21 Tips for Project Leaders

Agencies’ expectations for broad and inclusive participation are on the rise and many are turning to online engagement tools as a key part of the solution. As a result, there are an increasing array to tools to choose from. Go to any planning conference and planners will be talking about their online engagement experiences and technology vendors will be demonstrating their wares. For me, there is an important voice that’s missing: the participants.

Here are five questions that participants will ask themselves. The answers will either keep them engaged or send them packing.

These 21 tips will help project leaders succeed.

“How long will this take?”

Attention spans are shorter than ever. In particular we know that for online engagement, seconds matter.

1. Get people started in 10 seconds or less. Avoid the delay of reading complicated instructions or creating an account.

2. Target a five-minute experience. For people on the run, something that looks fast will encourage them to continue.

3. Show people what’s at stake and how their input will be used.

4. Start with the right question. We’ve found that asking people to rank their priorities is one of the most engaging ways to start.

5. Start engaging early in the planning process. People want to weigh in before decisions have been made.

6. Create a sense of urgency. Let people know that there is a limited time for public input.

“What’s in it for me?”

People are self-interested. Your call to action, branding and content must draw people in.

7. Test out different calls to action. Different demographic groups will respond to different issues.

8. Fun does not mean trivial. A fun tool will be shared more often on social networks.

9. Connect with people emotionally. Stories and images are more powerful than stats.

10. Use people’s own priorities to highlight the pros and cons of alternatives.

11. Give people cathartic input opportunities. Think about what kind of input people will want to get off their chest and give them an easy opportunity to provide it.

12. Understand sharing on social networks. Develop an experience that people will be proud to share, and that others will “like” and “retweet.”

“Am I comfortable here?”

The general public can feel intimidated by new technology. Great care must be taken to make the experience comfortable to a lay audience.

13. Make it easy to learn what to do, even without instructions. If people feel successful quickly, they are more likely to continue.

14. Use images whenever possible. Images are easy to respond to quickly.

15. Don’t allow for grandstanding or bullying. People are more likely to share their views if they feel safe and that their ideas won’t be challenged.

“Can you help me with this?”

Planning issues can be intimidating and many people don’t feel qualified to register an opinion. It’s important to help people learn in a way that doesn’t turn them off.

16. Ask questions that people feel qualified to answer. Everyone knows what they like and dislike and what priorities are most important.

17. Allow people to discover insights for themselves. Embed the messages in the experience. For example, a coin game communicates that funding is limited in a subtle and fun way.

18. Educate before asking for opinions. Use scenarios showing tradeoffs (pros and cons) to let people know that there is no silver bullet.

“I’m in a rush. Do I really need to finish this?”

For people in a rush, i.e. 95% of participants, it’s important to work hard to get them to finish the survey.

19. Leverage people’s curiosity. Use tricks like offering to show them some of the results when they finish.

20. Ask for personal information at the end not the beginning. People are much more likely to provide it when they are most invested in the project.

21. Prizes work! Offer something of value, such as a chance to win an iPad or to email them the report when it’s hot off the press.

I hope these ideas are helpful. At MetroQuest we’ve found that by leveraging these psychological insights we’ve been able to attract a large number of participants.

Over to you. What psychological insights do you have that could help improve online engagement?