#MonthlyMyth: Build it (online) and they will come

July Monthly Engagement Myth - Online engagement participation rates community

July's myth touches on a mistake that is pretty easy to make and can catch organisations out, leaving them out of pocket without much of a return on investment.

Online tools are an important part of the modern engagement landscape.  They offer a broad range of benefits from ease and flexibility of access to handy data analysis options.   They can be absolutely worth the investment, and are integral parts of most successful, contemporary engagement processes. 

However, it's a mistake to think that a great online platform or tool alone will solve all your engagement problems or attract high levels of participation - no matter how much you spent on building it or how long you spent on perfecting it. 

MYTH:

If we build a beautiful online tool or platform our participation rates will skyrocket and we will capture diverse perspectives - no further effort required.

IN REALITY

An online platform can give you the capacity to host project information and capture data all in one place.  From the online user's perspective, they can track project progress and take advantage of multiple feedback opportunities.  However, that capacity will not be utilised to its fullest if the effort stops when the platform is finished - unfortunately, there's more work to be done. 

Rest on your laurels and you increase the risk of: 

  • Poorer quality outputs - uninformed participants providing opinions without full consideration of all the issues and options (i.e. clicking straight through to a survey without reading any background information). 
  • Some groups who are less likely to engage online or have access to online platforms are missed, decreasing the diversity of perspectives captured. 
  • Appearing to hide behind the platform instead of directly engaging with affected and interested communities when they are seeking direct contact with decision makers.
  • Participation rates are low, because while the platform is fabulous, nobody knows it's there. 

 Some tips for mitigating the above risks include: 

  • A comprehensive communication strategy is a must, ensuring your community or stakeholders are aware of the opportunity you are offering them and how to find your online platform.   This needs to include an integration of both traditional and digital channels to be effective.
  • Even though your main aim might be to capture data via an online channel, traditional methods of communication can be merged with digital efforts to increase the effectiveness of your campaign.  For example, taking technology to people - such as having ipads or kiosks at to face to face meetings and assisting people how to provide input (or capturing it on their behalf).
  • Having an alternative way to participate, such as hard copy surveys and submissions but having a dedicated resource able to enter it digitally into your system so all inputs are centralised.
  • Analysing participation rates and demographics of participants as you go to identify gaps and then developing strategies to target missing perspectives. 

Online engagement at its best adds enormous value to engagement programs, as long as it well supported by a communications strategy and genuine face-to-face opportunities. 

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