How communications professionals can help outside the industry and use their skills for good
The last year has seen over 3.9 million people in lockdown globally and we have had to navigate change, fast. One result is that the nature of communities, and of relationships within them, has changed monumentally.
For many of us, this enforced change provoked consideration, for the first time in my case, of the role that we play in our communities, as well as their importance to our sense of self, belonging and overall wellbeing. This is true whether we consider the local definition of community – our neighbourhoods and those who live within them – or, more broadly, those with whom we spend our time – our families, friends, social groups and colleagues. On a macro level there are wider communities, those who share our cultures, values and beliefs.
We have socially distanced, moved our lives online and are spending more time within the immediate vicinity of our homes, meaning that our world can feel smaller and more expansive at the same time. There is potential for our communities to thrive and for us to paradoxically be more connected than ever before. The key to achieving this is good communication.
Communication is the glue that brings people together, promoting relationships and mutual understanding; all especially important in helping us navigate this unchartered territory together. As comms professionals, we’re adept at navigating change and have spent years sharing information, stories and messaging with different groups across different channels. I believe there is an opportunity for us to use these skills for wider good, implementing methods learned in our work to act as a positive force in communities.
We know that people respond best to communication that feels personalised, giving them the opportunity to engage directly. This is also true in our personal, social and professional relationships. From Zoom calls with friends, to team meetings at work, our job is to make space for quality communication, encouraging all parties to participate in the conversation. It’s not just important for positive, individual experiences; ensuring that a wide variety of voices is heard will support a community connected and enriched by differing perspectives.
Find the right channel
With a groundswell of local community action, we need to bring online and offline communities together to ensure that all are supported. For example, technology is a barrier for elderly people, who may not be able to use Zoom without training and access to devices. More familiar methods, like the phone, or even email, are key to keeping their social networks active and ensuring that they are connected to wider communities. A shining example of this is 93-year-old Brian, a motorcar enthusiast who runs a telephone network of 18 friends aged 88 – 103. While they previously would have visited car shows together, now this community is a vital support network, guaranteeing a phone call from at least one other person daily.
Start friendly conversations
People underestimate the positive impact that exchanging a few brief words with a stranger can have on their happiness and wellbeing, as proven by a 2019 University of Chicago study. Researchers found that the main barrier to our starting up a conversation is thinking that the other person won’t want to reciprocate – or even that they won’t like us.
With a world in flux, it’s time to put aside these doubts and start saying ‘hello’ more. As comms professionals, we don’t shy away from verbal communications as we pitch to media or share plans with clients. It makes sense for us to take the lead and transfer an approach that we often take for granted at work into our neighbourhoods.
While a brief back and forth with a local shop assistant or the person delivering your post won’t change your life, it could help you feel more connected to your local community and bring a boost of positivity and a feel-good-factor to your day and theirs.