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Stakeholder and Community Engagement in a Post-COVID World

COVID-19 has created an atmosphere of uncertainty in almost every industry. Overnight, the world was forced to go virtual and with very limited opportunity for in-person interactivity and communication. 

We are currently still operating in a time of crisis, but businesses need to consider what happens not just today, but tomorrow and beyond. Those that do not take action to adjust their communications strategies risk losing their audience’s trust. 

A positive shift for engagement 

Fortunately, the digital era has normalised online communication to the point that many of us now prefer it.  

The pandemic forced a necessary shift to more online engagement, and in turn we see more opportunities to engage virtually with stakeholders and the public. With more people spending time at home and on devices, we see profound growth of proactive sharing and responsiveness happening online . The digital environment is infinite, and there is space to make stakeholder engagement more accessible, more tailored, more interactive and more available.     

Let’s keep digital 

There is no better time to grasp the opportunities of the digital world. The restrictions on face-to-face interactions push us towards virtual tools such as webpages, eDMs, phone calls and social media platforms. Embracing the video conference world and “Zoom etiquette” are all new concepts for businesses, stakeholders and the community. All of these tools see us engaging with harder-to-reach groups.  

This does not mean there is less effort to identify and attract people to engage with. But the fundamentals of stakeholder engagement and traditional methods of communication now need to be exercised throughout digital platforms, and this is where we see a need to continue expanding digital infrastructure and resources to stay productive. As part of our role, we seek to keep all audiences engaged and informed through regular and reliable forms of communication. 

To find out more about engaging stakeholders in a post-COVID world, we spoke with Claire Paddison – a communications and engagement specialist with more than 20 years experience in leading and implementing large and complex stakeholder engagement for major public and private sector projects. 

Claire said that the pandemic has forced people to shift to digital solutions, in turn, allowing for much greater engagement with communities and stakeholders. 

“I found that we reached people we might not normally engage with”, Claire said. 

Challenges 

The pandemic has clearly demonstrated a fundamental need for good stakeholder engagement, and it is crucial this engagement is authentic. 

Growing mistrust in media and government has continued during the pandemic and it has proven to be quite challenging to create or mimic authentic human connection in an online environment. 

Cannings Purple’s Senior Consultant, Ethan Gallagher said that 2021 calls for clear and authentic engagement. 

“It’s important for engagement practitioners to be on the ball in terms of being respectful and authentic and meaningful in how we engage…If we are not, it’s really easy for people to see through that and this could undermine an entire engagement plan”, Ethan said. 

This is where we cannot ignore traditional theories of communication as our job is to accurately engage and inform with the necessary audiences. 

We can help

For advice on how to put together a leading practice engagement program, contact our stakeholder engagement team.

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Bridget Clarke is a consultant in our Stakeholder Engagement team. She has developed a diverse set of communications skills with a working background in retail, hospitality, education, fitness and small business development. Growing up in the Kimberley, Bridget takes a great interest in Western Australia’s unique resource sector and has a passion for community and environment.