Throughout most of history, businesses have been largely local endeavors. Supported by the community, entrepreneurs and their operations were obliged — even compelled — to engage their immediate area.
In recent centuries, though, much of this community aspect was lost by many firms. Dissolution of geographical borders due to the national and even international reach of the Internet certainly played a role, but a change in attitudes appears to have occurred as well (or because of it).
Whatever the case might be, many small businesses don’t seem to be as engaged with their community as they used to be … and that’s a shame. Because when a company interacts openly with its local area, everyone benefits.
Why Community Engagement Matters
The term “community engagement” might come across as stale corporate-speak, but in practice, it can entail a highly pragmatic investment. Here are some of the specific reasons it matters:
- Understanding. Your region is filled with your target customers. The more time you spend out and about, the better feel you’ll develop for people’s desires, needs, tastes, and frustrations. You’ll understand your audience better and be able to develop products and services that are more effectively tailored to their needs.
- Awareness. As you interact with the community, prospective customers become more aware of your operation and everything it has to offer. It’s an organic and unobtrusive form of advertising.
- Trust. When people see you give back and engage with the community, they perceive a company that does the right thing. This makes people more likely to trust your business and feel comfortable working with you.
- Employee engagement. Employees like to work for companies that care about more than the bottom line. It should come as no surprise that internally, community engagement has been shown to boost employee engagement.
Four Tips for Engaging the Local Community
Community engagement doesn’t just happen by chance. You have to make it a priority for your outfit. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
1. Get Employees Involved
According to a report from Nielsen, roughly half of the average company’s employees are already engaged in volunteer work, or regularly donate to organizations that are participating in environmental and social programs. This makes it likely that many of your employees will be willing to get involved with community initiatives you promote, as well.
Consider appointing one of your staff to be the “Chief of Community Engagement,” or a similarly satisfying title. By assigning a person the responsibility of organizing involvement with your neighbors, it will become a serious priority and is less likely to get pushed to the back burner.
2. Attend Local Events
Local events are a great way to engage with the region without having to spend a lot of time planning an activity of your own. Invest in a custom tent with your company name and logo, some basic marketing materials, and a trailer for transporting event items.
When you have such tools ready to hand, you can attend events — such as fairs, festivals, and charity fundraisers — and perform set-up and take-down quickly. The efficiency factor will make you more likely to attend events, even on relatively short notice.
3. Host Your Own Events
In addition to showing up at local events, you might occasionally host your own. An annual event, such as a 5k race that benefits a local charity, is a great way to build your brand and align it with a specific cause in the community.
It also gives you more opportunity to advertise your brand and reap increased visibility. (If you attract enough sponsors, it might not even cost you very much to host.)
4. Get Involved With the School System
Most public school systems are steadily looking for help. When you recognize that engaging with the school system benefits children, parents, teachers, and government officials, this is a wise place to invest your resources.
“Offer to speak to classes about your industry or host field trips to your business,” Keap.com suggests. “Lend your expertise to help improve the school. For example, a web design company could update the school’s website, or a landscape business could create a new flower garden.”
Creativity is your friend. Brainstorm ideas and pursue the ones that appear to offer the most mutually beneficial results.
Build a Meaningful Brand
If you’re a small, local business, connecting with the community is a goal you’ll want to take seriously. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also a smart business practice that generates a positive and long-term ROI. Where will you start?