Community Relations via The World Wide Web
The Internet or world wide web provides an unprecedented opportunity to communicate with the public and improve community relations. By providing a Virtual Plant TourTM and important environmental plans and reports on line, industry can short circuit the rumor mill and provide information to the local community, regulatory officials, and the world at large. Audience, content, maintenance, design considerations and costs are all examined.
Industry generally utilizes the world wide web as a marketing and/or sales tool for products. Books, CDs, automobiles and airline tickets can all be purchased over the internet. Another valuable potential use for the internet is to enhance both plant and corporate community relations.
Too often community relations efforts suffer because the shotgun approach of mailers and newspaper advertisements end up in the recycling bin while the person with a real interest in your facility has trouble finding the information and may feel reluctant to call the plant or take a tour. Now that most schools, libraries and businesses have internet access along with a rapidly growing number of home computer owners, the solution is to provide an on-line forum with important information about your plant, people, environmental programs and community.
A community relations web-site should consider members of the local community as the primary audience, while remembering that a larger world-wide audience will also have interest in the site. A review of the questions a facility has responded to in the past as well as the substantive content of public presentations and tours can provide an excellent starting point for determining what the "audience" interests are likely to be.
The specific content of a community relations web-site can vary
depending on the goals of the program. The following is a list of
sections that might be included:
Virtual Plant Tour.TM
Summary of toxic release inventory with context. (this will help repel erroneous negative reports such as "largest air polluter")
Outline of regulatory permits and more detail of desired sections.
Who are we? - a series of pages highlighting key plant personnel and their role in the plant.
Special sections for notable on-site activities such as waste recycling or minimization.
Community activities and links to other local community, government and business sites on the web.
Feedback/survey/"how to contact" pages for visitors to the site looking for additional information.
A "What's New" page featuring recent press releases and links
to updated sections of the site.
MAINTENANCE AND DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS
The following is a list of some factors that should be taken into account when designing and maintaining a community relations web-site:
The cost of developing a web site can range from hundreds, to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the sophistication of the site. There are providers that provide host sites at very competitive rates (less than $1,000/year). Generally, it is recommended that only a portion of a site be brought on-line as a first phase to allow review and feedback on costs and format. Depending on the overall complexity of the desired site, anticipate costs to be $10,000 to $100,000. As an example, http://gcisolutions.com with nearly 200 pages of linked technical information and GCI's virtual office has over 500 man-hours invested in its development. A smaller virtual plant tourTM site such as http://continentalcement.com can be put in place for about $10,000. In addition, it may be worth considering the placement of a computer with a link to the internet in the local public library or community center as part of this program.
Community relations via the internet provides an effective means of satisfying the growing regulatory and business requirements of keeping the public informed. The internet format provides greater control over the information than traditional tours and face to face meetings. Web access can permit response to concerns early or before they get blown out of proportion. When responded to promptly and effectively, your rebuttal to inflammatory accusations is as readily available to readers as the inflammatory material itself. Technical, environmental and legal staff all have the opportunity to review material prior to making it public. As an added benefit, communication with the press, regulatory officials and permit engineers can be greatly enhanced by providing them with an on-line tour/information resource. This could significantly reduce the time and effort required to meet the needs of those individuals during permitting and inspections.
1. Continental Cement Company, LLC, internet web site located at http://continentalcement.com, 1997.
2. Gossman Consulting, Inc., internet web site located at http://gcisolutions.com, 1996.