Hot tips on promoting your online community engagement

“If we build it, they will come!” is a common, yet flawed, approach to managing online community engagement. Simply having an engagement forum online does not ensure your community will either visit it or want to participate in it. Engaging citizens online requires the right resources and strategies to ensure it reaches and appeals to the right audiences. Wanting your online forum to “go viral” is not enough to make it so.

To ensure your online engagement has high visibility and community involvement you need to:

Develop a comprehensive communications plan

Plan, plan, plan! Constructing a well-researched communications and promotional plan is crucial for the overall success of your online engagement. You need to define your audience to develop the right tone for your communications and find the online networks and locations where your audience spends the most time. You also need to establish a budget, timeline and avenues for communications throughout the project cycle — from launch to post-consultation follow-up. Ensure you have a range of communications assets ready to go at the right time, then hop to it.

Place a link to the forum on your corporate website

If your community can’t find your forum they can’t participate in it! With online engagement, it is crucial that citizens have multiple ways to reach your forum. Most importantly, there should be clear URL links to your forum on your corporate website, ideally on the homepage and on pages where community members often visit. This will drive a large percentage of your traffic and ensures you reach the community beyond those who may have the direct link to your forum.

Target key stakeholders

Engage the most vocal locals! Key stakeholders are highly engaged and visible members of your community who might be the most affected or most vocal about a community issue. This may include community groups, businesses, committees and citizens who have previously raised a related issue with your organisation. These people are passionate about local issues, often have a large network and can encourage others to get involved in your forum.

Delve into your database

Use your mailing list! Direct marketing to your community through email newsletters is a fantastic way to reach a large amount of people in a short period of time. Using segmentation you can directly target community members interested in a certain topic or otherwise reach out to a wide range of people as relevant for your engagement topic. Repeat online engagements also help grow your database and ensures you have a community to engage with on future forums.

Use social media to spread the word

Be social on social! Social media is a great way to expand the reach of your digital engagement. Use your organisation’s corporate account to advertise your forum by updating the banner image and posts with eye-catching graphics, a clear call to action, and the URL. You can test campaign wording and target different segments of your community through paid advertising. This should be included as part of your budget and doesn’t need to be a huge spend. $50 spent on one well-performing post will go further than a few dollars placed on a few poor performing ones.

Utilise local media

People still engage with local media! Advertise your forum in local newspapers or ask to be interviewed about your engagement on a local radio station. Remember other forms of advertising too, such as posters and flyers. This increases forum publicity and ensures many more people, across a range of demographics, are hearing about your engagement and wanting to get involved.

Internal promotion

Remember your organisation’s staff are also members of your community! Ensure internal communications include a link to your online forum when relevant. You may even get the Mayor or CEO to launch a forum to staff members or tweet about the consultation, which will raise the profile of the forum and encourage further participation.

Offline engagement

Go beyond online! Hold local pop-up events in high-traffic locations where staff can ask questions to community members on the spot and input responses directly into the online engagement forum on a mobile device such as an iPad. This provides opportunities for people who aren’t active online to get involved, and has the added benefit of raising awareness of passers-by who can have a chat, take a flyer, then participate online later through their own devices.

All the strategies mentioned above work in tandem to ensure your online engagement not only has high visibility and participation but also reaches a diverse pool of community members.