These are lessons learned in collaboration with over 300 clients and more than 4000 online engagement projects in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA, using the EngagementHQ platform to reach out to the community and engage them at different levels.
I’m going to publish these one lesson at a time to make them bite-sized. This is the fourth post in the series.
Really, there’s no need to be coy about engaging the community. We quite often see lots of effort put into creating a really engaging site and then no effort in letting people know it is there. I suspect this is sometimes based on fear and risk aversion, but frankly that’s self-defeating.
If you don’t promote your site widely it will still be found by minority groups on the fringe of the debate who you hear from all the time anyway. It is the others, that valuable group of stakeholders who are not already heavily invested in the issue, who haven’t yet made up their minds, or are not so passionate about the issue they can no longer be constructive, that will miss it. You need to hear from these people, as well as their more passionate friends, which is the entire point of online citizen engagement. To go to the effort of building an engaging online presence and then not make the effort to tell people about it directly defeats the object of engaging people online in the first place.
It’s not unheard of for our team to have a conversation with a new client bewildered at the lack of community interest in their site based on an advertising strategy that comprises an advert on page 46 of the local newspaper. Fortunately, most quickly move beyond this!
For me, this highlights the change in thinking required to move from the old ‘exclusive’ way of engaging, which really just included a few passionate stakeholders, to the new approach of building and inclusive community of interested community members. The old way was governed by statute and by doing the minimum required. The new way needs some thought and innovation. A few generic suggestions that tend to work:
- Get the local newspaper to write an article about the issue and include a direct link to the website
- Get community radio stations to talk about the opportunity to engage
- Use direct email campaigns to drive traffic to your site (if you have the database this works beautifully).
- Use social media to get the word out
More ideas on getting the word out are listed here. How are you promoting your online consultations?
Of course, publicising a consultation gets easier with time. Each person that signs up to your site can also join a newsletter mail-out list where they can find out about future opportunities to engage. Here’s an example of a simple email that came to me from my local authority – Lake Macquarie City Council, about the latest opportunity to be engaged. It is a great way of showing the community you are interested in their continued participation and can also be used to give feedback on the results of your engagement process.