Why are you in the community you are in? Is it because your target demographic consumers are in surrounding neighborhoods, cheap rent, because you like the culture, or grew up in the town?
Whatever your reason for choosing the location of your startup, you’re a part of a community of people connected by location, and by culture and common local concerns (and global, in many cases).
Your business is more than just a business. It provides a service, and a means for people to connect: both in the physical space of your store, in the digital space of your community forums or social media, or through the shared use of a product.
An effective community engagement strategy, however, is lacking in many startups. They simply see themselves as a point of market transactions, rather than a communal, connecting force. If you’re not making an impact in your community, through providing a service, an experience, or even volunteering works, then why are you even there?
That’s powerful stuff, isn’t it? Fully utilizing your place in the community can not only lead to increased revenue and customers, but it can also inspire your employees to be happier and more productive by bringing them together for a volunteering event or by investing, whether time or money, in the area around them.
5 Reasons Why You Should Care?
Effective engagement brings awareness of your business. It shows your potential and current customers that you’re willing to give back to the very people who provide you revenue and support.
If one of your startup's core values is about caring for your customers, then from the get-go by establishing a community engagement strategy, you communicate your brand as a business that cares about the people it serves even beyond how they can extract profit from them.
Community engagement, furthermore, is a means of free advertising. If you’re a startup, you may not have a million dollars worth of investable capital from the beginning, and you’ll need to utilize every low-cost marketing option you have.
Getting out into the community, talking with customers, supporting local causes, and volunteering can ensure that your business is out and about all, while building a community. People and stories are the best advertisements, after all. Building relationships can have a lasting impact that reaches much farther and much more profoundly than a poster, a newsletter, or a billboard.
2. Understanding Your Audience
One of the most crucial components of operating a successful business is understanding the audience you’re targeting. If you don’t know the personalities, behaviors, and problems of the people you think need your product, then you won’t be able to market to them, to engage with them on the business side, or to raise enough awareness about your product to make ends meet.
Volunteering together with your employees or getting behind a certain community cause gets you into the streets and gets you talking with the people who surround your business. Many startups make the mistake of skipping best practices like creating a minimum viable product or not utilizing problem-solving or consumer-facing design thinking strategies.
They rush to get something out that doesn’t work or that people don’t work. This is obviously a huge pitfall, especially if you think that your service and your product is the answer to the problems of your community. You’ll have wasted time, money, and effort in producing something that simply isn’t wanted.
By getting out into the community, you can learn the nuances and fine details of the people you’re trying to sell to in a way that market or demographics research simply doesn’t afford you. By showing that you care about their input, you’re establishing your startup as a business that listens and cares about the people you serve, and that you value their feedback.
3. Getting Ahead of the Curve: Understanding Bottom-Up Changing Market Trends
A potential oversight in the importance of community engagement is that it gives you a crucial look into the changing tide of people and spaces around you. Are people rallying around a certain policy change that will include new regulations? Do they want a new park? Safer streets?
Gaining this insight not only lets you understand your customers' concerns, but it helps you to jump ahead of other startups and businesses not concerned about their community. It helps you understand social initiatives and plan accordingly to attract consumers and potential workers and increasing your revenue by staying updated and relevant.
Community changes might even impact the very product or service you’re selling – this is something you’ll want to know about before you invest everything you have into something that deals with yesterday’s problems.
It can help you change the infrastructure of your own business and can help you influence the building of a community around you to make sure that you maintain your place in the local market.
4. Building Internal Community
If you volunteer for a weekend with your employees, then you create a common goal that your workers can rally around. It gives them a chance to connect with each other on a different level beyond the office or production space.
Creating a solid, communal company culture from the get-go is an early investment that can go a very long way. It makes your workers believe in your business in a way that extends beyond simply believing in the product or service you’re selling. Instead, they’ll realize that you’re selling a vision, an answer to a problem, and a larger strategy for making a better world.
It even helps you to reflect on your company practices and ensures that the way your business is run is in line with your commitment to helping others and improving the lives of those around you when building the community.
5. Most Importantly, It’s About Putting Good into the World
All the reasons above stop short of the ultimate goal: to give back to the world and the community that you serve and that serves you. As a business, you may not be able to give to your community through a charity, but by working with people, learning what they need, and investing your time in them for their future.
Perhaps the most difficult part of community engagement is knowing exactly what to do, and this will largely depend on the community you serve. Is it a local neighborhood? An online community?
Community engagement ensures that your business maintains its role in the market and in the community by establishing your startup as a leader in community initiatives, working with politicians and activists to address the pressing issues of our time. You become more than just a business and instead become a social presence.
Keith Shields is the CEO of Designli, a mobile app development firm specializing in bringing certainty to the world of custom software development. Designli guarantees fixed price points, fixed scope of work 'deliverables,' and fixed timeframes for its clients as they build iPhone and Android apps for startups and small businesses.