When conducting an online engagement consultation, it is essential to ensure your community and stakeholders are aware of the opportunity, just like you would with traditional consultation efforts.
The process of marketing your consultation will be extremely different to how you would generally raise community awareness of traditional engagement opportunities. It's not as simple as putting a link on your organization's website and expecting the comments to flow in.
Always use traditional engagement efforts alongside digital engagement
My first piece of advice is to always combine your online efforts with traditional efforts. Don't look at digital engagement as a replacement to traditional consultation methods, but rather as a way to expand your consultation to reach a broader audience and gain more honest and insightful input from your community and stakeholders. One of the easiest ways to combine your online and offline efforts is to bring tablets to public meetings so you can show community members exactly how to use the engagement site. This will get them excited about being able to participate at a time and place that is convenient for them. This will inform those who would already engage to use the online opportunity, but how can you encourage those residents and stakeholders who are harder to reach?
Promote on your organization's website
Figure out which pages on your organization's website get the most traffic and promote your project on those pages with banners, sidebars, etc. By doing this, you know that you're already reaching the right audience and you can easily direct them to your project page.
Paid traditional media & social media ads
Depending on your audience there are a wide range of online mediums available to reach your community and stakeholders including traditional media, paid social media advertisements and paid promotions. It's likely that you will share your online consultation to your organization's social media, but there is also an opportunity to target Facebook users based off of their location, occupation, interests, age, income levels and more. Paid advertisements on radio, local TV Stations, in the newspaper and direct mail are all effective ways to reach community members who don't spend time on social media so they wouldn't see advertisements through that medium. These are all effective ways to make your community aware of the online engagement opportunity and direct them straight to your consultation's site.
Get creative! Be where your target audience spends time
It is extremely effective to bring engagement opportunities straight to where community members spend their time. Many organizations do this by setting up stations at recreation centers, libraries and community events with tablets or computers that are already set-up to the engagement site so people can explore and engage with the consultation or planning project. One community placed a bench in a skatepark where they wrote the link to the engagement site and invited residents to write their ideas on the bench. In this specific consultation, they needed a way to reach the users of the skatepark, so they brought the engagement opportunity straight to them.
Often times you may need to give residents a reason to participate. Offering an incentive can be extremely effective and it's easy to promote something simple like an Ipad giveaway or gift voucher. Encourage community members and stakeholder to enter the giveaway by participating in your online engagement consultation and you will quickly see your participation rates increase.
Track your results & refine your efforts
Regardless of the methods you choose to use, it is vital that you track and measure the results to refine the strategy in order to reach your target participation rates. There is no individual strategy that will work for everyone, so learning what works and doesn't work will help to achieve your desired results.