Telecom Insights

Tactics for Data Center Community Engagement

Will data centers become the new target of “not in my backyard” protests from local communities?

It’s already happening, but the telecom industry still has an opportunity to shape the narrative around data center construction. By reframing data centers from towering eyesores to potential hubs for community engagement, data centers can transform from a focus of NIMBY ire to a welcome addition to a community.

Data centers are one of the many kinds of clients we work with as a Telecom Marketing Agency. Building a new data center requires PR and marketing before shovel meets dirt to engage the local community and manage media coverage of the project. We have experience with telecom industry construction and product launches, including the knowledge of how to turn a potential negative news story into a PR win.

Change the Narrative on Data Center Construction

At the heart of every “not in my backyard” protest – or NIMBY, for short – there is a valid concern from long-standing community members. However, those valid concerns can be very bad for brand reputation, especially when they take the form of shouting matches in local council meetings or picketing at industry conferences or construction sites.

Residents and business owners want to preserve the value of their investments and make life better for their local community. But, their concerns can sometimes arise from misunderstandings – especially when it comes to new technology.

It’s easy to see why the idea of a data center might rub folks the wrong way. To the average member of the public, the term “data center” conjures images right out of a Mission Impossible movie – a sprawling, darkened warehouse that Tom Cruise and his team will need to infiltrate. They’ve also read alarming news stories on how data centers can disrupt the local electricity grid or make a dent in local water reserves to fuel their cooling systems.

What can the telecom industry do to change the potential NIMBY narrative about data center construction? Community engagement is key!

Valid Concerns about Data Centers in Communities

Bill Kleyman is an enterprise technology expert who works directly with data centers. He recently highlighted his surprise at encountering protesters at DICE Bisnow, a data center industry conference.

In Kleyman’s post on community pushback against data center construction, he highlights four concerns about data centers from local residents followed by a somewhat surprising response: “You’re right. And your concerns are all valid.”

Here’s Kleyman’s list:

  • Data center greenwashing and marketing dishonesty.
  • Water conservation concerns.
  • Data centers are massive energy hogs.
  • Encroachment into national parks and key rural areas.

Kleyman acknowledges that each of these concerns arose from real world examples of data centers that have had negative impacts on communities. He emphasizes that unsubstantiated marketing claims about “greenwashing” will fall short with local residents who are looking for realistic, nuanced, data-driven information about how new construction will impact their lives.

That’s a desire that can be solved with community engagement.

5 Community Engagement Tactics That Work for the Telecom Industry

Community engagement is more than distributing mailers to every household or showing up at a local government meeting.

True engagement means proactively embedding yourself into the fabric of communities, where you can listen to concerns and respond by educating and sharing benefits.

Or, in Kleyman’s words: “genuine and honest conversations around who we are, what we do well, and where we can improve.”

That’s a great goal, but… how do you achieve it? Here are some tested community engagement tactics that have worked in the real world for our telecom industry clients:

  1. Form a Community Advisory Board. Proactively engage community leaders and influencers so they feel like they have a voice in your data center construction project before it hits the news. They will give you insight into the real concerns of the community to allow you to get ahead of potential reputation management issues.
  2. Host Events. Residents don’t want to feel like big business is swooping into their community in secret – hosting events makes you visible in the community. Learn what kinds of events are valued in a local community and host or sponsor them – whether they are family friendly weekend events or sophisticated adults-only networking nights. You might even consider having a community space as part of your data center campus.
  3. Partner with Local Businesses. In Public Relations, one of the most powerful tools to build positive sentiment is to partner with another business that has significant goodwill. Those partnerships can be even more powerful if they’re backed by real investment in the community. Touting how your business will be working with a popular local caterer or landscaper can help to humanize your brand and your project.
  4. Support Local Education Initiatives. Many NIMBY complaints are grounded in concerns for the future, especially when it comes to children in the community. Showing a commitment to education in a community proves you share values with residents. It can provide a tangible early example of how your investment in the area will benefit the community for years to come.
  5. Join Forces with Non-Profits. Don’t go it alone when it comes to trying to get engaged with a local community. There are dozens of nonprofits who are already making a difference by being plugged into the community organizations, businesses, and local government agencies. By partnering with these non-profit orgs, you can accelerate your community engagement while directly benefiting residents.

One great example of a non-profit with goals that align with the Telecom industry is Connected Nation. Connected Nation has a mission to improve lives by closing the digital divide with expanded access to high-speed internet. They’re an organization who already understands the underlying communications infrastructure in a community, as well as the sentiment around technology and digital access.

Connected National is an example of a great place to start for a Telecom company looking to make a community impact in the United States.

Data Centers can be Hubs for Community Engagement

Data Centers don’t need to be a “not in my backyard” story for communities.

Honest, authentic communication and community engagement can turn a potential “NIMBY” story to a “YIMBY” story – that’s short for “YES in my backyard!” Data centers can be hubs for community engagement and engines to strengthen local communities.

Percepture has global experience working with Telecom Industry clients, including Data Centers in the United States, Canada, and China. We believe in the opportunity for a new era of data center community engagement – and we have the strategies to make it happen.