Listen up! Community Communication’s Forgotten 50%

How to get it right

“Listening is the first step, and also the last step.”
- Cantus the Minstrel

Community communication: to most community leaders, it’s about speaking or broadcasting information.
To some leaders, it’s about listening.
To the successful, it’s about listening well.
And in order to to listen really well, you need to ask great questions.

Here’s why.

A community’s brand is its story. It’s a complex, multifaceted story. A story with multiple perceptions, realities and aspirations. And in order to go about telling it best, it must first be understood. In order to be understood, it needs to be heard. And that requires listening. Really great listening.

Want to strengthen a community’s story and communication? Make it more valuable, distinct and clear? One of the first things to do is to sit down, ask great questions, shut up, and listen.

A community will tell you what makes it special. You’ll hear, “It’s beautiful here,” or “It’s our community spirit that makes us special.” But it takes skillful questions to uncover what matters.

What makes it beautiful?
Where is community spirit evidenced? How do you show community spirit?
If you could change one thing, what would it be?
What would you like to see as your community’s greatest accomplishment 50 years from now? 

Listening well also means listening more than once. A community communication project requires listening at the beginning, in order to get the story straight. A healthy, vibrant community that creates its future requires multiple opportunities for listening. A healthy, vibrant community anticipates that it will be listened to. A community communication project should act as an indicator to the community that there will be future opportunities for good questioning, conversation, and great listening.

Bonus listening tip

Great listening requires a considered environment. Project leaders often set out to listen to a community, but ask people to assemble in a de facto institutional environment, a civic centre, a city hall, or a hotel basement at best. Even the smartest questions asked in an institutional environment have a high likelihood of eliciting institutional answers. Great listening happens in spaces where people are comfortable, relaxed, and able to reflect. The hum of fluorescent lights, hard chairs scraping on floors, and fast-food buffets all impinge on good conversation.

As community branding specialists, we’re quick to indicate we don’t have all the answers. But we are great listeners. And we’re great at what we do because we have the right questions.

Got some questions of your own? Connect with us. We’re listening.

In the meantime, here are some questions for you.
How does your community listen to its people?
How often does it try?