The Role of PR in Community Engagement

Historically, when people have talked about communities, they have largely been referring to geographical communities, based on the village, town, city or region in which somebody lives or works. So what is the role of PR in community engagement and how can it have a positive affect?

In recent years, the internet has added further opportunities for people to engage with online communities where perhaps they struggled to integrate into their local area. This has opened the scope for more specifically targeted and optimised campaigns for many B2C businesses who can us PR for community engagement.

Different communities

Whether online or offline, communities can actually be sorted broadly into five categories:

  • 1.     Interest – Communities of people who share the same interest or passion.
  • 2.     Action – Communities of people trying to bring about change.
  • 3.     Place – Communities of people brought together by geographic boundaries.
  • 4.     Practice – Communities of people in the same profession or undertake the same activities.
  • 5.     Circumstance – Communities of people brought together by external events / situations.

What does this mean and why is it important when considering how you communicate and engage with your key audiences?

Engaging with communities

Firstly, it is more complex than people think to develop and maintain a successful community engagement plan because, as this demonstrates, the needs and motivations of each type of community is likely to be quite different.

Secondly, this is still a very simplistic view of how communities will break down and in reality, people will likely fall into at least two, but probably more, communities at a time, meaning they will have complex (sometimes conflicting) views and priorities on any given topic.

As communicators, we find this notion of communities both fascinating and integral to much of our work. We are often trying to identify and understand a specific audience in order to find ways to engage them and resonate with them, whether it’s through traditional PR, digital PR or social media.

This knowledge and experience allows us to guide organisations through the potential minefield of online and offline community engagement.

Example projects include consultation around planning applications or proposed housing community developments, care home changes of ownership, new niche product launches, software technology updates or merely reputation building for a new business.  

Utilising public relations

Public Relations is tailor-made for taking on all of these challenges due to the strategic approach that any PR team worth its salt should take.

This would involve working closely with an organisation to:

  • Pin down key stakeholders and audiences within these communities
  • Identify motivations and drivers towards decision making,
  • Advise on the best channels of communication
  • Create the content that will resonate with each section of the community

This work is becoming ever more involved and scientific as we gain access to increased level of data and use tools such as social media advertising. This is alongside remarketing to increase the potential touchpoints we have with our communities. However, it still needs to be backed up with effective messaging and wherever possible, powerful storytelling. 

As I write this, we find ourselves in the midst of an election campaign. When it comes to community engagement, this provides an excellent real-time case study.

We’ll see parties visiting marginal seats and pushing particular areas of their manifestos in an attempt to reach out to particular communities and gain the critical votes. All of which will decide which way the pendulum swings come 12th December.

What is clear is that an organisation that can get its PR engagement right and demonstrate strong values and a commitment to the specific community it is attempting to engage, will enjoy an improved reputation. Most importantly, it will be one that differentiates it from its competitors, potentially increasing customer trust and loyalty and ultimately driving sales.

Want to talk PR and community engagement? Give us a call or send an email!

Celebration of pr and community engagement

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