Last Updated: December 4, 2021
Make sure to generate maximum neighborhood publicity with every festival and genuine accomplishment. Trumpet your neighborhood revitalization on social media. Cultivate reporters and bloggers, offer them silly freebies (we're talking T-shirts or caps, nothing more), take them on tours, and make their work easy for them in any way you can. Follow and Like them on their social media, and by all means try politely to get their phone numbers so you can text them some story leads. Take the trouble to explain your strategy for creating and maintaining a vibrant neighborhood, and all the thought and energy behind it.
If your neighborhood looks more like a war zone than a magazine cover, you can still generate what we used to call good press; you just have to work harder and be more creative. People respond well to stories of those who overcome difficulties, or even surmount them temporarily, so don't be discouraged if you feel like you don't have big accomplishments to tout.
If you are reading this, no doubt you have some really dedicated volunteers, and if nothing else, you can tell about all the hard work they have been doing. In social media and texts, you don't have the space to describe outcomes anyway, so you can get by with just dramatizing the fact that you are doing things, whether or not they bring results. This creates momentum and increases the likelihood that people will take an interest and help you actually achieve something.
If you do not know much about social media and aren't a power user of sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest personally, you'll have to learn. Incidentally, we are not suggesting in any way that your neighborhood association needs to use all of those platforms. Choose one first, master that, and then if you identify another platform as particularly well suited to your neighborhood's characteristics, learn and master the second.
If you feel lost about getting started, you might check out the multiple resources on the Kivi Leroux Miller site on nonprofit marketing. If you become really enthusiastic about the topic, she offers an outstanding nonprofit marketing course, which is free with registration.
If you can write a great press release, do it. Call us old-fashioned, but we find multiple internal and external uses for the press release, even if it never goes out to a long list of media as it did 20 years ago. (We still recommend sending it to your media by e-mail though.) Snippets can be adapted to social media and also to answering e-mail questions, texting your members and supporters your "calls to action," and sending reminders. The press release now belongs on the Internet on your own website and any others relevant to your geography. It becomes a master document that you can borrow from for many purposes.
If nobody in your group can write a press release, do not worry. Many other techniques are available, as you will see.
Some of you might resist the notion that you need to generate any hoopla, or you might have been burned by negative neighborhood publicity. The first thing to say is that you need the positive buzz just to build up a good impression of your area so that when bad things happen—and they can happen anywhere—you have a little backlog of favorable information with the public.
Wouldn't you rather have people say, "Oh that's unusual," if something bad happens, as compared to having them hear of your neighborhood for the first time when there is a particularly dramatic crime, corruption, or dilapidation story?
Realistically, the real reason you need the positive stories is that you need home buyer enthusiasm for your particular community. The housing market determines whether your neighborhood will succeed or fail, whether current residents see their investments in improving their property pay off, and indeed whether anyone feels like investing in maintaining or upgrading their homes at all.
Without a steady stream of willing buyers you will experience what is sometimes called disinvestment at some point. You may think you are immune to this because everyone maintains their homes well right now, but if no one wants to buy the homes when residents leave or die, eventually property values will go down and the remaining residents first will become discouraged about upgrading their properties and second will become despondent about even simple maintenance.
If your neighborhood doesn't have a "brand," meaning people are blank when asked to think about your neighborhood character, eventually you will probably have a problem with property upkeep and resale.
So neighborhood publicity is incredibly important. For more detail than we can offer on this page, please see the excellent neighborhood marketing resources being gathered by NeighborWorks.
The obvious answer to free marketing is social media. Learn to use each medium to its best advantage. It's a bit surprising that we see many neighborhood organizations invest their efforts in something like Pinterest if their neighborhood isn't very "pinnable." On the other hand, in the same city there is a wonderful historic neighborhood where almost every building has beautiful stonework, brickwork, and cornices, but they seem wedded to wordy media and not interested in showing off their beauty.
Regardless of which social media you choose, heed well our warning that if you try to do everything, you may end up doing nothing well. For all of their wonders, social media can eat up a lot of volunteer or professional time, and you shouldn't squander it.
If you don't have anyone in your community organization with a marketing background, turn to a local university for an intern for a semester. Better yet, manage an intern every semester for the university's benefit and yours. Marketing people will generate plenty of ideas to help attract positive neighborhood publicity.
Enlist your own young people, beginning with middle school, to help you. They have the patience to hang out on the Internet for hours on end to blog and tweet about your neighborhood, where it is, what's happening right this minute, why it's important, how cool it is, who they saw there, and all that stuff. With younger children, you definitely need a monitor before some post goes lives, but you can work out a system in which they email an officer the proposed post. The officer then can be the one who actually makes the post, or alternatively, approves the post.
That's really the way to stir up talk in your town, for free. You need buzz, and young people will create neighborhood publicity for you in a way that paid advertising rarely does.
Keep in mind that often today, photos and video
trump written storylines. If you can
stage an interesting photo and write a short paragraph as a caption for it, you
often will attract more attention than if you spent hours wordsmithing just the
perfect story. Start a YouTube channel
if you have just one or two decent videographers in your orbit. These days everyone with a phone can be a videographer, so take advantage of this fact by asking your neighborhood association members to send you simple video snippets for use in neighborhood publicity. YouTube has a special program for nonprofits.
Learn to be effective in the use of hashtags on Twitter (and other platforms that have adapted this convention also) to get people talking about either your neighborhood overall or to specific projects, events, and programs. Twitter is easy to learn (although it is hard for us to stay under the character limit!). A hashtag is a short word or phrase that starts with the pound symbol and allows people to continue discussing and referring to that word or phrase.
The other folks who will draw attention to your neighborhood are the artists. Yes, we know, they bring some out-of-the-mainstream behaviors, clothes, ideas, and just plain weirdness. But just think of this as self-expression and move on. As our photo on this page shows, your festivals can showcase your own artists or those from nearby areas who will be glad to come show off their wares or enliven the streets with performance of many types. Arts-based community development is growing rapidly in the U.S. We've provided you with a page on community cultural development to explore this trend, as well as the potential for cultural expression as part of community development.
If you want to pursue this particular neighborhood publicity strategy, we suggest that you think about an arts and economic development pitch to your city government.
Of course, neither arts nor any other single silver bullet will apply to all neighborhood revitalization situations. But we think you improve your chances if you pick a communications strategy, periodically re-evaluate it, and systematically work on getting specific message points across rather than simply trying to do everything everywhere.
Now we just used some fancy terms, so let's be clear that you don't have to have a lot of training to generate a "communications strategy." When you are just starting down this path, don't let anyone tell you that you must have an elaborate written communications plan either. But you should be able to make a list of the five to ten most important points you want people to remember about your neighborhood.
Spend half an hour at a neighborhood association meeting brainstorming what those points should be, and then assign a committee to argue about the merits of each one. Or use your executive committee for a change.
After you have the most important points safely recorded on one or two computers, then think about the most advantageous words and phrases to use to convey each point. Re-write your important points until you have your key messages down pat.
If you know what points you're trying to communicate through traditional or social media, it will be easier to evaluate whether the effort is worthwhile for time-honored neighborhood favorites, including:
Granted, all these things will bring you free publicity if you do them right, but they all take volunteer-exhausting work too.
In a crowded media market, all but the most popular neighborhoods will struggle to attract press coverage. But that television spot is golden if you can land one. So you have to work hard to create something really unique and fun, hopefully involving cute animals and kids as well as some prop, event, or stunt that is totally unexpected. If you have a unique setting in your neighborhood (a Civil War cannonball hole in a building, an old mill, or a mountain peak, for instance), try to tie that in.
Incidentally, despite our headline, there is nothing wrong with paying for advertising if you have the budget and you have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish.
Consider also the value of asking neighborhood businesses to include information about your neighborhood in their own advertising, websites, and social media. Think about incorporating QR codes into any signs that you have in your neighborhood, so that visitors can instantly connect to your website or a designated part of it to learn more about your forward momentum. If your signs are too expensive to alter, ask neighborhood businesses to post your QR code in their store windows. You see, there are many ways to get your message out that don't require much extra effort beyond the outreach and inclusion of neighborhood businesses, non-profits, and places of worship that you should be doing anyway.
On this page we are not considering your own inward-facing communication to your residents and businesses, but of course these are vital to your success as a neighborhood. On this topic we will simply refer you to our general page about newsletters and their format, as well as the season-specific pages giving ideas for summer, winter, spring, and autumn newsletters. We mention those on this page in passing because you should not overlook the possibility that one of your recipients will begin to take advantage of their own relationships in the broader community to give you an unexpected marketing boost.
In sum, the advantages of a good communications program include:
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