Drive more traffic to your online forums – make the issues concrete

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 the below issues to drive more traffic to online forums

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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