Community Relations is commonly considered as one of the practice areas for public relations. However, it hasn't always been well defined, but many would agree that the general theme for community relations is “doing well by doing good.”
In fact, many companies have ditched their community relations efforts for more defined Corporate Social Responsibility efforts, or Cause Branding, which can be defined as aligning corporate activities with the social expectations of its stakeholders.
In other words, it requires companies to launch initiatives and spend money, usually lots of it, on programs that convince people that companies share their values and are good actors. It is designed to lessen conflict with important constituencies.
Sounds pretty good, right?
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be working that way. For instance:
- Green communication seems to be losing some its resonance, with the Federal Trade Commission making a move to update its environmental advertising guidelines
- A 2007 State of Corporate Citizenship Survey, shows that 62% of executives say that corporate citizenship is part of their business strategy, only 39% actually incorporate citizenship into their business planning process
Source: Do You Stand for Something blog
Manipulation Without Relationships?
The veracity and motives of the companies conducting these programs is increasingly under suspicion.
The disconnect is that most of these programs focus on public sentiment and influence without any thought to the relationships the company shares with its various stakeholders.
What works is much less about the charitable programs the company funds as it is with the relationships, and the services that a company offers the marketplace.
In other words, it pays to pay attention to those in your community that are within your sphere of influence – those that could possibly help or harm your company.
Measuring Community Sentiment
Katie Paine's new book, Measuring Relationships, which I read over the weekend, has a great chapter called “Measuring Relationships with Your Local Community.”
In it, she suggests that an organization make a list of groups that have the power to influence the public perception of your organization. She further recommends that you rank these influencers and then make a plan to poll their sentiment.
In the book, she includes bloggers as one of these groups, but one could just as easily take the principles of this understanding of community relations, which is to build relationships with your important influencers, and apply it to a particular online community.
Integrating Into the Community
The idea of integrating a company or organization into the community through the strength of its relationships, is an approach that seems to have more currency than the current idea, which seems to have reduced corporate responsibility and community relations to more of a tactic than a cultural shift.
Last week, I profiled an approach by Custom Scoop, a company that has chosen to integrate the company into the online public relations community, with one of its employees essentially serving as a community liaison.
Over the coming weeks, I plan to build on this theme of community relations in a virtual world and what it means to a company and the people that it serves. As communicators, what is the best way to approach these communities both online and off?
I would love any feedback, case studies or other background about the importance of community in the process of communication.
Photos by Wayne Sutton and Leonard John Matthews