Using people power to engage and mobilise communities

Understanding the audience of any communication’s campaign is a given. Advances in research techniques, technology and the explosion of social media over the last decade has allowed us to better understand our audiences, segment them by location, age, behaviour and the channels that they turn to for trusted information. The Government Communication’s plan identifies that trust in brand messaging increases when delivered in a local context. Local context, however differs widely depending on where you live in the UK. MediaCom’s recent ‘Britain Decoded’ research reveals people living in London and urban areas are more likely to see their local identity as important but those living in cities are more likely to prioritise the physical closeness of local amenities while those in suburban and rural areas see friends and family as top of mind when defining local community.

Digital and social media provide a two-way conversation with audiences that provide a valuable insight into how messages are being received and the actions that are happening as a result. This enables activity to be continuously refined to meet, and ideally exceed the original objectives of a campaign. However, the downside is that it has also passed a large part of the ownership of your reputation to its consumers causing a shift in the balance of power.

As recent national and global events have dictated, this is an era of change. Audiences are increasingly influential on their communities and in many cases becoming a trusted source of information. If unchecked this can lead to manipulation of information and misinformation as demonstrated by the recent fake news scandals. Fake news works because it provides justification to a popular sentiment. However by working with communities to deliver our campaign messaging we can make sure we align with popular sentiment and create a positive conversation that people want to share. We can no longer rely solely on the behaviour assumptions of traditional audience segmentation that puts people within chosen parameters regardless of location, nor can we underestimate the influence of communities on behaviour.

Communities by definition are a bound together by location, attitude or interests. If you want to understand the people you need to get amongst them. Spring’s Hyperlocal Everywhere programme has been designed to get to know communities on their home ground, fully understanding their values, language, hopes and fears. It connects with the community and holds their interest so that they become advocates for the campaign and use their own networks to influence the communities around them until the messages become part of the national conversation.

Influence in communities comes not just from the elected and high-ranking, but from the people with the character and connections to make them the lodestars of their own groups. Communities trust these people, valuing their opinions and offering an unprecedented opportunity to gather understanding and disseminate messages with maximum impact. What’s also clear is that from one community to another, hopes and fears may be completely different – even if, by standard research categories, those communities are very close to one another. Accessing and utilising this data creates a strong platform for any consultation process, marketing campaign or communications programme. It is a pleasantly old-fashioned solution to a modern shift. And the reason why this is a successful approach is that it is widespread, uncovering the hive of small, highly individual communities. It’s about full engagement with real people in their own territory, in a way that can prepare the ground for fundamental change at grassroots level.

For this to work, co-operation has to be genuine, with a foundation of shared values, attitude or interests and negativity needs to be met with understanding and explanation rather than be ignored. Working closely with communities allows continuous feedback which leads to better, more effective campaigns. The other advantages of community-based interaction include risk limitation, with the chances of hitting target being increased on traditional audience targeting. With that efficiency comes effective use of budget, better use of resource, and the opportunity for great return on investment. What is more, many of the most transformative transactions, whether they are commercial or behavioural, take place within hard-to-reach groups throughout the spectrum, which are again far more accessible through genuine community understanding than any other means.

Spring’s Hyperlocal Everywhere™ Network is available through Crown Commercial Service (CCS) Communication Service framework for PR. Managed by Spring, the network offers five award-winning regional consultancies that specialise in immersive community engagement and behaviour change. They include Freshfield in the North West, The Karol Marketing Group in the North East, purplefish in the South West, Plinkfizz in the Midlands and Spring in the South East.

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