On Driving People to Online Consultations

Have your sayThe trend in recent years towards online consultation with communities is clearly beneficial to the overall process of engaging communities for a number of reasons.

  1. it provides the potential for a wider range of opinions, experiences and ideas to be garnered
  2. It provides a platform for more efficient management of large scale consultation activities
  3. Its easier and more fun for stakeholders than attending community meetings or being badgered on the streets while rushing to a meeting your late for.

(The latter point is, of course, not to say that traditional methods of engagement don’t have huge value. My IAP2 qualifications and experience have taught me of the unique value of many other community participation techniques and I too get frustrated with the current swathe of smegs who preach that online consultation is the only way to engage).

But assuming we are talking solely about reaching new stakeholders through online consultation, what’s the best way of promoting such consultation activities with them?

I wrote the following notes in response to a question in one of our gov2qld community of practice meetings some time ago. Some of the content is dated (I now no longer have a ‘heavily pregnant wife’, instead I have a gorgeous son! …. ermmmm …. no, that sounds wrong, I still have a wife as well, just not a pregnant one – you get the gist 😉 ) but the concepts remain valid.

It seems to me that promotion of online consultation events using traditional (i.e. non-online) promotion methods simply doesn’t work (or at least it definitely doesn’t work for me).

The only time I have been persuaded to partake of an online consultation relevant to me is when I have been able to ‘click and comment’. By that I mean, I am at my desk, I am in ‘browse internet mode’ (also often called ‘procrastinate mode’), I am presented with a link to a consultation and I click it to comment.

I am not in ‘browse internet mode’ when I am on a bus or train and see a billboard referring to a consultation. I am not in ‘browse internet mode’ when I am sitting in the comfy green reclining chair reading the local newspaper which contains an ad from my local council for a consultation; I am not in ‘browse internet mode’ when I am opening my council rates notice (instead I am in ‘angry mode’ and certainly not in the mood to read any enclosed flyers or newsletters from council – however, I might read these in green chair mode later – see previous).

So promoting an online engagement activity to me, and I suspect many others, when I am not in browse mode is unlikely to have the desired effect.

But when I am in browse mode, how, and through what channels, can I be presented with a link to a consultation and persuaded to ‘click and comment’?

Well, I check my emails about 1000 times a day. All 5 email accounts (it’s a long story). And when I’m in ’email mode’ I can usually be easily persuaded to move to ‘browse mode’. (In fact, a recent Community Engagement conference in Melbourne noted that links in emails is one of the most effective ways of driving people to online consultations). I also check Facebook about 5 times a day and if I follow the agency that has the consultation then I might be tempted by a feed update containing a link. But of course, that relies on me following said agency, which, for some, I do now, thanks to the Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi). I also live on Twitter. So if I follow an agency then you can bet that I’ll see the link to their consultation. And when I’m reading tweets I am simultaneously in ‘Browse Mode’, ‘Procrastination Mode’ and ‘Please show me something interesting mode’

And finally, I belong to communities of interest.

On LinkedIn I belong to a number of groups covering varying subjects, including those that cover the mechanics of online consultations – easy target! But I care about the environment too and belong to a few online communities. I love Organic Gardening and will happily comment on Community Gardening or local sustainability initiatives – if they are promoted through the online Gardening groups I am a member of; I love to sail and belong to sailing communities who care about ocean conditions and boat facilities in my local area. I have a (very) pregnant wife and so am (temporarily) interested in all sorts of issues ranging from vaccinations, family assistance, pain relief and more pain relief – again, if they are promoted through the likes of BubHub.

My point? When I am consuming or contributing to these communities I am simultaneously in ‘browse mode’ and I’m a qualified target for your consultation (if it relates to the environment, the ocean, foreshore planning, community gardens, child health and well-being, pregnancy pain relief etc). So come find me, don’t wait for me to come find you. I probably wont.

An interesting example comes from the UK Department of Innovation where they created widgets that allow other communities to lift consultation questions onto their own community websites. Websites that were built around a community. Websites that weren’t government websites (where people were unlikely to go of their own volition). Yes, there are times when someone will refer me to a consultation or I’ll see a print ad for it and actively seek it out. But these are few and far between and usually only when I am really passionate about a certain subject.

So, what are effective ways to promote and drive visitors to online engagements?

I believe it’s a question of channel and community. Using channels that enable ‘point and comment’ and communities that already exist and are already discussing the issue (or related issues). It’s about embracing and extending that old notion of fishing where the fish are … but then bringing them back to your aquarium (to use the words of my colleague and very good friend Amelia Loye).

Oh, and catch me in ‘procrastination mode’ – that’ll usually do the trick!

 

 

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