Community Engagement Is the New Black

We have arrived at a new era:  Community Engagement has finally got its groove on.  Coupled with social media, it means business.  Big business, or possibly the end of your business if you choose to ignore it.

The Evolution

The evolution of Community Engagement & Community Management has seen these two relatively background, feel good functions finally come into their own and get kick-arse serious.  The rise and rise of social media and crowd-sourcing + the increasing intensity of “Deliberative Dialogue” (aka meaningful conversations aimed at finding the best course of action),  has positioned Community Engagement to meet the demand where there is unquenchable thirst for people to be increasingly involved and participate in decision-making and in service provision.

Your customer/community now wants to chat: Oh yes, they want to tell you and each other all about it and have a genuine conversation, provide comment and be acknowledged and heard. Organisations are increasingly re-focussing their products and services to fit the customer, instead of the other way around.  They are actively instigating discussions and seeking out opportunities for community to interact and engage.  This is a MAJOR shift.

The Old Switcheroo

This has all brought about a significant switcheroo, with the emergence of relationship management now the primary focus, with good mates marketing, advertising & public relations, now making room to allow for this. Public Relations has done the best out of this deal, especially when PR companies have boarded the Social Media train on route to Community Management.

To clarify, the difference here is in the details:  Community Engagement aka Public Participation (big wave to my IAP2 buddies out there) is about actively involving your community in decision making and exploration of options. Note: Depending on your target audience, you can replace ‘Community’ with ‘Customer’ or even with ‘Staff’, it’s all pretty similar.   Community Management joins in by embracing the science and effort required to spark conversations and keep them going, about authenticity and multi-level feedback and the ability to influence.  CE guru, Angela Connor puts it best: “The fundamental difference between an audience and a community is the former can be bought, while the latter must be built”.  The big 3 of marketing, advertising and PR are usually aimed at selling you something (but not always – thanks Mags) – the transaction is mainly based on the holy $, where the currency for community engagement on the other hand is interaction.  As Brian Solis says “It’s About Listening, Not Marketing”.

That’s not to say, of course that the once primary trifecta are not still valuable or needed. This is definitely more of an “And” than an “Or”.  It is the most effective attributes of these all that result in the most successful approaches. When working in tandem, these functions together with Community Engagement and customer service offer a dynamic and effective strategy to doing business in the 21st Century.

Customer Experience & Organisational Persona

And here’s the other kicker.  Because it’s all about relationships, Community Engagement’s most significant other is turning out to be (surprise surprise) Customer Service.  Once seen as very different, it now appears that these two functions go hand in hand.  And here’s why:  Organisations are extending their focus on branding, to also include “Personas”.

“What the Where?” I hear you say.  Yes that’s correct – today’s digital media savvy customers are now expecting services and information to match their specific needs.  They need to be able to identify with the service provider. They want to be spoken to as ‘individuals’ rather than as one identity and again, they want to be heard.  It’s all about Customer Experience.

This is where Social CRM (Customer Relationship Management) models kick in – understanding your customer base through both market research and Community Engagement and then redefining your service to match.

Organisational Persona is like a cocktail – it’s like brand on steroids.  Personas are about brand meeting Social CRM – the alignment stretches beyond marketing into service standards, service models, recruitment, workforce planning, design, infrastructure, etc.  It’s holistic and everything matches. Your website becomes a critical window to your organisation and the tools and options you include reflect customer preference.  Getting this right should be the No 1 imperative.

Here’s my favourite infographic on the subject to demonstrate how “Social CRM” is changing the face of the world as we know it:

Infographic: The Evolution of CRM v2

So here’s the winning formula as I see it:

Social CRM + Community Engagement + Digital Media x (Marketing+Advertising+PR) + Brand + Persona  = So Hot Right Now

To use the words of the legendary Brian Solis :

Once again, share your views until your hearts are content.  I want to hear more – please point out gaps, present other options or say if this sounds about right for you.  It’s all in the learning from one another.

I want end by acknowledging the inspiration provided by those industry professionals I have been lucky enough to learn from.  Some local, some global, some I’ve read and follow their blogs, some I’ve never met and those who I am honoured to know and share with.  Many thanks.



5 responses

  1. Hi Megs,
    the above is well marked out …… and lets face it , some humans find it hard to “engage”… the best of times …….
    Continue this journey we have to take , cheers , ken.

  2. Hey Megs,
    Great piece and very informative. You wanted comment? Ok, here goes! :o)
    One aspect that I’m not sure I agree with you on, and its fairly fundamental, is that section where you say:
    “The big 3 of marketing, advertising and PR are about selling you something – the transaction is mainly based on the holy $, where the currency for community engagement on the other hand is interaction.”
    I think that statement may be a little disingenuous, because context is everything. In the private sector you may be right up to a point, but lets face it, private companies do not engage their customers in a social media relationship for the good of it. Ultimately a product has to be pushed and this more roundabout, more qualitative way is the way to do it these days.
    Meanwhile in local government we’re none of us trying to sell people anything. We’re actually trying to gain and retain their mandate to operate. We want them to trust us to carry out and deliver these services.
    Just as in days gone past petitions, letters and lobbying from residents, and polling and market research from Councils, have been the ways to gain information and guide service provision, nowadays we have social media which has made gaining that information so much easier. In addition this ease has allowed the development of relationships between Council and ratepayer and has levelled the old heirarchical model, but not entirely. Until mass customer or ratepayer action occurs in a coordinated fashion the originator of the relationship – ie in this case Council – retains a level of power that is greater than that of each individual ratepayer.
    So to sum up, in my experience, we always have to be prepared to admit to the fact that we are seeking engagement because we have an end purpose in mind – approval, trust, sales – and keep it transparent or trust may be lost when the community’s realisation sets in. Also, in being aware of the power imbalance inherent within our engagement relationships, we need to keep our responsibility towards our community at the forefront of our minds at place it at the centre of our interactions. A kind of municipal ‘Noblesse Oblige.’

  3. Love it Mags. Points noted and greatly appreciated. And you are right local government has a fairly unique position (which goes for marketing & PR too), however despite the natural affinity with the Community has not necessarily made full use of engagement opportunties or understood the outside-in approach to service provision or the brand/persona aspects as well as it probably could. Nonetheless this is all changing, which is very exciting to see and across the board in local government there are some very cool things on the brew. It is all happening so fast that it’s almost a blur – creating a place where we can share, dscuss and mull it over together is essential.

  4. Hello Megan, I know we just spoke about community engagement as a system (which is fast becoming a favourite topic of mine) and here are a few more elements that form part of that system in your blog. Your view is expanisve and when I say I love playing at this level I mean it in the most respectful way. The challenge as I see it is to play at all levels so we can take as many people as possible along in the adventures.
    Keep it coming. Great stuff.

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