Local communities: engage or leave behind?

While digital is radically changing the way we look at the concept of community, do businesses still need to care about people outside the company gates?



The web and, above all, social media present challenges to all of us. The more people that are connected, the more we dedicate efforts and resources to digital projects.

This is either to deliver lots of good-quality messaging through all available digital channels or to increase efficiency.

Recent data confirms this trend: looking at the “most important communication issues in Europe until 2017” in the European Communication Monitor 2014, selected results provide an interesting perspective: due to limited resources, we as communicators need to reach out to more audiences through an increasing number of channels in a more efficient and effective way (30.8%).

We also need to deal with the speed and volume of information flow (34.2%) while being conscious of the challenge of building and maintaining trust (38.7%).

This framework has an impact on how we look at establishing and maintaining relations with our stakeholders. By using an acronym, I say we are in a TUBE: no Time to travel and to meet people on a regular basis; teams are Understaffed; there is not enough Budget and, finally, it takes a lot of personal Energy to engage with lots of local stakeholders.

Digital communication absorbs much of our attention: so what happens when a crisis hits?

We look at a number of examples – one of the root causes as to why smoldering issues became crisis or escalated in media attention was the way companies engaged (or did not engage) with local communities. Are most companies in a TUBE? They want to move fast, make and execute decisions, even though engaging with several audiences is usually a slow process.

"The more people that are connected, the more we dedicate efforts and resources to digital projects"

This is the reason why corporate citizenship is becoming increasingly important. Most global companies are committed to long term programmes that build and maintain relations with key stakeholders.

For General Electric, an important way to accomplish company citizenship is GE Volunteers: a global network that includes employees, retirees, affinity groups, friends and family, all supported by GE businesses and corporate resources. The global mission of GE Volunteers is to facilitate and support volunteering activities that improve life in the communities where GE people live and work.

These are carried out through a wide range of projects in the areas of community building, education, the environment and health. Since 2005, employees and retirees have volunteered more than 11 million hours of their time on more than 42,000 projects spanning 60 countries. In 2014, employees volunteered for a total of more than one million hours. “Good people doing great things” is the motto. GE volunteers are ambassadors for GE’s culture and values.

They know, better than anyone else, our local communities, their needs and expectations. They can make the difference.

Following the acquisition, Avio Aero was integrated into the GE Aviation business. This was the opportunity to launch the GE Volunteers programme in Italy and Poland, the two main European countries of our industrial footprint.

Image: Overview of participation and activities of  GE Volunteers. GE.

The first step was to adapt the programme deployment to the cultural heritage of each country: for example, in Italy volunteering is seen as a private matter that people do during their free time. They do not expect companies to promote such projects. We developed an internal communication campaign to educate Avio Aero colleagues: learning about the programme, communicating how it works, promoting the proposal of ideas and projects, and so on.

On the other side, the GE Volunteers programme was an opportunity to establish a new way to dialogue with those local communities hosting our manufacturing sites.

We listened to their needs, trying to identify those activities and associations where volunteers could bring more value. Then we actively engaged in order to execute selected projects. The key to success was guaranteeing consistency by matching the company objectives with the community ones. One year after the launch of the programme we received positive feedback and increased dialogue with several city councils, leading to common projects.

In conclusion, engage or leave behind is not a real option.

Image: Pixabay


Marco Magli

Marco Magli is head of media and external relations at Avio Aero - a General Electric business - which is headquartered in Turin, Italy. He works in corporate communications, media relations, external and internal stakeholder engagement, crisis management, digital strategy and advertising campaigns. Before joining Avio Aero, he was the media relations manager at Barilla Group, responsible for multiple brands PR activities and corporate media relations. Marco began his career at Edelman and between 2005 and 2006 he was in charge of media relations activities for Turin 2006 Olympic Winter Games.