Effective engagement of your target audience or stakeholders can seem like an impossible task at times but it’s absolutely critical to the success of any project or business strategy. Where once it was a case of providing information to a community or stakeholder group, now the active involvement of community and stakeholders can make or break the project.
Let’s break down effective engagement into digestible chunks to understand how to develop strategies that will work for you.
WHAT IS EFFECTIVE ENGAGEMENT?
Effective engagement is about more than getting the attention of your audience. It’s the building of relationships with, and understanding of, the community or stakeholders encompassed by a project.
At the heart of your audience’s interest in your project is the mother of all questions, “What’s in it for me?”. Effective engagement is the process of knowing your audience, what they want or need, and delivering a community-informed solution to them.
SHUT UP AND LISTEN – KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
A strategic mistake commonly made is to tell an audience what they need. A ton of work will go into a great idea, which is excitedly put out there only to be met by crickets. How did it go wrong? Put simply – your audience never asked for it. You’ve either misunderstood your audience or you’ve chosen the wrong audience.
This project isn’t about you.
In the context of community engagement, truly knowing the community is what makes the difference. You can’t effectively engage a community without knowing who they are.
Demographic statistics are important, but only as a starting point for engaging your audience. Think of it as reconnaissance. Find the stats that are important for the community and your project – stats that clearly link your project to the community.
What is the median age? What are education standards? What are the key industries? What is the unemployment rate? What are the prominent issues? This groundwork is what gives you a launching pad to approach the community in a way that encourages discussion and meaningful engagement.
This remains true for all types of ‘communities’, whether it’s a particular industry, a group of stakeholders, or a social media following. If your audience have a common bond, they are a community. Once you have that community’s base information in hand, you can begin to gather more personalised data.
Getting Into Specifics
This step is the true start to effective engagement. You got your background information and starting point – now it’s time to get in there, shut up, and LISTEN. Gauge what your audience wants or needs through some of the tried-and-true techniques, including:
- Surveys and Questionnaires;
- Community Consultations and Information Sessions; and
- Focus Groups and Committees.
Engagement is about being involved. A community wants to know that they are not only heard and understood, but also involved in their own destiny. It’s important to note that surveys and questionnaires are great for getting additional information, but you’re more likely to get higher quality feedback and animated, shared discussion through consultations and focus groups.
Don’t Clam Up or Vanish
You’ve listened to them and garnered some terrific insights about your audience and what’s important to them – don’t leave them hanging!
Effective engagement is about building relationships, not dumping and running. Your audience wants PROOF that you have listened to them so it’s important to remain transparent. Present to them what you’ve learned and show them that what you are proposing or offering can solve their issue. That ongoing cycle of informing and receiving feedback is how you can perfect your project to be something valued by your audience.
Those updates are also a useful tool for maintaining the interest of your audience. Go quiet for too long and you can be forgotten, which can negatively impact the roll out of the project, product, or service. Keep up that momentum and be visible!
Be a PART of the community. Continue to have an approachable, informative presence in the community through online forums, local markets and expos, sponsorships, and other community activities.
Practical Quality Over Flashy
Your effective engagement strategy will be guided by your budget. You’ll find that most engagement options are relatively low in cost, you just need to have the time to carry them out and follow through.
That’s not to say that you can’t think outside the box. If you know your audience well enough, you can create some incredibly engaging activities, but there is some risk involved as these activities can rely heavily on how well you know your audience. The truly important thing is that you and the community benefit from the activity.
You don’t need to have giant balloon arches, pyrotechnics, celebrities, and massive cash giveaways. What you do need is the ability to listen to your audience, make them feel heard, and give them solutions and answers that they need.
EFFECTIVE ENGAGEMENT THROUGH TOWN PLANNING
Wall Planning Group’s experienced and motivated team offers community consultation services and strategies, with a strong focus on social impact assessments and the sustainability of rural and regional communities.
Have a chat to the team at WPG to find out more about community and stakeholder engagement as a part of the success of your project.