Best Practices For Building Your GroundSource Community

After you’ve signed up for your account and acquired your unique GroundSource phone number, check out this guide to cultivating your GroundSource community.

via JSHurricaneNews

Identify your Stakeholders

No, we don’t mean investors. Or vampire hunters.

By “stakeholders,” we mean the community members you want to engage — the people who have a stake in an issue or a story you’re working on.

Before you do anything else, answer these questions:

  1. Who are you trying to reach? Is it a specific demographic, i.e. low-income single mothers? Is it anyone who cares to share? Are they already connected with your organization? Are they people who have never heard of you?
  2. What do you think will motivate your community to answer your questions? Are they excited to chime in on a topic they care about? Are they frustrated their voice isn’t being heard? Flattered that you want to broadcast their ideas? Remember: this question is not about why you think they should answer; it’s about what’s in it for them.
  3. What are the barriers to answering your questions? Are your community members likely to be time-crunched? Distrustful of media? Suspicious of outsiders? Are there clear benefits to responding, and do they outweigh any risks of giving their number to a stranger?

Once you’ve figured out who you want to reach, you need to put out a message that motivates them to respond.

Craft your message

In an ideal world, you could simply post your GroundSource phone number, and everyone would text into the conversation out of the goodness of their hearts.

In reality, you need to provide some solid reasons for people to text the GroundSource number you post.

Here are a few themes you can draw on to make people jump from “I see this number” to “I will text this number.” We’ve provided some sample “prompts,” meaning messages that you use to motivate people to enter the conversation.

1. Influence

Sample prompt: “We need to hear from YOU”

What you’re telling your community: You (the community member) are the expert. Only you can help us (the organization) answer these questions. You are helping your community and improving your own life by participating.

User Example: In 2015, ProPublica kickstarted a series on “New York City’s broken rent system.” They teamed up with GroundSource to collect stories from New Yorkers on rising rents and unlawful landlords. They created these flyers and posted them all over the city, on top of sharing them on social media:

via ProPublica.

In this flyer, ProPublica asks community members to be a part of their work by helping them do an exciting job. This kind of messaging made their community feel important, valued and smart, and therefore motivated them to participate.

You can read the resulting investigations here.

2. Frustration

Sample prompts:

“Feel like your voice isn’t being heard?”

“Tired of rising rents in your city?”

What you’re telling your community: We are the people who will listen to your frustrations. Not only will we listen, we may publish them and investigate them.

3. Urgency

Sample prompts:

“Lawmakers are about to vote on this law that affects you. What’s your take on it?”

“We are doing this project and will be collecting input until Friday.”

What you’re telling your community: This is deadline-driven. If you want to get your voice in, you need to do it right now.

4. Intrigue, fun

User Example: The Listening Post New Orleans

via Listening Post NOLA

The Listening Post in New Orleans has inspired hundreds of people from all over New Orleans to text in using this approach. They post signs around the city with questions like “What’s for dinner?” and “Who do you love?” There’s no real context, no explanation; just a question, a number, and the name of the project.

LP NOLA has steadily built a network of sources all over the city that text in to respond to weekly questions, weigh in on big news, or just to share observations about everyday life in New Orleans.

What you’re telling your community: Here’s an outlet for your intimate thoughts, questions and observations. This will be a fun conversation that no one else is having with you.

Note: This is a good tactic if you’re trying to tap into a network of people that are curious and willing to engage. Other tactics will be more effective if you are trying to target a segment of the population, or hear about a specific issue.

5. Material Incentive

Sample prompt: “Answer our questions and be entered to win _____”

What you’re telling your community: There’s a literal reward for you.

User Example: The Listening Post in Macon, Georgia partnered with the Macon Housing Authority, posting flyers on 1,100 dwellings with a chance to win a free laptop donated by a local computer store. More than 120 responded, providing valuable data on life in public housing, and adding to the Listening Post community.

6. Personal Connection

Sample prompt: “My name is _______ and I work for ______. We’re doing a report on ______ and I could use your input. Text me to add your voice!”

What you’re telling your community : I am an individual seeking answers, and you can help me find them.

User Example: Amy Sisk, an energy reporter for Prairie Public Media, sends out news and questions by text to a growing community of sources in and around the oil-producing Bakken Formation in North Dakota. Knowing that they are texting “Amy from Prairie Public” makes sources feel more like they are engaging in a two-way conversation, and therefore has attracted folks that would not normally reach out to the outlet.

Publicize your campaign

You’ve decided on your message — now, how will you get it out there?

Use Your Bullhorn

If you already have reach with a community, use it.

Radio, TV, print, and their related social media channels are all fine ways to distribute your GroundSource phone number. Remember to emphasize a simple key word that people can use to text in.

Image via @media_outlier.

Written publications: Print your GroundSource phone number next to relevant stories, or on a unique page alongside your feed. This will encourage people to text in, rather than debating in the comments sections.

User Example: The Virginian-Pilot used GroundSource to collect community feedback on a proposal for a light rail in Virginia Beach. They posted the phone number in articles about the light rail, as well as on a unique page, and created an ongoing feed out of the responses. They got dozens of contributors, whose opinions helped shape the future of the light rail (which ultimately was not funded).

Image via @virginianpilot. Read the community’s responses here.

Live Events

Live events are a great way to get out the word about your campaign. Our users have gotten up 90% of their audience members to text in at live events.

Listening Post Macon partnered with a bike/pedestrian advocacy group to talk bike safety.

At a live event, you should….

· Ask everyone in the audience to take out their phones and text your GroundSource number

· Prepare a short (1–2 questions) conversation for the audience to participate in

· Project the number consistently in plain view (ideally, on the stage)

Shareable Images

Create posters and cards that can be easily shared both online and in print.

Image via Prairie Public Broadcasting in North Dakota. Notice how the GroundSource phone number and key word are bold; they are using a simple, yet emblematic image of their community, and there is a clear call to action with a simple key word.

This can be effective for two big reasons:

  1. It is easier and more compelling to share an image than, say, a webpage with a phone number posted on the side
  2. Printed flyers and cards can reach people who are not following you online

Social Media

Social media is great for sharing your campaign — as long as it’s not your only method.

People who use GroundSource have reported that the following strategies have spurred more sources to text in….

· Posting shareable images (like above)

· Publishing responses as they roll in, which inspires more people to join the conversation

via Listening Post Macon

Listening Posts

Several of our customers have set up physical listening posts in their communities: places where community members can learn about the project, and record their voices on the spot.

No special event to go to, and no interruption of daily routines.

A listening post on the Jersey Shore. Image via @JSHurricaneNews.

Remember: each community has a unique way of talking to itself. This list is a great way to get started with your outreach, but there are endless ways tap into your community.

What’s been working well for you?

Tweet at GroundSource so that we can share it!

Need some more ideas about how to do effective outreach in your community? Contact us for a consultation.

To learn more about what we do, and to try GroundSource for free, visit

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