How and why you should use social media to engage the silent majority

It can be very difficult to capture the views of the majority using traditional public planning consultations. By their very nature, planning consultations are dominated by a more vocal minority of the public. These are mostly retired people with the means to attend roadshows or consultation events in person.

Additionally, quite often this vocal minority will probably only turn up if they have taken issue with something they’ve seen in your plans, which can make their views disproportionate in the grand scheme of things.

In fact a 2015 YouGov survey of 20,000 people showed that 69% of people are either positive or neutral on the issue of new housing being built in their local area, with only 11% strongly opposed.

But people who are in opposition are three times more likely to be active than those who support or are neutral on the issue.

It also showed that higher earners are more likely to have a say in debates on local housing, whether in support or opposition. This risks the voices of those less well-off not being heard, as those on higher incomes can speak with more volume on developments.

And that’s not good for anyone.

ENGAGING THE SILENT MAJORITY OF PEOPLE

So how can you engage the larger, silent majority of people – including working people, those with disabilities, younger people and students, and any other groups who may find it difficult to attend consultation meetings and have their say in person?

After all they’re often the groups that stand to benefit the most from regeneration and other development schemes, through new housing or jobs, for example. Hearing their voices in any consultation is vitally important. So how can you cut through and reach this silent majority?

Perhaps the most successful way is through social media. In terms of pinpointing the exact audience with whom you wish to interact, there is no more efficient or cost-effective means of raising awareness.

From targeting key individual ‘movers and shakers’ who may be pivotal in raising engagement in a certain area, or engaging with online Facebook groups – such as a local area’s environment group, a homeowners society, a Polish community group or other collections of people – you can reach more people who may be affected by or stand to benefit from your development.

TAILORED CONTENT MEANS WIDER ENGAGEMENT

In fact, as each social media channel is unique, it can offer a second level of engagement, as opposed to simply block-mailing out leaflets or invitations to houses. Think about the typical ‘nuclear family’ household – two parents with young adult children living at home. It’s going to be very hard for your leaflet on the consultation to address the concerns of each member of that family.

For example, the parents might be interested in any effect on the value of their house, or transport issues that might arise from your scheme. Meanwhile the children might be more interested in the environmental concerns, or the ability to purchase affordable housing. Any leaflet through the door would have to address each of those concerns in one package.

But using a mix of social media platforms, you can reach the entire family quite easily, with messaging tailored directly to them. On Facebook and Twitter you are likely to reach the parents, while Instagram will be more suitable for their children.

MINIMISE POTENTIAL RISKS

There are many hazards to avoid when consulting with people online, especially around any developments considered controversial or contentious, as if there’s one thing people love to do online, it’s argue with others.

Be prepared to deal with negative comments that might question the entire development, or hone in on one particular issue. Often it’s best to ignore these issues (‘don’t feed the trolls’) but sometimes you may have no choice but to nip a particular conversation in the bud – either through messaging, blogs or other content.

Added to this, verifying the location of a user, or trusting an anonymous user to be acting in good faith, is less than ideal. Your social media team should be fully trained in how to react to cyberactivism or the potential ‘hijacking’ of the issue by people, which is increasingly important in this era of ‘fake news’.

PAID SOCIAL WILL STRENGTHEN YOUR MARKETING

When coupled with influencer marketing or paid social media ads, you have the opportunity to create a very solid and reliable way to reach those who might not have otherwise engaged.

Your social media messaging can be tailored to suit any of the groups you wish to target, and can even be multi-lingual, for example if your development is taking place in a culturally diverse area.

Paid social media ads can make this even more effective, allowing you to target geographical areas down to the postcode or street with which you wish to engage. One benefit of this is that the more targeted your campaign, the less pricey your campaign will be. Win-win!

Facebook ads can be targeted at different languages ‘that [aren’t] common to your location’ – such as Chinese, Polish, Urdu, Hindi or Arabic, for example, which is great for inclusivity and representing the needs of audiences that usually would not engage.

None of this is to say that social media will do all the hard work for you – as traditional consultation techniques will always still be required. Feet on the ground at an event where you can talk to people affected by your plans face-to-face remains very important.

So while it is still often a hard task capturing the views of the silent majority, you should at least make sure you’ve tried to reach as many of them as possible.

We’re experts on public consultation, using a full mix of offline and digital channels to engage the silent majority. Check out the work we did for leading regeneration company U+I and if you’d like more information on how we can support your project please get in touch.

 

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