What do you do when you need to connect to the people who matter to your brand? When you need to build trust and awareness with the people who matter most to your business?
The answer for most of us requires community engagement. And while some businesses treat their most valued relationships like they’ll just fall into place, others recognize that relationships need to be nourished.
That’s where community engagement for businesses comes in.
In this article, we'll talk about what community engagement for businesses is and why it's important. Plus, if you need some inspiration, we are also going to share 14 community engagement ideas for businesses.
What is community engagement for businesses?
Community engagement is the intentional, concerted effort to build relationships with the people and organizations impacted by your company or business. It could be your customers, or it could be the general public. As long as someone is impacted by the work you do, they’re a candidate for community engagement.
Whatever your business needs community engagement for, it's vital to build positive relationships with the people who are impacted by or who impact your brand. That’s why it’s worth getting this right.
Examples of community engagement for businesses
- Redbull sponsors extreme sports events or building competitions (e.g. Flugtag).
- Oiselle Volée hosts an online community for runners to learn and make friends.
- Google hosts Talks at Google, bringing high-quality speakers together for their employees and the community.
- An online community releases a survey to see if community members are getting what they need.
- A construction company leads a community forum to talk about a planned land use change.
Why is community engagement important for businesses?
Businesses need community engagement for a lot of different reasons. Some have projects that will impact the community, and need feedback and input. Some have products the community will use, and they need ways to educate their users OR ways to collect input from them.
And some brands make community engagement a vital part of their brand identity. Engaging their communities helps them keep a pulse on what people care about, and keep in the conversation.
And while you might think of community engagement as a Leslie Knope-style town hall (for you Parks and Rec fans), a lot of businesses are doing their community engagement online with things like social media listening, social strategies, online forums, and brand communities.
14 Community engagement ideas for businesses
1. Live events
One of the most obvious ways to do community engagement is through live events. A well-constructed live event can help you build buzz and community at the same time.
A lame live event will probably have your employees sitting in a sea of empty chairs. Awkward.
If you're planning a live event for community engagement, think about these things to make it a success!
- Why? Why will people come to your live event? Are you going to offer them some kind of value? Are they going to have an experience that's fun or inspiring, or get something they can't get anywhere else? If you're asking people to take the time to show up, make sure it’s worth it!
- Who? Who is your community engagement for? You could have a packed house at a live event, but it's not accomplishing much if it's the wrong people. As you plan your event, it's important to be clear on who you actually want there. For example, if you're creating an event for local business owners, you don’t need everyone from the community there.
- How? How is it actually going to work? What will the event look like?
- When? Are you holding the event at a time when people can make it? Make sure your key stakeholders will be able to access it.
Let's talk about an all-encompassing community engagement idea that we’ll call traditions.
Traditions happen on a somewhat regular basis, over a period of time. When you have a monthly happy hour or a special event or promotion once a year, it's sort of like a ritual.
You create recurring opportunities for people to connect with your brand. And in turn, they start to expect it and look forward to it.
For example, look at HootSuite. They are a social media scheduling company, and every year they do an annual Global State of Digital webinar that offers huge value to people working in marketing.
People look forward to it, and attendance grows every year.
Building the types of connections that people look forward to monthly or yearly is a very good thing for your brand.
Think about the things that are calendar based. Things you do for your customers or community on a regular basis. These could be considered traditions. For example:
- Annual meetings
- Weekly roundups
- Monthly newsletters
- Once a year sale event
It's a tried and true method for advertising, but sponsorships can also lead to community engagement. Imagine this. You sponsor a booth at your local fair or trade show. What inevitably happens? You or your employees will stand there all day and talk to people.
You'll find yourself doing community engagement by accident. The people walking by will ask questions, chat with you about the business, and give you feedback. Some will be a waste of your time. But many will be valuable–especially if you choose the right conference.
If you have the budget for it, look for opportunities to sponsor conferences, events, or other relevant meetings in your industry. Get your name out there.
4. An online community
One of our favorite methods to do community engagement is with a thriving online community. An online community lets you connect with people at scale.
And with a modern community platform, you can add things like forums, messaging and chat, member profiles, Q&As, live events, live streaming, and more!
An online community lets you create a focal point for community engagement for your brand, and it's really really accessible. Anybody with a phone can get on and tell you what they think.
That's what makes it one of the best forms of community engagement.
For example, check out the brand Oiselle Volee. We mentioned their community above. They created a community for women who run, and along the way found they created a feedback loop that came with ideas for new products and comments on existing ones.
5. A course
If you want to engage your community, what about teaching a course?
For some brands, offering education is a vital part of community engagement. Educating community members can lead to more buy-in and feedback on projects.
6. Open meetings
Sometimes, you just need a forum where you can listen. That's where an open meeting can be a really valuable method of community engagement for businesses.
People need to be heard. And although it doesn't always come easy, being a business that listens and acknowledges can be a powerful thing.
Above, we mentioned Hootsuite's Global Webinar as a cool tradition they do every year. So let's dive into webinars a bit.
A webinar lets people see your face. Hear your voice. It lets them feel like they have a direct link to you and helps them feel like they know you.
Webinars create familiarity. It’s what makes them a great tool in marketing, but it also makes them a great tool for community engagement.
A webinar could be live or pre-recorded. The format doesn’t matter as much if you’re offering a lot of value that people want.
If you've got community engagement that requires educating, you could consider a full-length course as we talked about above. But often a short webinar is enough to get the job done.
And if you have a recording of a webinar, it gives people the luxury of showing up when they want.
8. Polling members
Creating polls or questionnaires is a tried and true method of community engagement for businesses. Years ago, this was a challenging thing to do. Trying to get feedback from a community meant going door to door or making phone calls.
But now, with something like SurveyMonkey, it's super easy to whip up a survey and get feedback on what you're doing. Plus, the data is anonymized, so people are more likely to tell you what they really think.
You can share a link to your poll or survey with your community via email or social media. And if you really want people to respond, try adding in a goodie. Even offering a $5 gift card or a chance to win $100 will make a big difference to the number of responses.
Contests are a community engagement tool that a lot of businesses love. You can sponsor some type of contest or giveaway. Everyone gets really excited by it. And the person who wins has something valuable to show for it.
Whether you're sponsoring a local art contest or hosting a draw for a trip to Hawaii, contests are an awesome community engagement tool.
Has your company ever volunteered for something? If you can get some of your staff or leadership out in front of the public, it can be a cool community engagement opportunity.
But the thing is, volunteering done badly can also be a cringey disaster. So here are a few tips to make sure that volunteering works for your organization.
- Make sure you have buy-in. Forcing your employees to volunteer for something they're not excited about and don't believe in is likely to backfire.
- Let your employees lead with their hearts. If you are asking people to volunteer, give them a chance to choose the type of work they're doing. That way they can pick something that is meaningful to them.
- Make it a team-building activity. If your office volunteers for something together, it's not only great for the community, but it also gives them a chance to bond and build memories together. It can pay dividends for your culture.
- OR, give them time and space to do it on their own. You could also try giving a paid volunteering day to your employees every year. That way people can choose things that are meaningful to them which–again–leads to more buy-in for the idea. And they’re still out in public doing good work for your business.
Company donations can be another great community engagement idea for businesses. It might mean writing a check to causes you care about. Giving money–and getting tax write-offs–is a tried and true method of community engagement.
But you could also consider donating things like old equipment or unsold products, especially if they go to waste anyway. For example, when a restaurant or bakery donates unused food to a local homeless shelter, they are able to do some good with stuff that might have been thrown out anyway.
That’s a win for community engagement, and it’s not that hard to do.
12. Tell community stories
It's easy to tell the stories of your business. Most modern brands do this.
But what about telling other people's stories? What about featuring or spotlighting your community members, even without asking for anything in return?
By picking notable residents of your community, or customers with neat stories, and using your platforms to tell their stories in a way that's not salesy, you can do some really powerful community engagement.
13. Get involved in local business councils
If you are a business that has a presence in a community, what about getting involved in local business councils? Organizations like a chamber of commerce let you connect and meet with other business owners and get a finger on the pulse of the community at the same time.
You'll often find cool ideas for partnerships come out of business council meetings, plus opportunities for some of the things we mentioned above, like donations.
14. Give your space
Last, but not least, do you have a physical space your business operates out of that you could donate? Maybe you have a beautiful conference room that you lend for the meetings of a board of a local charity.
Maybe you have office space that's unused and you could set up a free co-working space for remote workers in your community.
If you can find ways to use your space, especially when you're not using it anyway, it can create valuable community engagement.
Hopefully these ideas have kick-started your business's community engagement plan. It's important to choose things that feel like a good fit for your company, especially things that have a lot of buy-in from your team. But chances are, there's something on this list for everyone.
If you're interested in using a community platform as part of your engagement strategy, come give Mighty a try. We've built awesome cultural software that lets you bring together an online community with live events, live streaming, a discussion forum, and more. You can get all this in your own app, under your own brand. You’ll be amazed at what a branded community can do for your community engagement.