Simply launching an online community engagement initiative doesn’t necessarily guarantee a successful outcome with respect to participation and feedback.

Based on knowledge gained from a series of projects, here is our list of online community engagement best practices worth consideration when planning, implementing, and managing your next online consultation project:

  1. Analytics – If your organization engages online you must support your consultation with solid visitor and behaviour data. Otherwise, your project’s level of awareness and engagement will be unclear. Similar to public meetings, not all participants attending an online forum will leave a comment.
  2. Questions – Think about the questions you ask. For example, “What are your comments on the overall community budget?” may not elicit the same response as “Budget constraints mean we have to cut back senior care services, how do you feel about this?” It’s important to develop questions that draw people’s attention to an issue that they can relate to.
  3. Promotion – If you don’t spread the word about your online community engagement portal, your audience will not find it. Use a variety of promotional channels including traditional media, direct mail, and social networks to ensure that your community finds your online consultation.
  4. Usability – Provide information about your online engagement project in a concise format that is easy to read. For example, using a 10 page PDF to communicate with a user that is trying to access your portal via mobile is not very effective. One page summaries and use of photos and video will likely be much more effective.
  5. Rules – Set out the parameters of the discussion upfront. This includes moderation rules, closing dates, how the online consultation fits withing the decision making process and what feedback users should expect during and after the online engagement.
  6. Focus – Don’t get goaded in to a debate. Set facts straight, answer basic questions but don’t get drawn in. Furthermore, make sure your colleagues have clear internal protocols for interacting with users during the consultation.
  7. Traffic – Measure visitor data during the online engagement project to monitor consultation traffic levels. If you’re online forum is not attracting the desired level of visitation and page views consider incremental promotion. Remember, in most cases, visitors, not comments, is the most accurate reflection of success.
  8. Demographics – Consider initiatives to target certain sections of the population. Bass Council used Bang the Table to target non resident property owners and wrote to them directly. A local member of Parliament targeted young people and worked with schools to get feedback on youth unemployment issues.
  9. Social Media – Use sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other local forums to get the message out to community groups that may be impacted by, or interested in, the issues being discussed in your online engagement project.
  10. Consistency – Be consistent in your use of online consultation so that over time your community becomes accustomed to participating in this way. Like many things that are new, online participation will be treated with caution by some people until they get used to it.

Source: Bang the Table

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