Promoting your online planning consultation. Here's five methods.

by Michael Kohn on September 23, 2015
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Gone are the days when it was acceptable to simply organise a couple of planning exhibitions and expect everyone interested to turn up to fill in a survey to show you have consulted. Like 'tick the box', but literally. Now people are turning more and more to online consultation and engagement solutions, it’s important to develop a plan of how to promote.

In this first post on promotion tactics, I'll outline a range of steps that every consultation organiser should consider when promoting an online consultation with 5 tactics that we advise our customers to consider when using Stickyworld, but which should apply to many other platforms too, the principles are the same.

Why are organisers turning to online solutions?

The risks of people complaining that they didn’t know about the consultation or couldn’t make your events, perhaps even challenging your proposals for lack of consultation are now very real. In the modern world where people’s lives have simply become busier, it’s really difficult, tiring and expensive organise multiple events to cover all the relevant times and locations to suit everyone.

Thankfully there are now a wealth of online solutions that can help you offer a 24/7 opportunity to have a say on proposals. Each of these solutions offers an alternative to promoting the opportunity in the noisy modern world. But each still needs a little work from you to promote. That means you will need a plan up front for how you are going to do this.

Okay, so what’s the strategy?

So you figure that it is a smart idea to get an online solution, but you realise these tools are not a ‘tick the box’ solution either. Like everything online, if you want to reach larger audiences, it takes planning and effort. But you need a strategy that you can execute within your project resources, and which will be relevant to your audience and objectives. Whichever platform you use, your strategy should include a range of tactics that you can execute in a timely fashion. Here’s some of the tactics that we share with our customers when promoting public consultations.

Tactic 1) Collect emails and use them.

It’s good to collect email addresses at every opportunity, in your website or at meetings. This is is still the most effective direct marketing method for business, and we think it's the same for online consultation.  Most online platforms will need at least an email address to register and prove an identity for commenting. Even if your platform offers social logins, and you think people may prefer to use these, you should collect email addresses wherever you can. If you have an email, you can always email a link that redirects to your online consultation web page. If you don't, you can't.

Also it is a good idea to email a smaller group of representatives first - heads of residents associations or youth groups etc - whoever is relevant to the particular consultation. These people are well connected to the most interested parties and they will have their own email lists. If you ask nicely and it’s relevant to their own group, they may forward an email for you and promote on your behalf.

In other words don’t think about mass impersonal emails, also consider more targeted methods. In all cases, keep your message personal and human.

Tatic 2) Embed in your website

Your existing website has traffic. Your new online consultation does not. Embeds are like widgets that you can simply plug into your existing website. These plug ins help you enhance any existing webpage with content from another website.For instance you can add a Youtube movie to your blog post  by copying and pasting the embed code.

In Stickyworld there is an embed code for any public room. This is found as one of the options in the share popup.  This can be embedded in any webpage or blog post and it gives some context and metrics on the ongoing consultation.

If your online consultation offers embed codes then it is a good idea to embed it in the page which has the consultation event listed, and other pages like news blog posts if you can.

If you don't want to embed a third party site in your website, then a link to the consultation also works, and is better if you can add an image.

Tactic 3) Share by social media

Most platforms will give you tools to share, so when you have created a participation opportunity for people, don't forget to use them. In Stickyworld you can share the room overview page or even specific slides and questions, sharing via facebook and twitter. You can also consider a relevant and memorable hashtag to promote on Twitter. 

A little search of relevant social media groups where you can post a link back to your consultation can also render big results.  In Twitter it helps of course to build up relations with followers first, and if people already follow you you can direct message them. Also consider asking people to retweet directly, but remember, Tweets have a short lifespan, so don’t rely on this method alone.  

Tactic 4) Connect with other events and community organisers

This tactic is related to the primary email tactic.  The basic idea is to brainstorm who you know who is related to the consultation and reach out to them to let them know you'd appreciate they help spread the workd. You can also directly call event organisers, educators and community leaders. Again ask them to help get the word out to their communities and networks. Remember you are offering an opportunity for their audience to comment on something that might affect them, possibly in a significant way. If these groups have upcoming meetings and presentations, they might even be prepared to put in a screenshot as a slide or distribute a handout.  If they are, do what you can to make it easy for them.

Tactic 5) Set up community hubs/libraries with a link to your site.

If there are any places where a public computer terminal exists, these are good places to ask the custodian of that terminal, who may be able to set it up with a bookmark to your consultation . They might even put a little folded card advertising the opportunity next to the terminal. Again ask them in good time, and then make whatever you can to make the opportunity to take part clear and visible.

CONCLUSION

These are a few tactics that you can consider in your overall strategy. There several more we will share in future blogs. The key thing to remember is that any event, meeting, website or survey does not promote itself.  There is no getting away from the fact that you have to take steps to get it out there.  Having said that, it is not so hard with a little planning and know-how. Also some platforms will make it easier than others.

If you have ideas or questions of how to promote consultation online, please do leave comments below and I will answer.

If you'd like to discuss your project with me in confidence, and run through some promotional tactics, then simply sign up for a free webinar demo and I'll be pleased to discuss the methods that we have found have worked in more detail.

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Stickyworld makes it easy to involve people in your projects.

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