Learn how you can effectively encourage community participation, drive traffic to your engagement site, as well as maximize public involvement and site registration.
When a government agency launches their digital community engagement site, they naturally put a lot of thought into it and are anxious to start seeing feedback and data-rich reports. However, local agencies sometimes struggle at the beginning of their engagement journey to drive awareness within their community about the new community engagement platform.
Bang the Table has tips and strategies, including fantastic examples currently being used by local governments, to help make your engagement site the talk of the town.
How to Maximize Public Involvement on Your Engagement Site
1. Create a Welcoming Space
When you first launch your site, you’ll want to focus first on reaching the early adopters who will help to generate word of mouth. And to do this you need to ensure your engagement site is a welcoming space for those in your community.
If your community is diverse and speaks multiple languages, it will be important to incorporate a language switcher on your site so that residents will feel included and can receive all of your information. Engaging hard-to-reach groups in your community by supporting multiple languages will ensure they can fully participate as well.
Create a branding and style guide for your engagement site will help promote public involvement. This will help avoid inconsistency in the tone of voice, terms and acronyms used, color scheme, and more. Use photos and videos as much as possible on the site as they grab attention.
Don’t assume a level of knowledge for the information you’re adding to the site. Always explain, in clear and concise language, what is being presented, why, and how a resident can engage with the information.
Lastly, thank the visitor for being there, and invite them back with teasers for upcoming projects and areas on which you would like their feedback.
2. Choose Your First Project Wisely
When you’re in the beginning stages of marketing your community engagement site, the choice of project you refer to is very important. Use a project that is top of mind for your residents to draw them to the site for the first time. Now, we all know that what is top of mind for stakeholders may be a controversial project that your staff is hesitant about engaging around. However, this is the time to be bold and prove to your community that you’re ready to listen to them, gather their input, and make data-based decisions for the projects that impact them.
There’s a silver lining to opening up feedback on a scary issue: you can actively start to control more of the conversation, with transparent and real community engagement. Your staff can dispel rumors and educate with accurate information in one place.
Once you have drawn people to the site with a top-of-mind project, this will only help engagement on other projects discussed on the site that are maybe less thought about by your community but still important, boosting public involvement on your entire engagement site.
3. Include a Healthy Mix of Heavy and Light Issues
When you think about how to encourage community involvement and participation, think about what would make you interested in returning to a particular forum or interactive site. If participants are continually greeted with heavy issues and negative impacts happening in the community, not only will they have a bad taste in their mouth about the tone of the site. As a result, they will likely take their angst elsewhere, such as social media. Maximize public involvement by being mindful of the mix of heavy and light projects on your engagement site.
Have fun with your residents, we’re all human and often need a break from the seriousness of life! Come up with fun polls, interactive maps, quirky and informative infographics, interesting statistics about a community feature, or history quizzes about the town. You could be creating community connections online while engaging on light, fun topics!
4. Create a Fun Video to Maximize Public Involvement
An excellent way to get the word out about your site is through video. The City of London, Ontario, Canada created this fun video to point their community members to their EngagementHQ site, Get Involved London, and specifically engage on their climate emergency action plan.
The Town of Innisfil, Ontario, Canada found fun and cute way to spread the word about their site, Get Involved Innisfil by featuring local children in the video, running the show.
The City of Boulder, CO took a tongue-in-cheek approach with their marketing video. They weren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves, and the traditional public involvement process, in their video to promote Be Heard Boulder.
Another approach is to simply demonstrate how to use your engagement site. The City of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada did this well in their How To Get Involved Nanaimo! video.
5. Promote Public Participation with Social Media
View your social media channels as marketing tools to promote your site, not as a place for discussions to happen around the projects. Monitor your posts and continue to drive visitors to your engagement site when you see questions about projects.
NextDoor can also be utilized effectively since a lot of residents go there first for community information. It’s especially useful if you can pinpoint a specific neighborhood on NextDoor in which a project will be happening.
6. Provide Printed Materials and Swag in as Many Touchpoints as Possible
There are a variety of opportunities to reach community stakeholders where they already live and engage including:
- Signage in government buildings, recreation centers, and parks
- Local newspaper
- Mailings to households, apartment buildings, HOA newsletters
- Business card/bookmark/magnet
- Ask local businesses to place a bulletin in their window or at their counter
- A notice included with any city utility bills that are mailed
- Fun and useful swag items baring the site logo and URL
7. Take Advantage of Current Digital City Communications to Encourage Public Engagement
Getting the word out is all about diversifying the channels you use for site promotion. Promote your new site on your main government site in the form of news releases, videos, blog posts, banners, alerts, or newsletters. Government staff, as well as City Council members, should put the link to the site in their email signatures. To maximize public involvement in city projects, all online resources should be utilized!
8. Write Questions That Result in the Data You Need
It may seem basic, but this is something many of us are guilty of: not asking a question in a manner that elicits the depth of information you really need. This is so important for community engagement. The questions on your engagement site should be simple enough for a sixth-grader to understand, including the option for open-ended answers, and not rely on jargon.
Here are helpful resources for writing effectively for public communications:
9. Remain Engaged with the Community in Between Projects
There will always be a lull between big projects and during that time your visitors to the site could wane. However, if your residents see the site as a helpful and trusted resource for community issues, it will become one of their regularly visited sites. One way to achieve this is by providing public health information and updates on COVID-19. This can be a good way to not only share important updates but also for the community to offer support to those struggling through the pandemic.
10. Employ Specific, Targeted Advertising
If your regular social posts aren’t generating enough traffic or registrations on your engagement site, consider paid advertising. Today’s tools on social media channels allow you to get very specific with your ad targeting to ensure your ads are displaying to the right audience at the right time. You can place ads to maximize public involvement on Facebook, Instagram, and NextDoor, and target by zip code, for example.
Built-in Marketing Features of EngagementHQ
Bang the Table wants your digital engagement site to be your community’s hub. We have built-in features that support government agencies in maximizing public participation. These features include:
- Social Media sharing directly from the platform: Residents can easily share project pages or their own comments directly to social media with the click of a button. This helps increase awareness within participant networks.
- Meta description content on project pages is auto-filled if left empty. This helps with SEO and organic traffic.
- The formatting for H1 and H2 tags, etc., is built into the code for project pages, also helps with Search Engine Optimization.
- Track engagement site data with Google Analytics.
If You Build it and Promote it, They Will Come
You already realize the importance of more voices surrounding community projects and that your digital engagement platform allows for diverse participants and unique perspectives. You have taken a giant leap to enfold your citizens in your planning processes and decisions and this will produce better results for years to come.
So, when you seek to maximize public involvement don’t be discouraged by a slow start. Your site traffic and registration will show exponential growth over time as awareness increases, and as you continue to roll out new opportunities for the community to get involved. Once participants witness you closing the loop by reporting on feedback and project outcomes, they will be much more likely to return to the site. Most importantly, their trust in you, their local government, will have grown. This will manifest as community-supported projects that meet the unique needs of the residents in the long term.
Want to learn more about encouraging public engagement? Watch this free webinar!