Strategies to Drive Engagement for Your Project

The movie ‘Field of Dreams’ got one thing wrong. When it comes to public participation, the adage “if you build it they will come” is terribly naïve. In the online world, many people think if they launch a web tool, everyone will come flocking. Veterans in the business know that it isn’t that easy. In order to compete with the clutter of information that bombards people every day, there are many strategies to keep in mind to kick start your participation and keep the momentum going throughout the engagement period.

A key to this is promotion – getting your message out to as many people as possible and compelling them to participate. We’ve compiled a list of 10 tips to consider when promoting your next project.

1. Create Urgency

People are far more likely to participate if they feel a sense of urgency. The easiest way to do this is to let people know that there is a limited time for public input. Create urgency in your calls-to-action and marketing content. Count down to the last day and then consider extending the participation period due to “unprecedented demand.”

2. Be Hyper-Relevant

It can be tough to get people to feel urgency about a long range planning process. It’s critical to connect your project with issues that are top of mind today. For example, if your project relates to transportation, you might create urgency by connecting to frustration about congestion. You might try something like, “Tired of traffic? Have your say here.”

3. Solicit Earned Media

Media outlets are always searching for relevant content. Reach out to them and ask them to profile your project. Connect with more informal sources like local bloggers. Without spending money on advertising you could get game-changing results.

4. Leverage Social Media Strategically

They key to social media success isn’t just having a bunch of followers – it’s about the level of engagement with your community. Great social media campaigns require consistent effort, so make sure that you have a plan in place before starting. Strategically dedicate the appropriate time and resources. Even with a minimal budget, social media channels can be used to promote your initiative and get your community to share your content with their networks.

5. Use Your Existing Contact List

Mass email campaigns are still one of the best tactics for reaching your community. Drive engagement by simply tapping into your existing contact list and sending them a message. You can also leverage the email lists of your partners and biggest supporters to dramatically expand your reach and the perceived credibility of the project. If the calls to action are coming from multiple sources the campaign will seem more like a movement.

6. Try Different Calls-to-Action

Your campaign is competing against the short attention spans of your potential participants. You need to use the right language in order to motivate people to participate. Different groups will respond to different language, so test multiple options and see what works for each target audience.

7. Offer Incentives

Have prizes or rewards for participating. It doesn’t have to be much, but in our experience incentives tend to be extremely effective. Physical prizes like an iPad giveaway can drive participation to surprising levels.

8. Leverage Community Groups

Each issue addressed in a project will potentially have one or two community groups that are focused on those areas. Create content framed around these issues and market it to them. If done well this will get them actively involved. They will share information about your project with their contacts. This is key, as an invitation that comes from a friend or trusted group carries extra weight.

9. Use Many Different Outlets

In today’s world there are a variety of outlets to leverage. These include social networks, press releases, newspapers, radio, TV, and your website. Don’t rely on just one medium to get your message out there. Combine the best of traditional and digital marketing techniques.

10. Raise the Bar High

Concrete goals leads to real results. Not only are specific goals the key to strategic planning, but they also serve as a useful motivational tool for you and your team. Have a clear objective for digital participation and push towards that goal.

When you are engaging people online, if you’ve done a great job making your tool attractive, easy to use and filled with content that resonates with people’s priorities, early users will be happy to spread the word for you. These promotional strategies will help you get that ball rolling and keep it going to reach the broadest demographic possible.

Whether you’re planning a new bike lane proposal or gathering input on a statewide infrastructure plan, we’d like to see your project engage as many people as possible. It’s our strongly held belief that broad and inclusive public engagement leads to better insight into community preferences, smarter plans and smoother and more efficient project implementation.

These tips are a part of our latest eBook on digital engagement. Read the full version here