Becoming the Community Engagement Standard Using Social Media
Between social media, a veritably endless list of “news” sites, and everyone having a camera in their pocket, it’s impossible to get away with anything.
There is no such thing as deleting an image from the internet or righting a social media wrong — someone, somewhere, has a screenshot. This makes it important now more than ever that your brand is strong enough to withstand an inevitable PR disaster.
Building camaraderie within your community can be one of the best ways to do this. Having locals willing to vouch for you and your goodwill because of how you’ve impacted their lives can be the tipping point.
And let’s be honest: impacting their lives that strongly is going to take a little more than the perfect customer service experience. You must actively be improving their corner of the world.
Look at Tesla. They’re set up to save the environment with their cars, and yet, when a Model S caught on fire, stock prices plummeted. Still, when they launched their newest model, they pre-sold the car beyond their ability to produce.
Now, not everyone can be Tesla, but everyone can market themselves. The key to getting the community on your side is to get on their side through community engagement campaigns. That, and making your efforts to improve their world as visible as possible.
Do the Leg Work
First and foremost, if you are going to be the standard in community engagement, you cannot just look like it. You must actually be it. If you fake it, the secret will only last so long, and by then you’ll have done enough harm to outweigh any temporary good press.
So what does community engagement look like? It’s sponsoring the local 5ks and having your logo appear on race day shirts. It’s promoting health, wellness, and growth for your community. It’s being the first to donate when there’s a population affected by natural disaster or social injustice. It’s having a corporate team in city league sports. It’s creating partnerships and relationships with local people.
Pay attention to your own practices — if you’re publically helping the community and then turning around and hurting them, it won’t look very good. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is becoming a bigger part of business plans, and if you haven’t examined yours, you should. Find ways you can improve your internal processes and do them. CSR stands to improve more than just your business’ image.
Don’t forget to take pictures along the way, though. You’ll need those for Facebook and Instagram.
Lead By Example
CSR is a good way to start internally, but once that’s squared away, look outside. You should have a decent foothold in the community with initial engagement work — sponsoring races and participating in local events.
Becoming a leader in community engagement takes a little more, though.
Take the same critical eye that you took to your own company and turn it outward. The easiest (well, most direct) question to ask is, “Where does it hurt?”
When you look at your community, where does it hurt? What groups are suffering? Why? And how can YOUR company help with that?
It may seem superficial, but things as simple as promoting alternative means of commuting can have a huge impact. Running a company-wide campaign that provides incentives to employees who bike or carpool to work not only increases employee health, but decreases the number of commuters on the road, in turn decreasing traffic as well as pollution.
You can even reach out to local public administrators to partner in a community-wide campaign. This will be more public than an internal promotion and could include a tangible benefit to participants, like seminars on bike safety to combat the rising number of bike injuries. The community will be even more endeared to you if they directly gain something from your involvement, rather than just passive observation.
If your business isn’t large enough to work with the area on a campaign, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Ask yourself the same questions, and find a niche your business can serve.
For a small local art shop, that might mean donating time to teach an art class at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, or providing studio space once or twice a week as a hobby haven for underprivileged members of the community.
It can be small and simple, but it will be your project and your best foot forward to better your community. And it will be noticed.
Stay Indisputably Enthusiastic
Now, I know I said I’d talk about using social media, and so far all you’ve read is ways to actually be engaged with your community. So here’s the big secret:
Be uncomfortably public.
Social media is already public platforms, right? You already understand status updates and tweets. The trick is to take that to the maximum, and I don’t mean by being oversaturated with contrived content.
Take everything you’ve learned about community engagement and post about it. It doesn’t always have to be positive, but it does need to be honest. (See how that ties back to the first idea?) Don’t just promote the upcoming race you’re sponsoring, make it personal and relevant to your company.
Sure, be silly, be edgy, be whatever your brand is. But also be genuine, and be it 100 percent. If there’s a disaster, be sad, and not generically. Be heartfelt, and then do something about it. Use Instagram to document putting together care packages for hurricane victims.
The uncomfortable part of being uncomfortably public is that it comes with risks and vulnerability. Now, I know that sounds more like advice from a chick flick than something you expected to hear about social media marketing, but hold on.
If you take risks by posting something that may be outside of the generic, easily swallowed mold, you will be memorable. You will stand out. And your brand will be humanized.
Stay human. Take stands on community issues. Notice those who are doing work in the community alongside you and lift them up. Share triumphs on your company blog (if you have one), or use Twitter to promote local success stories.
Whatever you do, do it 100 percent, and don’t stop. As you work with your community more, you may find that it gets easier and easier to be engaged and that the public knows you. Keep that momentum going. Before you know it, you’ll be the standard to beat among community-engaged businesses.