15 Common Community Relations Pitfalls for Developers (and How To Avoid Them) 

by | Sep 21, 2020 | Community Engagement | 0 comments

Developers: Exercise caution to avoid community relations pitfalls.Your Community Brand IS your reputation when you’re building or enhancing a community with new development. That was a top takeaway from a post I recently wrote about the critical importance of a community brand to developers. Now I’d like to get more specific (and specifically helpful) and map out the most common community relations mistakes that harm a developer’s community brand. I’ll also tell you how you can avoid them.

Let’s start with a balanced perspective on developers and communities.

At Stratiscope, we believe at our core in the critical importance of thriving, dynamic communities in our civic life. This is why Stratiscope exists.

We also understand that housing is a critical, urgent need — especially in our cities — in California and throughout the United States.

We know that space is finite, and that the construction of housing can disrupt communities and displace families. Therefore, we believe that relationships between developers and communities  must be win-win if communities are to thrive and be sustainable.

We aim to be an honest, good-faith partner in helping communities and developers reach common ground for their mutual benefit.

Stratiscope’s commitment to neighbors and communities 

As we work to assist clients who are developers to truly, deeply understand a community and its unique needs and character, we rely on the local residents and leaders to share their stories and insights of what matters in the community.

We instruct our clients that working with individuals and organized groups is more than just a delivery of information—these are relationships to be nurtured and valued.

We respect the intelligence and expertise of local community residents and work to incorporate their valuable insights in the decisions made to create, update, or otherwise modify a project in response to community engagement.

While the developer ultimately must decide what is best for a project, we stand to be that conveyor of community needs and conduit of information so that all parties remain up-to-date and on the same page.

Developers: Don’t let these common community relations pitfalls harm your community brand.

With proper planning developers can avoid the most common and harmful community relations pitfallsAs the saying goes, bad news can travel around the world while good news is still tying its shoes. The best way you can strengthen your reputation—and by extension your community brand—is by avoiding actions that cast you, your business, and your projects in a negative light. The following 15 should be avoided:

Pitfall #1: Waiting until they need something before engaging the community.

Instead, proactively reach out to community members before you need feedback. Introduce yourself, your approach, and your general ideas. Start the process of forming relationships.

Pitfall #2: Failing to collect community intelligence before beginning engagement.

Instead, ask questions of local residents and leaders about the community’s history, make-up, challenges, and successes. (Stratiscope uses our proprietary External Groundtruthing™ process to discern community needs and perceptions and gain overall intelligence.) Community intelligence empowers you to more effectively respond to their needs and support their visions for the future.

Pitfall #3: Telling the community how your project will improve their community.

Instead, remember that  unless you live there, you don’t have the credibility to tell them what they need. Asking questions when you are ready to hear and accept the answers is the best approach to working with community members.

Pitfall #4: Seeming aloof, arrogant, or entitled. 

Instead, approach every interaction with utmost respect. Always bear in mind that your plans will significantly disrupt a place where people have planted roots that extend generations-deep.

Developers who avoid the common community relations pitfalls keep their projects moving forward.Pitfall #5: Not answering questions.

Instead, be OK with saying you’ll have to look deeper into the question. Just make sure you do, and communicate truthfully back to that person with what you’ve discovered. Being coy, elusive, or cagey in response to legitimate questions and concerns doesn’t build trust.

Pitfall #6: Sending information out without an opportunity for dialogue.

Instead, enhance your required mailings by inviting public comments. Send postcards with a simple survey. Or send invitations to learn about the project. One-way communication the least effective way to market your projects.

Pitfall #7: Letting the community create their own narrative by not providing one for them.

Instead, do all you can to craft your project narrative WITH the community. If timing doesn’t allow, make sure you craft and share a story of who you are, why you’re proposing this project, and why you’re the ideal developer for the community to work with.

Pitfall #8: Putting your project first and your people second.

Instead, amplify your team and their stories, passions, and commitments to the community early—before they hear about the inanimate project. Your company doesn’t build projects; people at companies build projects. Let your talented team create valuable first impressions.

Pitfall #9: Not investing in the greater community in a meaningful way.

Instead, take the time to understand what issues and organizations matter to the community, and then apply your time, money, and expertise to support those issues. You can’t come to a community, plop down, and announce you’re a part of them.

Collaboration and communication are critical for developers community relations.Pitfall #10: Not joining the local chamber.

Instead, make it the first step to becoming a part of the community. When you come into a community, you must support the organizations that support economic growth. While chambers vary in size and efficacy, they’re vital for making connections and deepening your understanding of the community.

Pitfall #11: Making enemies or creating skeptics in the decision-making jurisdiction.

Instead, have good faith in your community engagement so that the city and other decision-makers can believe in your efforts and intentions when the time comes for them to make decisions about your project. Don’t blow off, underestimate, or otherwise offend the people who support the decision-makers. (ProTip: Every decision about your project is a referendum on YOU.)

Pitfall #12: Taking for granted the local leaders, influencers, and mouthpieces that can sway opinions on you and your project.

Instead, know how the local culture shapes decision-making and be aware of the hyper-local media to get the coverage you want and deserve.

Pitfall #13: Assuming that generic “support” will win over vocal, adjacent neighbors.

Instead, make your best effort to help them see that you’re addressing their concerns (and this takes addressing their potential cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and other human social-psycho traits that we all have!) Even a few adjacent opponents or “elevated concerns” from those in extreme close proximity can overpower scores (or more) of supportive community members who live at greater distance.

Developers, Plan to avoid the common community relations pitfallsPitfall #14: Sending mailers or postcards and calling it “outreach.”

Instead, initiate true engagement or community activation.

Pitfall #15: Punishing a community with a bad (but profitable) project because they didn’t agree with your vision.

Instead, keep to the high road. Be gracious in conflict, to promote your long-term success and preserve your good reputation for future projects. Don’t lose the war over one disagreement on a roofline or setback.

How does your community brand help you avoid these pitfalls?

A strong community brand is central to avoiding the 15 pitfalls I’ve described here.  Your community brand is the image and reputation that you’re known for (or wish to be known for) in the space where you want to site your projects. When you can lead with a strong community brand, you can better connect personally with neighbors and influencers and move together toward a win-win outcome.

Get a FREE Community Brand Audit

By answering just eight questions you can be on your way to a stronger, better-defined community brand that will advance your community activation goals. Get started now—request your FREE community brand audit.