10 Tips on How to Promote Public Participation

10 Tips on How to Promote Public Participation Online
This blog was originally published on June 11, 2015. 

Strategies to Drive Engagement for Your Project

You’ve prepared your online survey, organized the public meeting, and arranged all your engagement opportunities in support of your upcoming project. Now you wait for the community to participate. Right?

As most planning and public participation professionals know, it can be difficult to capture the attention of the community. Especially when it comes to ensuring a diverse and representative sample of community opinions exists, it can be hard to expand your reach past the same handful of people that show up to public meeting after public meeting.

Luckily, there are a few straightforward strategies you can leverage to promote public participation online, in order to increase and broaden your engagement. We’ve compiled a list of 70+ pro tips to consider when promoting your next public outreach project. Let’s get started with 10 popular tips.


1. Create Urgency

People are far more likely to participate if they feel a sense of urgency. Let people know that there is a limited time to provide input by creating urgency in your calls-to-actions 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 a sense of urgency by linking it to the frustration surrounding 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. Connecting with more informal sources, like local bloggers, can help you achieve game-changing results, without spending money on advertising.


4. Leverage Social Media Strategically

The key to social media success isn’t 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 increase the 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 to promote public participation depending on the context. Different groups will respond to different language, so test multiple options and see what works for each target audience.


7. Offer Incentives

Incentives can be very effective. Use prizes and rewards to encourage your community to participate. Offering a physical prize, like an iPad for example, is great way to help drive participation.


8. Leverage Community Groups

Community groups and neighborhood leaders have wide networks. Reach out to them to help champion your upcoming project. They’ll be able to share information about your project with their contacts to boost your engagement and reach groups in your community you might not have been able to otherwise. This will also lend your invitation to participate more weight, as an invitation that comes from a trusted group carries extra weight.


9. Use Many Different Outlets

In today’s world there are a variety of outlets to leverage including 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 to promote the public participation opportunity to the widest possible audience.


10. Raise the Bar High

Concrete goals lead 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.

Check out our latest eBook on strategies to Promote Your Online Public Survey Like a Pro

Promote your public survey pamphlet

FREE PLAYBOOK | 12 Ways to Promote Your Online Public Survey Like a Pro

Compelling online surveys combined with effective promotional strategies are the most cost-effective way to engage 1000s of citizens fast. Explore 70+ pro tips to optimize participation for your surveys!

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