by GK Strategy 27th September, 2017
2 min read

creativity in a crisis

Communicating with the community: how developers can win over local residents

With the Government’s recent push to increase the number of affordable homes across the country, developers need to become more effective at local community engagement if they are to take full advantage of this trend.

The stereotype of the corporate developer indulging in ‘token’ community engagement before forging ahead with their plans has to be put to bed. It is becoming clear that local authorities such as the General London Assembly increasingly expect developers to build local support for their plans.

This means that developers today cannot afford to ignore local sentiment – to do so could risk years of delays and legal expenses.

Reaching out to local residents might seem daunting at first but there are a number of ways you can ensure success:

Research local stakeholders

Communities are far from monolithic and have numerous representatives, campaign organisations, interest groups and concerned parties.

This huge variety means that the simple labelling of militant NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) should be forgotten. More often than not local residents have diverse opinions and are not opposed to new developments generally, just what they would consider being bad developments. This a significant difference – it means they can be won over.

Developers should find and contact local community groups. These might be resident’s associations, campaign organisations or societies. Get them on the side and they can be a useful conduit for disseminating key messages to a wide range of local people. They can also provide public advocates and a focal point for community sentiment. Do not forget that including them in the process lessens the probability of them turning against any proposed plans.

Go on the record

The highly localised nature of most development projects means that developers can’t expect national press interest in a new project (nor would they want it). It’s better to find the key issues that concern local opinion and use media activity to address them. Locals worried about the closure of a major local employer? Explain how new developments will provide jobs. Essential services under threat? New developments can be mixed-use – incorporating both services and new housing.

Don’t forget that local papers retain significant influence over community sentiment – they can provide a useful platform to highlight the positive elements of any proposed development.

Hit the streets

Developers can learn a lot from political parties when it comes to engaging with people locally. In small communities, word spreads quickly, so creative methods can generate positive sentiment fairly quickly.

Leaflets and letters are a useful way of raising awareness for key messages. People also prefer the human touch – representatives of developers should take time to meet residents at town hall meetings or other venues. Hosting local events that bring the community together can ensure that the image of ‘faceless corporate developer’ is wiped from people’s minds.

Go digital

Social media is key to reaching people in a local geographic area. Online sentiment analysis can provide useful updates on how people perceive a proposed development, and what issues need to be addressed in order to alleviate their concerns. Social media insight allows different audiences to be analysed and targeted messages deployed to win them over.

This is important because the local opposition will almost always have an online dimension. Developers need to use multiple online forums and social media channels to reach out and combat fears with warm, friendly and positive messaging.

Getting the message across is key as social media can have a powerful, galvanising effect.

Don’t forget

You can always contact experienced experts to get their view on the best messages and methods to win over local residents. Get in touch via tim@gkstrategy.com

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