New Ways to Think About Public Engagement
Public engagement can take many forms, and long gone are the days when there were only a few viable methods for reaching and motivating a target audience. As technology quickly reshapes today’s outreach environment and creates highly segmented, hyper-connected audiences, creativity and flexibility are key.
Here are a few ideas for rethinking how you approach public engagement.
Content Delivery: A Moving Target
As the ways that people choose to receive their news continue to evolve, methods for delivering content must be equally nimble and flexible depending upon the audience. For example, although traditional print publications have declined in use, there is an opportunity to stand out by using an unconventional style of print piece, perhaps one that is less reliant on text and focuses more on graphics to get your message across. If you are planning to move away completely from the print medium, some popular current alternatives include livestreaming, telephone town halls, social media and text messaging.
Ultimately, the selection of a content delivery method will rely on the composition of your target audience. If your audience is narrowly focused, then be sure you’re hitting them with the appropriate delivery method. If your audience is broadly based, you may want to design a campaign that can be delivered across several methods and even with different themes for each.
Any successful public engagement plan includes a variety of strategies to increase the impact of your advocacy and communication efforts. One of the most successful approaches is the creative use of storytelling to communicate issues, demonstrate impact and engage stakeholders. There are many ways to use targeted digital, visual and in-person storytelling techniques to create outreach that persuades audiences, influences decision makers and motivates people to take action. Find ways to develop a culture of storytelling in your organization; it’s not always the communications or marketing team with the story to tell.
The personalization of communication, effectively crafted, can have a greater impact than a press release or briefing memo filled with data and statistics. Short and frequent first-person narratives, a video series or engaging podcasts/interviews can deliver your message in informative and entertaining ways that keep your target audience coming back for more.
Face-to-face events can be highly effective and productive when used in the context of an ongoing, cumulative program of outreach and engagement. They build understanding, familiarity and trust in ways that virtual formats generally cannot. But that doesn’t mean your face-to-face events have to follow traditional formats. They can be fun, creative and inventive. Here are few examples:
- Tweetups: Tweetups are a fantastic way to quickly connect with your followers for smaller, informal events. Happy hours during a conference, meet-ups for particular groups or committees or product/project demonstrations. Tweetups are also a great way to drive people to your website and encourage participation on twitter.
- Food trucks. Everyone loves food, especially when it drives up to and parks right outside their door. Not only do food trucks provide fantastic access to a plethora of options, they also attract people and are a creative way to add flair to any event. Rent a food truck for your conference and provide a unique lunch option for your attendees, or host an event at an outdoor venue and use a food truck ─ or two ─ to attract attendees.
- Physical activity/exercise oriented. In many metropolitan areas, exercise has become ubiquitous and a great way to engage an audience in a non-traditional venue. Opening a storefront, park or bridge? Host a bike ride, 5K race, yoga in the park or walk to raise money for a cause or just to gain exposure to a community.
- Concerts/branded events. Many companies and brands, large and small, have used concerts as a way to build brand awareness. While it can be difficult to strike a balance between being self-promotional and maintaining a festival-like atmosphere, concerts provide a lot of opportunities for branding and also providing an incentive to get people to your event. This can be done through the name of the concert or series (think Sweetlife Festival), advertising and marketing campaigns, promotional items or giveaways or posters, signage and logistical elements.
Social Media Ad Buying
One of the most cost-effective ways to reach potential stakeholders is through social media advertising. These days, the vast majority of people use Facebook on a regular basis, and advertisements placed in their news feed are highly effective. Facebook ads can reach broad or narrowly tailored audiences. For example, you can target large swaths of people, such as all males in the Midwest, or focus on very specific groups such as females of a certain age in a specific zip code. Most importantly, Facebook ads are inexpensive and sometimes cost as little as 65 cents per click.