As communicators, we are fascinated by the concept of ‘communities’ and recognise it as a fundamental part of our work. It’s key that we identify and understand our target audiences in order to find ways to effectively engage with them; whether it’s through traditional PR and media relations, or digital and social media.
Outcomes of successful community engagement range from creating, or indeed preventing, change in policy, to the introduction of service provisions that enhance individuals’ lives and help shape a community’s future. While much of this starts locally, it can bring about wider societal change with global impact.
For Scotland’s libraries, community has always been at the centre – from reading programmes and school collaborations to digital inclusion initiatives and economic support, libraries are dynamic networks that play a vital role in enriching communities.
That’s why this week, Libraries Week, is the perfect time to step back and look at why it’s so important to listen to your communities.
Focusing on community is your best PR strategy
Like any form of communication, PR shouldn’t be one-sided. Understanding your audience is a crucial component of any successful PR campaign. Community engagement is one of the best ways to gain valuable insight into who your audience is and what they want - which should form the basis of your strategic PR efforts.
Community engagement is about active listening and taking feedback into account. It not only allows key stakeholders to feel heard, but when executed effectively, it allows for diverse perspectives. Hearing from diverse and inclusive voices enhances the quality, relevance and ethical integrity of research, while promoting innovation and creativity in strategy.
Inclusive research will drive inclusive results and engaging your communities will help build out more resonant, and therefore more effective, campaigns. After all, that is the essence of PR: building and maintaining positive relationships between an organisation and its stakeholders, fostering understanding, trust, and mutual benefit through effective and meaningful strategy.
Understanding your audience is essential
But insight gathering shouldn’t stop there. By actively engaging with your community, you can learn about their interests, preferences, their pain points. You can use this to set benchmarks, highlight trends and identify risks.
By building strong relationships with your audience and actively listening to their feedback, you can stay ahead of the competition and build a strong network. Armed with this knowledge, you can adjust your strategy to better target your audience and gain even better traction with future campaigns.
What does successful community engagement look like?
Active community engagement can come in many forms but at its core, it is about relationship building; engagement builds trust, fosters brand loyalty and creates a sense of community around your organisation. It requires the prompting of conversations, establishing opportunities for connection. But it also requires organisations to surrender control to their advocates, who won’t always share the CEO’s viewpoint.
Effective community engagement creates a greater sense of community ownership which often leads to an improved uptake of goods or services as they are tailored to the unique aspirations of that community.
A great example of this is our library services.
Libraries are a prime example of effective community engagement
Today, libraries have expanded far beyond their traditional offering of book lending and information sharing – they are educational, social and creative spaces, both physical and virtual, where people learn, share, participate and create; where everyone is equal and where improving our shared wellbeing is at the heart.
Library services are deep rooted in our communities but continue to collaborate and innovate, striving to expand services to meet user needs and further support the communities in which they operate.
They remain the most popular service provided by local authorities, with 40 million visits recorded every year. But as we’ve mentioned, insight gathering shouldn’t stop there.
That’s why the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) has partnered with the Association of Public Libraries in Scotland (APLS) to develop an annual national survey to find out the impact of library services on the people who use it.
The first Scottish Public Library Annual Survey 2023 launched this week, so have your say at www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/PublicLibrarySurvey23.
Your next steps
If you’re looking for advice or support, speak to the 3x1 team today about how we can help introduce an effective community engagement strategy: email@example.com