Remember that feeling of euphoria when you walk in a room full of people and they recognize and applaud you. Nothing can beat that feeling of happiness and the comfort of being surrounded by a community that appreciates and knows you. Being engaged with people around you, building a community has more benefits than one can imagine. But what exactly is community engagement and why is it relevant for franchise business owners?
What is community engagement?
Community engagement is a strategic approach on relationships, communication and interactions between community members and an organization (in our case a franchise business running in a particular area) to influence outcomes for both the business and the people around. There are two terms being used here ‘community’ and ‘engagement’. Let’s understand these individually.
Community: Refers to a group of people having similar interests or people staying in the same locality/city (geography). Community encompasses stakeholders, citizens, businesses, and more. In the case of franchise business, the community will be the people staying in the area where the business is operating.
Engagement: Involving the local authorities, people representatives when making decisions for your franchise business in a way such that they feel they are making a meaningful contribution is engagement. Before you even start your outlet, meeting up with the local authorities to understand how people perceive your new venture, will they face any challenge with you opening a place there and if yes what is it that you can do to resolve it for them.
Why does community engagement matter?
Community engagement matters as it can result in many positive outcomes not just for the community business too. As a franchise business, engaging with your local community, will enable you to make better and more informed decisions. Why? You are not working in isolation, you are well aware of the impact your projects and initiatives can have on the community. Thus, you try to workaround in a way such that the outcomes are positive for both your business and the community around. They start seeing your business as a socially responsible entity and perceive you as a business that thinks for them. So a lot of positive sentiments from the get go.
There is a relationship of trust with the community you are running your business in, people automatically have a high level of satisfaction with your brand, initiatives and any projects you might undertake in the future. By engaging with the community you increase the chances of being accepted and reduce the chances of being rejected or blocked.
Outcomes of community engagement
As a franchise business owner, engaging with the local community helps foster strong connections with the local community and creates a positive impact about your franchise business within the local area. A few examples of community engagement as a franchisee can be:
- Sponsoring the local sports team/dance troupe
- Organize food drives for the underprivileged
- Do fundraisers leveraging the power of your franchise brand for local park maintenance and similar initiatives
- Involve customers in menu planning around the festive season
There are a myriad of options for you as a franchisee to engage with your local community. However, you are a business entity running a business to make profits, so how does all these community engagement initiatives contribute towards revenues, profits, and the overall franchisee’s success?
Community engagement always makes your presence felt. It is like a soft marketing pitch that promotes your product or service by being present and engaged in all events involving your local community. The positive outcomes are far too many:
Increases local brand awareness
In all probability your franchise brand may already be well-known or could be one of those aspirational brands people the local community always wished for. That’s the primary reason you must have taken the franchise in the first place. However, there may be many in the area where you are starting your business who would be unaware of your presence and that presence has to be made felt in a big and positive way
Word of mouth marketing
It could also be a case where you are opening a franchise of a foreign brand which is kind of popular but not very well-known. You really have the task of people educating about your brand and what it stands for. Community engagement helps the local community know your brand better. In fact, community initiatives undertaken with a good intent can give you a lot of positive word of mouth publicity and word of mouth is still one of the most powerful marketing tools.
Builds trust and support
Your simple act of devoting your time and resources to the community, involving them in a few decisions helps build trust among prospective customers. It helps build a positive image and choosing your franchise over other similar businesses within the area comes naturally to your customers.
Good reputation and goodwill
Your involvement in the local community earns you a positive reputation and a goodwill which is an invaluable asset for any business. Getting good quality and reliable resources when hiring for your outlet becomes a lot easier as people are assured of a healthy work environment.
Types of community engagement
Community engagement is a vast ocean. The type of community engagement will depend on the level of engagement you want to do as a business owner. Do you simply want to educate or inform the local community on important issues as a part of your community engagement initiative or do you wish to collaborate with the local community and make them a part of your decision making process. Identifying and deciding on how much input the local community has in your business affairs will determine the level of community engagement and in turn the different types of community engagement practices you wish to employ.
The types of community engagement practices can be broadly categorized into the following:
- Public meetings
- Face to face or telephonic interviews
- Open house sessions
- Local authorities juries
- Traditional advertising
- Participating in local events
- Sponsoring local events
- Online engagement platform
- Social media
- Online surveys and polls
- Online focus groups/meetings/webinar
- Open online walls where people can post ideas
- Online advertising
Community engagement is not a one-time activity but an on-going process with long-term impact on your business. The intent is to develop trust, understanding, and a connection with your local community. At the same time as a business owner you need to safeguard your own business interests as well. Think long-term and engage in community activities that are sustainable and beneficial both for your business and the community at large.