One of the biggest sticking points for community organisations when it comes to outreach is worry about having to engage in ‘marketing’ or self-promotion. Terms like ‘personal brand’ can give the impression that we have to create something apart from ourselves, a persona that’s disconnected from who we really are. This is particularly alarming if you’re naturally introverted, and the thought of having to blow your own trumpet gives you chills.
In fact, however, the most effective engagement usually comes from simply being yourself. This is a surprisingly difficult lesson to learn – I say this from experience – because, especially in this age of social media and carefully curated images, it’s so easy to keep comparing ourselves to others and feeling like there’s a whole lot of things we ‘should’ be doing, even if they don’t really float our boat.
A common refrain I hear is that people feel their group needs to have a presence on every social media platform, but they just don’t have the time or the inclination to manage it all. My response to that is simple: if you don’t like it, don’t do it. The chances are your audience will be concentrated on one or two main platforms (probably Facebook or Twitter, although Instagram may be more appropriate for artists or those with a strong visual focus, and LinkedIn can also be good for professional-level networking), so go where they are and don’t worry about the others. It’s much better to learn how to use one or two platforms really effectively than to spread yourself too thinly across many.
The same thing goes for organisations’ websites. Some people get great engagement (and presumably enjoyment) out of having a blog for their community group, but blogs take maintenance, and if that’s not your thing then don’t worry about it. Your website needs to be informative and serve your audience’s needs – and this may or may not include a blog.
I understand this pressure all too well, having gone through the same thing with my own business. Being in strategic communications, I felt like I should be blogging about new technology or developments in search engine optimisation, because that seemed to be what everyone else was doing. Then, at the prompting of a very wise business coach, I stopped and thought about what I was really passionate about – helping community groups and not-for-profits bring their work to a wider audience, because I see immense value in their work and the contribution it makes to society. Once I remembered exactly why I’d started my business in the first place, blogging suddenly became a whole lot easier, because I believe in what I’m writing about. So if your research and passion is planting trees, or feeding the homeless, or teaching people how to trace their family tree, use that as your main point of engagement. If you’re authentic in your outreach, you’ll attract people who share your interests and who want to hear more about your work. You can’t please everyone, but the good news is you don’t have to.