People who wanted information about their local community used to have to read a newspaper, make a call or attend a community meeting. Today, they’ll log on, looking not just for information but for connections. An online community engagement plan is essential. Why? Because it
- Attracts diverse voices: Instead of only connecting with people who attend a meeting, people can talk to you at any time, giving more people more options to offer their opinions and feedback.
- Allows for better decision-making: With more input and more diversity, you’ll get a better grasp of what your community wants and needs.
- Provides a sense of ownership: When people know their input will be heard, they’ll be more invested in the community.
- Means better transparency: Because you can answer questions in real time, citizens will feel you are more trustworthy.
If you’re ready to draw people in, we’ve got a few steps to help you get started.
Bring citizens onboard
Reach out to residents and let them know about your new discussion forum, social media group or agency social media page. Send a postcard with magnet or a megaphone jar opener with a note that lets people know there’s a place where their voice can be heard.
Much like in-person communities, online communities also come with recommendations and expectations. To make it easy to navigate this new online space, share frequently asked questions or a simple set of steps that tells them how to sign up, sign in and where to go to engage with you or fellow citizens.
This is also an ideal place to share online community expectations. Urge everyone to remail professional in tone and let them know if and when advertising is acceptable.
Determine community needs
What concerns do citizens have? What do they need to know and when? And what’s the best way to share that information with them?
The good news is that asking members these questions is an excellent opportunity to start getting community input. Set up a survey and start collecting answers. You can even add an extra incentive to offer feedback by giving useful thank-you giveaways, like a multi-use keychain or a planter kit.
Once you know what citizens need, it’s time to determine what content will boost online community engagement. Examples might include weekly:
- Polls and surveys on hot topics: Ask about major upcoming events or where people prefer a community gathering to be held. Single-question polls make it possible to get quick answers when you need them.
- Community content: Asking for community advice, images or ideas is a great way to engage.
- Livestream/hangout/podcasts: A weekly Q&A or interview with people who can provide answers to critical questions is an ideal way to capture attention.
Having the chance to talk about what’s going on in their lives and what’s important to them right now is the key benefit of people meeting each other. Offering an open forum where people can chat, raise issues or offer advice to one another can turn your space from a series of announcements into a truly thriving community.
Monitor and moderate
Although moderating might seem like a simple job, in reality, it’s much more complicated. For example: If no advertising is allowed, but one person asks for a service and another mentions their business, should those posts be deleted?
By having someone review posts, comments and polls frequently, you can respond to questions in a timely manner, curb off-topic discussions and determine if more in-depth or long-form material is needed for any specific concern.
If time and resources are an issue, have community members serve as moderators. Then, show your appreciation for their time with thank-you giveaways, like a jacket or a pair of wireless earbuds.
Craft an ideal online community
By building an online community engagement plan that puts citizens front and center, you’re going to get more detailed data, more input, and a better connection between your agencies and citizens. And that’s going to create a better offline community as well.