Customer reviews are a staple in the digital world. If you cannot see a product in person, the next best thing is reading about another person’s experience. The trust we instinctively place in each other’s opinions and observations are not limited to product reviews. Our everyday conversations leave impressions we probably never think about.
Years ago, I took friends home to visit my family in Wisconsin. I was completely unaware of my friends’ apprehensions created by the colorful stories shared of my childhood home and adventures. I was slightly embarrassed to learn how relieved they were when we pulled into the yard of a perfectly normal country home instead of the “two double-wide trailers stacked on top of each other” they were expecting.
Some self-reflection helped me to realize I was sharing only entertaining stories about the quirky habits of my family, mischievous adventures my siblings and I undertook, and my dad’s impressive levels of inventiveness and ingenuity. I never really talked about more objectively normal things.
It can be so easy to forget that during everyday interactions with people we often unintentionally become the expert for what others have not experienced. Someone who has never visited your town, will likely believe whatever you say about it and may remember what you said if ever asked about it in the future.
Since taking my friends home, I have become a much better advocate for my home community, and I am much more conscious of whom I choose to share the quirky but funny stories about my home.
The power and obligation to influence others opinions about our community has been on my mind lately because of a conversation I had at a recent networking event.
While visiting with the manager of a facility that employs several people locally, I quickly realized he was a kindred spirit. Instead of nodding politely with a blank stare when I extolled the virtues of my community, he lit-up, sharing that he had been moved here from the East and fallen in love with Kansas because of the affordable housing, high quality of life and the truly “Midwest nice” people. In fact, many of his family members had followed him here because of his praise for the area.
What he told me next has been replaying in my mind ever since. He has been working to change culture with-in his facility; to get his employees to stop griping or saying uncomplimentary things about the area because he does not want corporate to move the facility because no one wants to live there.
Many of the people at his corporate office have never been here; they rely on the opinions of local workers often gleaned from casual conversation to form an opinion of the community. If they ever have to consider closing a facility, he wants to make sure they know how wonderful his community is and how much employees are thriving so they will want to continue doing business here.
Just like with the product reviews, the opinions and observations of people living in a place are likely to be the deciding factor for someone to visit, move to or start a business there. The simple act of restraining from complaints or comparisons to other towns shows positivity. Sharing about your great community assets or the ways you and others are working to make it better creates images of a thriving community.
Most outsiders aren’t going to seek out community officials to learn about your town. They are going to listen to the experts. What will you tell them?
“Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service. Jackie Mundt is a Pratt County farmer and rancher.