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According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “community engagement matters now more than ever” and improves outreach efforts, creates meaningful social activities and develops deeper relationships within the community! We have experienced increased number of members, community partnerships and volunteerism at Somerville Media Center since we hosted our Boston Free Radio Pop Up series, Media Mixers and Cinema Somerville Outdoor Movies.
At every community media conference I have attended one recurring question many ask is, “how do our organizations stay engaged with the communities around us and how do we stay relevant”? A question easier asked than sometimes answered. There are community media centers across the country there are community media centers have been around for thirty to forty years. When you stop and think about it -- that is an impressive amount of time for any kind of community organization. . What’s more impressive is that during those times, our organizations were considered the bees knees of edgy. There was experimental, with widely contested content coming out of cable television in a time when access to traditional mainstream media was limited or nonexistent to many communities. Flash forward to today and we are faced with an abundance of media stimulation every single day. From the constant ding of smartphone notifications to perpetual l media updates, as community media centers, WE must ask ourselves, “how do WE maintain people’s interests?”
I am always searching for ways to stay inspired (and to inspire!) as well as exploring creative ways to engage the community at large (our external network) and foster connections (members and community partnerships).
Just remember, it is better to fail and learn from that effort than to try nothing at all. But, let’s focus on the positive outcomes for this blog! Here are some simple ways to engage and bring people together in the name of community media and outreach!
Somerville Media Center has a thirty-five year history in the community. I have been there for only the last six, but I can say that in these past six years we have absolutely been trying new things! We are home to a very successful internet radio station community called Boston Free Radio. Through BFR, we create fun and engaging ways outside of SMC to invite our members to join and volunteer at community events. Recently we were hired by a national real estate development that manages a mixed use space in Somerville called Assembly Row -- they partner with community rooted institutions like SMC to activate and offer space to perform. We hosted a three-part “Pop Up Boston Free Radio Series” at their mixed use space on Friday evenings in June thru August - each one focusing on a different decade (70s, 80,s & 90s). We were able to accomplish several things with this:
1.) Get money for our creative skills,
2.) Offer incentives to our volunteer radio producers
3.) Develop stronger relationships with a community corporate entity (who provides us now with a sum of $5,500 for a multimedia partnerships)
4.) Build a wider visibility in our community.
Each DJ was provided guidance and setup assistance from staff. Then they played their funky tunes and shared outreach materials to interested passersby about the programs and resources at Somerville Media Center. It was a great tangible way for someone who might be curious about becoming a DJ to see it firsthand at an event like that and to consider getting involved with SMC. We reached almost 100K users on Facebook for the 90s event. Assembly Row has 30k followers on their own Facebook page and this definitely influenced our social media pages as well. It was a win-win for all.
A unique way to engage your video producers and the greater video making community is to host Media Mixers, a free event for media makers to come together and mingle. We rotate hosting the event at different Somerville venues to partner up with them and to build more community relationships. We promote this event through a meetup group called Boston Video and Film which has a very active following. People who attend are eager SMC members, local actors, editors, graphic designers, podcasters and just curious creative people! One recent attendee said to me, “there are not many places that bring together so many different people in the creative arts industry. This is surprising because it is Boston, but there needs to be more spaces like this and hosted more frequently.” While SMC only hosts these every 3 months, we find we typically gain between 5-7 new members each time. The breakdown is 60% attendees from outside SMC and 40% current SMC producers. I give an intro at the beginning of these mixers about SMC and all its offerings and then throughout work to facilitate interactions. Another win-win for outreach, visibility and engagement.
Lastly, what better way to bring people together than through film festivals and outdoor movie screenings? Cinema Somerville was inspired by Cinema Northampton (in Northampton, MA) and was implemented into our programming back in 2013. It is a pop-up movie series that travels around Somerville. Our film screenings have celebrated local filmmaker fellowship, have screened mini curations from the Arlington International Film Festival and have honored public domain throwbacks. We collaborate with many different local and regional nonprofit organizations to bring the best experience to the greater community. And of course at these events we preach the SMC gospel to everyone who attends and distributes our marketing materials!
Now it’s for you to experiment, try new things and take a few risks. You won’t know what will work until you try it out. The above mentioned “community activations” are tangible, accessible and affordable ways to bring your membership and the greater community together. Take advantage of every chance you have to spread awareness of your organization and to remind folks that YOU ARE HERE and you ain’t going nowhere!
Stay tuned for my next blog installment on 3 Ways to Reach Your Community for Your Next Event - we will discuss platforms for outreach, social media, marketing and more to target your audience. Subscribe for PEG Experts Blog updates here to be notified when that post is published!
Erica Jones, Director of Outreach & Membership at Somerville Media Center, an award winning community media center and make space in Somerville, MA, the most densely populated city in New England. Erica is also the Chair of the Alliance for Community Media Northeast. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!