Doing a mail-drop still has its place, but social media has An increasing role in inviting community involvement in built environment projects. how does it work in practice?

The traditional approach for those planning a public consultation exercise is to draw a circle on a map around a development site and send a letter or postcard to every address in that 'consultation zone' to let them know about how to get involved.

This method still has its place and is often considered a minimum level of publicity for a public consultation, particularly on Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) for example. But new and innovative 'social marketing' approaches to consultation publicity are emerging, where information is targeted at certain social media users based on their location, interests and life circumstances.

What are the benefits of the 'social marketing' approach?

Using social media promotion allows developers and civic leaders to reach people in a much wider geographical area with publicity that focuses on their specific interests, dramatically increasing overall levels of participation, the diversity of participants and the balance of opinion reflected in consultation feedback.

This approach recognises that it isn't just people already living in the immediate vicinity of a proposal site that have a stake in what is proposed. For example, young people living in a certain town or city may be interested in proposals for new homes in the village where their parents live, with future family planning in mind, and people living further afield may be looking to take up employment opportunities created by a development proposal even if they don't live nearby.

It is also important to focus publicity on what matters to people to motivate them to get involved in a consultation process, but it is almost impossible to anticipate what matters to someone living at a certain postal address or in a certain street.

The 'social marketing' approach allows engagement teams to target people with publicity that focuses on their specific interests, recognising that certain people may be more interested in the job creation aspects of a development proposal, whilst some may be interested in new homes or school places created by the plans, for example.

How does it work in practice?

Posts can be created to appear in the timeline or newsfeed of people that match certain demographic indicators to encourage them to get involved in a consultation or community engagement exercise. The posts link to an online consultation platform or a webpage with more information about how to get involved. Demographic indicators include:

  • Age group
  • Education level
  • Tenure status (living with parents, renting or homeowner)
  • Life events (such as engagement, marriage, new job or arrival of a child)
  • Industry or job title
  • Special interests (such as sport or heritage)
  • Geographical location

What are our top tips for social media consultation publicity?

  • Facebook and Instagram work best to increase levels of participation in your consultation or community engagement exercise, but Twitter works best as a tool for two-way conversation and a point of contact for people with questions and queries
  • Instagram captures the attention of a younger demographic (16-25) and Facebook a slightly older demographic (25-65)
  • Twitter makes it easier to tap into existing conversations that are taking place, by seeking retweets by existing organisations whose members or followers might be interested in your project and using hashtags that people are already using to tap into existing conversations
  • Some people may not click your link and interact with your consultation straight away, so create a page for your project which people can 'like', so that they can see posts made on your page in the future which will encourage them to get involved further down the line
  • Attracting 'likes' to your Facebook promoted posts can help prolong engagement beyond the period that the post is actively promoted, as things that people 'like' appear in the news feeds of their friends and followers
  • Don't use too much text in your promoted posts and focus messages on the human interest of the demographic group(s) that you are targeting

At Participatr, we have seen transformational results from targeted 'social marketing' campaigns that supplement traditional consultation publicity. Get in touch to find out more.

Written by Paul Erskine-Fox - Founder, Participatr

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