A Communication Audit Is Like A Financial Audit, Only It Looks For Messages And Channels Instead Of Money.
By Thomas J. Roach
The proliferation of communication options through social media makes it increasingly important for aggregates operations to audit their communication needs and opportunities. A communication audit is like a financial audit, only it looks for messages and channels instead of money.
In an ideal business environment, there is no need for a communication audit. Customers and other publics communicate their needs to company employees who have the knowledge and the authority to make adjustments to satisfy those needs. The company anticipates and adapts to all change pressures in its environment, thus maximizing its profitability and insuring its survival.
This scenario is accurate for most successful small businesses where customers speak directly to the owner. However, in large companies, the distance between senior management and customers causes decision-making to become dependent on business models, industry trends and hunches. Paradoxically, success drives managers further away from the people providing and receiving their products and services. In the long term, the potential for survival for all companies is determined by how they view and respond to this problem.
There are three preliminary steps to an audit. First, the audit process benchmarks the company against the industry. Second, it identifies company goals. The actual goals may or may not be represented in the mission statement and other institutional data, so they sometimes have to be discovered through analysis. Third, the audit identifies all internal and external publics and all the channels that can be used to reach them. This is the part that is most useful in the shifting social media environment.
Following benchmarking, the main research phase of an audit incorporates three more steps. The first step is a round of moderately scheduled probing interviews with stratified random samples chosen from each internal and external public. This is followed by focus groups with new stratified random samples from the same publics.
The interview research finds out what individuals think privately about the organization; the focus groups test the strength and worth of that data by airing it publicly and monitoring developments like consensus and alienation. These two qualitative research steps are then followed by surveys that quantify the results.
It is best if an analysis report is written after each phase of the research, starting with benchmarking. When the research is completed, final internal and external analyses can be written by combining the benchmarking with the internal interview, focus group and survey reports, and with the external interview, focus group and survey reports.
The final internal analysis usually discusses the effectiveness of ongoing communication processes like employee review and orientation, it identifies communication flow problems like information that publics say they want but do not receive, channels that are used but are ineffective, and channels that are not used but could be effective. The final external analysis articulates public impressions of the company and identifies which external media are most responsible for public awareness of the company and company messages.
Audits routinely reveal that about 10 percent of employees do not know to whom they report, that most employees are afraid of sending messages up the chain of command, and that there is a great deal of confusion about company goals. External audits increasingly reveal that news media are no longer the public’s main source for receiving company related messages.
Companies that make use of communication audits rewrite their mission statement and other institutional data to reflect their actual cultural profile and reallocate resources to media most closely associated with key publics like employees and customers.
If an organization has never conducted an audit, it may be useful to hire a consultant to either perform the audit, or to organize a team of employees to conduct the audit. The combination of consultants working with an employee research team is ideal because it provides the expertise for an objective analysis and simultaneously exposes employees directly to the issues facing the organization.
Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected]