Underestimating the power of the community and failing to offer genuine engagement is corporate suicide. Getting it wrong will damage your reputation and therefore the bottom-line. Get it right. Right from the start.

The power of consumer advocacy and community groups should not be undervalued. These groups expect to be consulted from the get go. 

Despite this, for some organisations, community consultation is often left to the later planning stages, and sometimes with minimal, if any, two-way communications options.   

Taking the community along with you on the journey, and in some cases, especially those around development, giving the community a sense of ownership, is the only truly successful way forward. 
The engagement must be meaningful. There must be clear and open consultation and the community must see their impact on the decision-making process. 

Traditionally, community engagement referred to consulting with local residents near where an organisation operated, and extended to groups such as local community groups, schools, and businesses (among others).

Putting community engagement in the too-hard basket, or sliding it down the priority list could damage a company, and, if all of the reasons listed above are not convincing enough, then there’s always this: bad community engagement can damage the bottom line, potentially irrevocably. Explain that to the shareholders.

However, the rise of digital has seen community stakeholders extend beyond this, in a powerful way. The digital world has created whole new communities; now those campaigning against local development in their own backyards (NIMBYs) don’t just rally their neighbours, they seek allies and support online. 

Social media provides people with direct platforms to gain the support of the masses and allows them to control the message, as they are unfiltered by the media. By bypassing the media the requirements for balanced reporting is also bypassed, and therefore a very important voice may be missing: Yours.

Seven steps to effective community engagement

  1. Identify: Know your stakeholders
  2. Research: Know what their interests and expectations are.
  3. Strategise: Create your community engagement strategy early on. Know the issues. Know your message.
  4. Consult: Commence your communications. Ensure feedback loops are in place.
  5. Listen: Review the feedback. 
  6. Engage again: And again, and again. Be honestly open to negotiation.
  7. Fill the void: Outside of your planned communications, be prepared to fill any information gaps – with the community or any other stakeholder. If not, someone else will, and you cannot control that messaging.

10 tips for community engagement

  1. Work to have relationships with the community prior to an ‘ask’ 
  2. Let the community name the project – run a competition
  3. Seek a media partnership – ask a representative to accompany you on media interviews
  4. Invite locals to create an advisory panel or provide a seat on your panel for a community representative
  5. Create a forum on your website for their feedback
  6. Ask for contributions to your newsletter
  7. Get your news out first – don’t let it leak. Control the message from the start
  8. Become a genuine information resource for the community. Drive traffic to your site and provide fast feedback options.
  9. Don’t over promise and under-delivery. Make realistic commitments. Keep your word. 
  10. Be interesting. Don’t bore those you’re trying to bring on board. 

The above tips should be considered as ideas only. They will not all be suitable for every engagement plan and carry their own risks