What digital channels are best for public consultation?

Here at Influential, we have planned and delivered a number of public consultations, including the regeneration of Mayfield Manchester and Everton Football Club’s proposals for a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock.

 

Each consultation is unique, and the way in which to reach the public will differ from consultation to consultation. There are several digital channels that can be utilised to raise awareness, maximise reach and engagement rates of your campaign and even drive footfall.

Digital marketing on a typical public consultation generally falls into two separate categories; informing and engaging. We delve into what digital channels should be considered in order to maximise awareness and engagement with your public consultation.

 

STAGE ONE: INFORMING

From a digital marketing perspective this is the most important stage of any consultation marketing work.  Creating the right content, pinpointing and reaching the correct audience, and ensuring that queries are answered online or on social, is vital in spreading awareness of the consultation.

 

Website landing page and online survey

In order to carry out a successful public consultation, you need to first spread awareness. In most cases this will mean:

  • the creation of a dedicated website, microsite or landing page
  • detail of the aims of the consultation
  • information on the background of the plans
  • FAQs surrounding the project you’re surveying

How you are hosting your consultation is vital. If you’re holding an event, be sure to include details online for easy access. If you’re sharing surveys online only, provide full details behind the survey so respondents have all the information they need.

 

Online survey

Public consultations are great but enticing footfall can be difficult. One way to encourage further engagement is to simultaneously host your offline survey, online.

Whether you choose to embed this into your website landing page or create a separate website is up to you and the software you use to host the survey. Technology out there can allow you to create one centralised survey that you can take to the public and share online. This means easier collation and analysis of survey results once the consultation is over.

 

Social media

Social media is a very effective way to inform your target audience about your consultation – whether that’s online, offline or both. You can share a constant flow of informative messaging including:

  • the dates of consultation and how to get involved
  • links to further information
  • messaging around the benefits of the proposals
  • details of any public events being held
  • links to online surveys and more

Facebook has the widest audience, so a new page could be created in the lead-up to and duration of your consultations, bolstered by dedicated Twitter and YouTube accounts. Instagram and LinkedIn do not naturally lend themselves to public consultations – as they have much more defined audiences, but depending on your target audience they could also be used.

It is vital that your social media messaging provides context around the specific issues that may affect people, addressing any points that may interest them in order to build support for the project.

 

Paid social media ads

Paid Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube ads are the most cost-effective way to reach a target geographical area, which makes them ideal for raising awareness of your consultation. What’s more, you can tailor these ads throughout the consultation period, from spreading the word ahead of the consultation launch, to asking people to attend events or complete a survey online once it is live.

The beauty of paid social media ads is that you can increase or decrease your advertising budget in line with the response you have received – so if you need a boost in respondents you are able to reach more people with just a slight increase in daily cost.

 

PPC

If your landing page or microsite is built just ahead of the consultation launching, chances are it will not have built up much in the way of SEO by the time of the launch. In order to gain some short-term search engine results, it is certainly worth thinking about Pay Per Click advertising on the keywords and phrases you think people may search for to find your content.

This can provide a much needed boost in search engine results, and as Google are now taking steps to make such advertising less obvious to the user, it certainly can make a difference in survey responses if used correctly.

 

Affiliate marketing – Digital toolkit

Asking any partners, stakeholders or other associated groups to help spread the word about your consultation is one of the most simple and cost-effective ways to raise awareness. After all, anyone with a vested interest in the result of the consultation is likely to want to help get the messages out to the target audience.

One of the easiest ways to help them help you is to create a digital toolkit, with social media messaging, graphics, video, press releases or other assets that they can easily share to their audiences. The easier you can make it for them, the more likely it is that they will share your messaging.

 

Email

If you have an email database that reflects the audience you are trying to reach, don’t be afraid to use it to bring the consultation to their attention. As long as you follow GDPR best practice and only contact people who are willing to receive marketing emails from you, it can be worth getting extra responses this way.

 

STAGE TWO: ENGAGING

Once your consultation has begun your messaging will shift from purely informative to engaging. Engagement and interaction will take place online during any consultation, whether you would like it to or not. People with strong opinions will always look to voice them. The key is to engage on your terms, rather than trying to please everyone you can.

 

Social media

Social media is a great tool to share awareness of your consultation, particularly while it’s happening. From sharing live content like setting up your event, behind the scenes of the event plus live content of attendees and their views.

Be sure to engage with the public online as much as you can – thanking them for coming and filling out your survey. However, you must tread carefully when engaging with people on social media, as consultations can be easily hijacked by individuals or groups who may voice strong opposition to any plans.

This means that the messaging used on social media must be conscious of such opposition. If your messaging isn’t clear enough, or uses ambiguous phrasing, you are giving opposing voices the chance to jump to the wrong conclusion.

Good social media interactions will seek to quell any misunderstanding rapidly, without being drawn into wider conversation around the issue. Our best piece of advice is to take any complaints or negative feedback offline.

 

Live social media coverage from events

Of course, the most effective ways to engage with people is in person. Speak to people at your consultation events and ask if they would be happy to share their thoughts on your social media channels. A short video, or even a photo with a quote is a great way to build up positive support for your event online.

If you have any famous faces show up at your event, be sure to capture them. People love to engage with people they know, so this is a sure-fire way to drive both online engagement and footfall.

 

Blog content

Offering frequent updates on plans for all interested parties will both inform and increase engagement, as people are likely to give feedback or share the latest news on a project. You can provide a broader context to your plans by posting links to relevant press articles or the thoughts and opinions of interest groups with whom you share the same values.

Keeping people up-to-date on your next steps or future plans means that they are less likely to fill any media gaps with their own narrative.

 

Whether you’re looking to drive footfall or drive engagement online, digital channels are a fundamental asset in amplifying your public consultation online and offline. Be sure to evaluate your digital needs as you progress through the stages of your consultation to maximise potential.

Using social media is a great tool to engage. Read how and why you should use social channels to engage with the silent majority during a public planning consultation.

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