There is no doubt that community engagement should be at the heart of all you do when it comes to communications. Whether you're in law enforcement, local or state agencies and all in between, you need to be sure you're doing the best you can when it comes to building trust.

While social media is undoubtedly a vital part of your strategy, community engagement isn’t just an online exercise. A holistic approach to working with your community is what can make or break the trust the public has in you as a service.

There's no arguing that it is important to invest time in a digital outreach program, as well as working with the media, but there is also a very definite place for more traditional methods of community engagement.

In 2021, 27.6 million American households still don’t have home internet. That’s more households without internet than the total number of households in 13 states.

And, according to a Pew Research Study, 25% of adults ages 65 and older report never going online, compared with much smaller shares of adults under the age of 65.

Seniors and students tend to be the most affected by a lack of internet at home. Older Adults Technology Services, an advocacy group and affiliate of AARP that focuses on the intersection of technology and older adults, reported that two in five seniors don’t have internet access. And Edweek says that 9–12 million students still don’t have internet that supports remote learning at home.

Consider that these two groups are more likely to be victims of crimes such as fraud, how do you access them?

It’s always a good approach to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to addressing community concerns or issues. Looking forward to what causes concern will help you to understand and engage more easily. Take a look at our article about empathy.

Physical ads, though slower to get one’s attention at first exposure, leave a longer lasting impact

By identifying points at every stage of their experience with you to engage, you’re more likely to build trust and encourage behavior change. Positively affecting someone’s perception of your agency is more simple than you would think. Educating residents on these issues is more than just a media release or a few tweets. There are ways that can be more effective and it’s been shown that printed materials can actually have a more positive response to other communication efforts.

In a study commissioned by the Office of Inspector General USPS called ‘Enhancing the Value of the Mail: The Human Response’ there were compelling arguments for still using printed marketing materials.

The results of the study showed that participants processed digital ad content quicker. However, participants spent more time with physical ads. When viewing physical ads, participants had a stronger emotional response and remembered them better.

Physical ads, though slower to get one’s attention at first exposure, leave a longer lasting impact for easy recall when making a purchase decision. Most importantly, physical ads triggered activity in the area of the brain (ventral striatum) that is responsible for value and desirability for featured products, which can signal a greater intent to purchase.

Find out more about LAW Publications catalog of free materials for agencies

How does this impact you when it comes to community engagement? Using materials such as leaflets, booklets and posters still works, despite the proliferation of digital comms.

Combine attending events and getting involved with well designed materials and you’ll see a positive shift in your reputation as an agency.

What can you do to get more involved and ensure your campaigns are getting into the hands of the right people at the right time?

  • Volunteer at food banks. Showing up and providing useful information that could keep people safe sends a strong message of being supportive and caring.
  • Senior Citizen Center or Care Center Visitation — People age 65 and older are especially susceptible to victimization, neglect, and physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. By visiting with these citizens you can build their trust and educate them about violence and scams.
  • Visit colleges and schools to talk about personal safety and understand what the concerns are of students. You may be surprised at their responses and be able to look into how you can reduce fear and instil trust.
  • Take extra time at scenes of incidents. In law enforcement, there are many touch points that you can engage by providing material. Think about the type of calls you attend. It could be domestic abuse situations where you can talk to the family and offer support and further reading to encourage them to get the help they need.
  • Attending community meetings. It’s not just the meetings that you arranged yourself - look to other meetings that happen and ask if you can attend. By going to where people are, you’re more likely to get a positive response as you’re seen to be making the effort. Regularly scheduled events like PTA meetings, Chamber of Commerce meetings, or church gatherings are an easy way to stay connected with your community members.

Finding high quality materials to support these initiatives can be difficult, and printed materials often raise budget concerns compared to digital pieces. LAW Publications, the nation's leader in providing educational materials to law enforcement agencies, provides high-quality materials at no cost to your department. Their staff makes it easy to select the materials covering the topics you need, and connects your community to your outreach efforts.

December 10, 2021

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