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If you want to drive higher traffic volumes, make the issues concrete

Dr Crispin Butteriss

Dr Crispin Butteriss

Crispin is a founding director of Bang the Table and the Chief Practice Officer.

I’ve been attempting to write a post for a couple of weeks now about what drives traffic to our online forums. If I had a bin in the corner it would be full to overflowing with earlier drafts of a tedious and over-thought thesis on the difference between our sites that “go off” and the sites that receive very few comments. So I’ve decided to simplify things with a very short statement of the obvious.

If you want you online forum to attract a lot of traffic and a lot of comments… MAKE IT CONCRETE.

Our four largest consultations have been, in order: (1) a proposal to remove a heavy rail line; (2) a plan to allow multi-storey development within a residential suburb; (3) a plan to change bus routes and frequencies; and (4) a proposal to redevelop a heritage lighthouse.

Our four smallest consultations have been: (1) A shire wide vision document; (2) a master plan for a new suburb with no existing community; (3) a tree preservation policy; and (4) an annual management plan.

The difference between the two lists is obvious. The large consultations have all been concrete and easily understood issues that the community hand a strong opinion about and could get their proverbial teeth into. All four had elements of “threat” to an existing community position. Three of the four spoke to a much broader issue of “place”, i.e. “How do I feel about my city/suburb/town?” and “What kind of place do I want this to be in the future?” BUT, crucially, they did so through the lens of a single definable, concrete, project.

The smaller consultations were (a) high order and necessarily fairly non-confronting in nature – the projects coming out of the vision would likely generate a lot more feedback; (b) targeted to a very small audience; (c) non-controversial; and (d) impenetrable.

This does not mean that the smaller consultations were necessarily unsuccessful – success is measured against the objectives of the consultation. I’m not interested in success or otherwise in this context. What I interested in is what lessons can we learn from the larger consultations that can be applied to the smaller consultations if “traffic” and “comments” is a desirable outcome.

And rather than over complicating things, I think there is really only one lesson that matters…

MAKE THE ISSUE CONCRETE – if necessary pull projects out of management plans and similar documents to illustrate the “real” impacts of the plan/policy/programme. Your community needs to connect to the issue viscerally. It does not understand or want to read bureau speak. It is worth looking at the headlines in a tabloid newspaper and re-imagining your questions as tabloid headlines. Think about real projects and real impacts, rather than conceptual principles and policy frameworks.

Photo Credits: Cuba Gallery

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22 May 2009
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One Comment

  1. Good analysis. This sounds very similar to what you find in face-to-face facilitation. You need to give people specific issues and themes to discuss. If your forums extend the time and place that such discussions can take place, then it stands to reason that the other rules still apply. What do you think?