Serve your community and your community will serve you
Posted by: Alistair Clay | 23.03.17

I was always taught by one of my PR mentors that creating awareness is one thing, building trust is quite another.

In the social care sector, probably more than any other, it’s the latter that brings real results but is often forgotten in pursuit of the former.

Awareness is relatively easy. One can book big advertising runs, blitz social media with content or put a huge banner on the side of a home, all useful activities, but it might not have the result you’re after – that people in your local community TRUST you.

You see, trust really is the magic ingredient when you’re running a care home or support service. It improves referrals, drives occupancy levels and it allows you to recruit and retain the best staff.

So how do you go about building and earning that trust?

There are many methods and surprisingly the most obvious is often ignored. Go and meet your local community!

Community engagement should absolutely be at the heart of your PR strategy. You need to be of service to your locality and bring value to the local community. If you do the returns will be ten fold.

Fortunately, it’s a particularity of the sector that a big corporate brand is relatively unimportant to an eldest daughter looking for a care home for her mother.

Lovely Loving Homes (in no way a real name) may have a very slick brand and image on a national scale but if word has got about the town that a few people have had a negative experience that brand will count for little.

On the flipside this means you don’t have to be the Coca Cola of care to succeed. With a little creativity and hard work you can start great relationships with your local community and build REAL trust.

Community engagement can take many forms and it really depends where you are in the life cycle of your home. For instance, if you are planning a new build, start meeting and engaging with your local community before that first brick is laid.

At times new buildings can cause a little unease so be open and transparent with the local community and offer them opportunities to meet with you and hear about your exciting plans for the home.

Share the good news that you will be creating new jobs for the town and stress that this will be a facility for the whole community.

Link up with local schools and ask them to name your new care home, invite the local community in for advance tours (everyone likes a good nose) and be a good neighbour.

Crucially, and it still surprises me how few operators do this, produce a detailed stakeholder map of all of the groups you want and need to engage with in the local area.

Of course you will have your usual commissioning and clinical contacts, but get a full break down of all the social groups and clubs (from the local WI to the scouts), schools, religious groups and clinical support groups (dementia cafes etc). Get a contact name for all of these groups and go out and meet them.

If you have spare meeting rooms or communal space in your home/service offer this as a facility to these groups. Invite children’s groups into the home to run gardening projects, run local fashion shows for the over 50s (that was hugely successful for us), film nights, coffee mornings – the more creative the better.

What you’re looking to do is to make the walls of your care home transparent, to bridge that divide between you and the community around you.

Remember many of your residents will have been a member of that community for a long time so they will WANT to feel they are still a part of that community. That is a major selling point.

In addition, anyone who walks through your door will see what a lovely warm, welcoming and caring home you are running and will go back into their social networks and share those findings.

This peer to peer passing on of information is what you’re after. This will build trust because the news is passed between people who already trust one another.

So get out there into your community and introduce yourself. Put your care home at the heart of the local area, make it a destination and place that people associate with activity, joy and life.

Serve your community – and your community will serve you.

 

First published for Health Plus Care