Hard to beat: participative corporate communication

Guest contribution by | 27.04.2023

The boss as the figurehead, the sole face and mouthpiece of the company, the only point of intersection between the company and the public? Those times are over. Today, corporate communication works differently, even if there are still companies that haven’t grasped the point.

Corporate communication in change

Corporate communication is changing, it has to change. Why this is so is obvious: our environment is changing, and at the centre of this transformation is digitalisation. A few years ago, people informed themselves about what was happening in companies or politics via a handful of TV channels, the radio and the daily newspaper. There were multipliers, especially in the big media, who acted as opinion leaders, targeting CEOs in particular. In this way, corporate communication was clearly controllable and focusable.

Today, communication works differently. Digitalisation has led to a democratisation, also of ways in which opinions are formed. Today, there are many multipliers, bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, TikTokers, some of whom have no journalistic training and have a great influence on their target groups. There are also many employees who communicate themselves. In the past, they did this among their friends, but today they can theoretically reach large numbers of followers via platforms such as LinkedIn and are themselves a point of contact between the company and the public, without being filtered by the communications department. The exchange between internal and external becomes more immediate through the directness of social platforms.

What does that mean? It means that corporate communication loses its one-dimensionality and undoubtedly becomes more complex, more diverse and, at first glance, less controllable. At first, this sounds scary, difficult and possibly like anarchy instead of constructive, strategic communication.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. On the contrary, this development offers organisations a tremendous opportunity if they accept the new parameters and are prepared to engage in a holistic, integrated communication strategy that is more networked, participatory and collaborative than before. This is an opportunity because, if implemented consistently, there are only winners on this path:

  • The employees, because they become an active part of the journey,
  • the management level, because not everything is focused on them in terms of communication and because employees act in a more committed and responsible way,
  • and the stakeholders, because they are confronted with a modern, diverse organisation that enables diverse and authentic approaches.


Resistance and expectations

Those who have recognised the new actual situation have already taken the first, perhaps most important step towards transformation, but beware: the resistance within organisations to new things in general and to breaking up traditional hierarchies, processes and structures in particular can be enormous. The narratives that have evolved over decades cannot be replaced by new ones overnight; communicative transformation is an evolution, not a revolution!

Communication can connect, but it can also have the exact opposite effect. That is why it can be helpful to get support in the process. There needs to be a common basis for this form of corporate communication and these are stories that have been and are told or also experienced together. The experience is a key factor.

In my experience as a communication strategist and narrative organisational consultant, I increasingly recognise how difficult it is for companies and entrepreneurs to adapt to the new expectations of their stakeholders and employees. The formula “I’ll explain the world to you”, the sending of one-way messages from the boss’s office to all channels no longer works, or to put it differently: it is completely outdated. The new generations are socialised differently, bring more self-confidence with them, want less hierarchies and more participation, personal responsibility and purpose. Companies have to adapt to this, they can no longer afford anything else – the shortage of skilled workers sends its regards.

At the same time, the target audiences also expect a different approach. Communities such as those that emerge in social media no longer function as hierarchically organised one-man shows, but rather in a participatory and collaborative manner, in a mutual, appreciative exchange, even across company boundaries. The belief that CEOs are omniscient and have the authority of opinion on every topic despite growing specialisation is outdated and unrealistic – and no longer resonates with the public.

Internal participation as the basis for external corporate communication

Once the need for transformation has been recognised, the first step I take in the evolutionary transformation process as a consultant is to apply the lever internally, in the culture. Because in the end it is a question of togetherness whether opinions are allowed, whether minorities are listened to, whether mistakes are accepted and thus whether an opinion-forming process can be democratised. Because it is clear: corporate communication in which more employees, possibly all of them, are considered ambassadors presupposes that these employees must also be more involved in the discourse about which messages are communicated and also who stands for which topic. It is important to create dialogue spaces and make invisible narratives visible. This is the only way to develop new narratives in the teams that become the basis of new corporate communication. It is important to make new experiences together and to develop stories about the future together. This is how stories emerge with which employees identify and which they themselves make visible.

The participatory corporate communication that emerges in this way is therefore the second step. This must not take place before the first, the joint process of developing messages, formats and channels, beyond the boundaries of the press and marketing department, otherwise everyone communicates as they wish and there is no common radiance.

Such a culture of dialogue and participatory corporate communication does not develop overnight, it is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Take your time, but start tomorrow, because every step brings you a little closer to the goal. It takes flatter hierarchies and a new leadership culture in which people have their say, become more visible, participate in communication and thus, this is an extremely positive side effect, feel much more a part of the whole – and also translate this feeling back into commitment and passion for their daily work.

Making employees ambassadors for the company

I would like to make this clear again at this point: Yes, this path is difficult because one-dimensional one-way corporate communication is of course much easier than consolidating the voices of many in such a way that they become a unified melody. For this, one needs one’s own trusting communication spaces. But there is no alternative to this path, because companies that do not take it will one day be left behind, first in the B2C business and later also in the B2B business that follows. Customers first and later also suppliers or other stakeholders want to be addressed differently today, they have completely different expectations of companies.

Those who succeed in turning their own people from employees into ambassadors increase the credibility of their actions through the polyphony of corporate communication and also reach completely new target groups through the diversity of those who send out messages. This requires a common understanding, values and dialogue formats. The ideal way is to derive the communicative line as a broad consensus from the goals, visions and culture of the company. Even in this derivation, employees are given a lot of space. If you involve the employees at this point, you don’t have to worry about the more complex management of the ambassadors, because they don’t just speak for themselves, but as co-initiators of the transformation.

If you then support the employees with the necessary communication skills for social media, flank the messages with clear statements from the company management and are available for dialogue as the CEO, the result is a corporate communication that is hard to beat in terms of impact.



If you are a managing director or expert and want to successfully communicate digitally in the market, get in touch with the media or be present on social media and don’t have the time to take care of it yourself, please contact Nina Muelhens – it’s worth it!

And if you like the article or want to discuss it, feel free to share it with your network.

Nina Muelhens has published another post on the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: Why changes of perspective are important

Why changes of perspective are important

Nina Muelhens

Nina Muelhens

Two apprenticeships, one degree, several exciting jobs and two start-ups: Curiosity has always driven Nina Muelhens and always opens up new possibilities.

Nina Muelhens is a communication strategist, narrative organisational consultant and entrepreneur at the same time. With nina muelhens. Kommunikation klipp & klar. she builds value-adding relationships and opens up new communication spaces in companies. Communication is the lubricant of every relationship and cooperation.

As co-founder and managing director, Nina Muelhens has brought the social education start-up DigitalSchoolStory to life. The project anchors new ways of learning very practically in schools in order to develop students from mere social media consumers into active creators. Their approach: Students in grades 5 to 13 translate learning content into creative videos. In the process, they acquire personal, social and methodological skills for the future, such as digital media production and agile teamwork. The method is also used at vocational schools, universities and in companies to support knowledge transfer and networking. Its circle of supporters includes almost 90 experts from business, education, science and think tanks.