Social Media: Engaging the Online Community
Social media has evolved from being a storytelling platform that connects friends and families, to a valuable public engagement tool that enables consultors to engage and encourage public participation. Whether you want to broaden your communication channel or reach a wider community, social media engagement is a strategy that complements your existing consultation process.
After all, we still want the ‘usual suspects’ to have their say!
While organisations acknowledge the power of digital platforms for engagement and marketing purposes, they’re just not sure how to use it effectively to achieve their objectives. Merely broadcasting content on social media accounts a few times a month will not gain as much exposure and engagement as one may have hoped. But we can’t really call this one-way communication a method of ‘engagement’ – it’s more like an announcement!
As prerequisites for achieving successful social media engagement, consultors need to define their consultation and engagement objectives, identify which groups they want to reach and whether they have a social media presence. Knowing your goals and target audience will help you pick the right digital platform.
Reaching specific groups
When you’re engaging particular demographic groups or key stakeholders, it’s essential to know which groups are likely to have an online presence. Of course, you should have alternative methods of engagement in place for individuals that have a low online presence.
For those who are prevalent on social media, learning about their interests and online habits is essential. This includes learning about the platforms they prefer to use, the best channel to communicate with them and the sort of content they engage with (text-based, images or videos). Usually, this information is acquired through ongoing engagement with different groups. If you’re at the baseline with no prior knowledge about your community or key stakeholders, it’s never too late to start collating this information!
Alternatively, you can employ a market researcher. Market research companies, such as BMG or Ipsos Mori, can obtain information about people in different locations and how best to reach them. This should give you a better understanding of where you should focus your social media efforts.
If your objectives are to reach a wider audience as well as a specific demographic group, it may be that you use multiple platforms. One to increase exposure and get more responses from the community but also use other platforms that specific groups are likely to use.
Social media advertising
A consultation will only be successful if people are aware of it. Social media advertising is the most successful method in reaching the wider online community. A well-targeted and designed advert will increase the exposure of your consultation and give the silent majority, or the ‘lurkers’, a chance to express and share their ideas and opinions about public issues.
Ask yourself: What is the topic and scope of your consultation? Is the information you’re presenting relevant to your target audience? Why should they care about your issue or campaign? In short, what’s in it for them? Be specific in your outreach; explain why the consultation is essential and the impact that they will have on the outcome.
In 2019, Kent County Council proposed raising council tax to help address the budget deficit. The council launched a budget consultation to get the views on the proposals of local people who lived and worked in Kent. The campaign focused on social media channels as well as traditional methods of communication (press releases and interviews). Short videos were shared on social media platforms, to increase engagement and encourage those who viewed the video to further engage by reading and responding to the consultation. Their evaluation showed that the campaign was not only cost-effective but generally increased public engagement in the consultation.
Incorporating visual content into your posts can be powerful in increasing engagement throughout the consultation process. Video and GIF’s generate more shares as opposed to images and text-based posts. Videos enable you to produce quality content, for example a short, educational video about your proposal, a team update on the progress made so far or a promo for a consultation event can help in keeping people engaged. Social media platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest, thrive on the power of visual storytelling.
Whether it’s dramatic headlines and typologies or bold colours, it’s important to create content that will make people like, comment or reshare your content.
Stay tuned as there’s more yet to explore on this topic! Next week, we will cover the capabilities of both social media marketing and advertising, the best times to post content and how to create content that will encourage people to share, respond or visit your website for more information.