Community engagement is an absolutely vital part of an overall communication strategy, particularly when you are in public safety or government. There are seven key things that you should always consider when it comes to putting yours together.
Look at your why for your community engagement strategy. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of creating one just because everyone else does, but you really need to be absolutely clear before you do anything else on your purpose.
A purpose statement is important but it shouldn’t be cause for concern and you certainly don’t need to labor over it. It is different from a mission statement, and that’s what should follow.
A purpose statement provides the reason or reasons you exist. It is about why you exist, whereas the mission is about what you do and for whom.
Excellent internal comms and organization
Before running away with yourselves and going right out to the external audiences and stakeholders, always engage with your internal ‘community’. You’ll likely find invaluable feedback from people you didn’t realize had great insights. Achieving internal buy-in at all levels is crucial for success. With support and a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve, it will make it easier when it comes to deployment.
Look too at the internal mechanisms for executing your strategy. Do you have all the tools you need to deliver successfully? Make sure these are also in place - trying to play catch up while running a community engagement strategy is a frustrating waste of time and will reflect badly when mistakes are made.
Listening and inclusivity
To be able to communicate well we must first listen - to everyone. It’s important to avoid seeking opinions and feedback from those who we know will always agree with us. It’s important to seek out voices and empower those that aren’t usually heard. This means you will catch some flack and harsh realities, but only with the truth can you create a robust strategy that will set you up for success.
Open and regular communication
It’s so easy to forget that no one really knows what we are working on until we actually tell them. We are so used to working on a project or strategy that it’s always in our heads as communicators, yet we are surprised when people say they didn’t know about it. It sounds obvious but starting with making sure people in your community know what you are doing, why you are doing it and what you need from them is important.
Keeping people updated regularly means you are constantly promoting your narrative and taking people along with you on the journey of engagement rather than throwing facts and figures or calls to action at the end of the campaign.
Getting on with it
Communication is great and you’ll gather so much information and feedback that it will look like a resounding success if you do it right. The only thing is, feedback is useless unless you act on it. With every communication comes the gift of being able to adapt and change according to what people want and need. You don’t always have to, but you would be wise to take this feedback and turn it into meaningful outcomes for your community. Once you’ve made changes based on feedback, tell your community then continue with the feedback loop, adapting as you go.
A willingness to keep things moving
Campaigns and strategies get launched to great fanfare all the time, but how much time are you willing to put into this and for how long? Once the balloons have deflated and the cake has been eaten what are you doing to ensure your community get that constant engagement?
By creating a series of events of engagement you’re showing the community that you are fully committed to hearing them and effecting change where necessary. Community engagement is a long term relationship that needs nurturing.
Admitting mistakes and learning from them
You can’t get it right all the time, so never fear if you make a mistake. It’s important to recognize them, admit to them and then say what you’re going to do next and then do it. Transparency and accountability are key parts of community engagement and you’re sure to get a better response by being human and accepting responsibility for any mistakes that may happen.