news (‘an estimated reduction of 12,500 employees over the next year’) till almost the very end. And the recent hacking of Sony’s computer networks should make all of us think twice about what we say on the inside.

When social media can turn a memo into a meme in a matter of seconds, it’s more important than ever to think about what you say in your internal communications, and how you say it.

Here’s a tip: the next time you write an internal email, memo, policy or announcement, ask yourself: ‘How would I feel about this piece of writing if it went on BuzzFeed? Or if it were read on the evening news?’ Then rewrite it until you’d be happy for it to go public.

At least that way, your words won’t be the story.

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