One of the issues that I have written about a bit on my Wise Economy Blog and in my last book, The Local Economy Revolution, is that social media, as much of a junkie as I am for it myself, is a lousy public engagement tool.
One problem is that it’s scattershot — they go to everyone and anyone, regardless of what they’re actually interested in. The second is that there’s no channeling — there’s little ability to create a structure that guides people, that leads them to focus on the things that the community needs to address.
The third issue is that, while people may or may not respond (and it’s certainly easier to respond to a Facebook post or a tweet than to an item buried in a written report), those response are similarly all over the place — your ability to get a clear picture of concensus and priorities is at the mercy of whether you, in your reading of those 745 comments, only remember the ones that used colorful language or expressed a strong opinion. The risk of drawing a skewed conclusion and missing the boat on what the community as a whole is saying….let’s just say, I don’t like those odds.
Because of its scope, Granicus does a consistently good job of understanding the big picture within governments operate, and this summary of a recent webinar provides valuable insight along those lines.
By Matt Hall
Social media is an effective part of many government agencies’ citizen engagement strategies, but it has its limitations. While sites like Twitter and Facebook make for great avenues to get the message out, they don’t do quite as well cultivating the quality of feedback that government agencies are looking for.
In order to develop a richer conversation with citizens, it’s important to have an online platform that encourages thoughtful conversations rather than the quick and short responses of social media. It must be a place where feedback is heard by government officials and it is constructive, focused, and actionable.
Last week, we held a very popular webinar on this topic: A New Level of Public Feedback: Going Beyond Social Media, featuring Jordan Gilgenbach, the Communications Coordinator for the City of Edina, MN, myself, and Thao Hill, VP of Sales at Granicus. We discussed why social media sites for government agencies are best used as informing tools, and what it is that makes a dedicated online engagement tool more effective for generating insightful citizen feedback.
Creating a Digital Engagement Strategy
With only 12% of public feedback being facilitated through Facebook, and 91% of government agencies we surveyed actively looking for a better way to gather quality public feedback, we wanted the presentation to focus on the keys to creating a digital engagement strategy that works.
To achieve this, we used the highly popular IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation. For 25 years, the IAP2 (International Association of Public Participation) has been working with diverse communities worldwide to identify core values, best practices, and technological strategies for increasing the reach and quality of public participation.
This spectrum of increasing levels of public engagement starts out with the “Inform” tools that social media functions well as. But to get to deeper engagement, we have to move further up the spectrum. We showcased how government agencies are starting to adopt all-in-one civic engagement platforms to reach a broader audience, educate, and enable participation in government that actually adds value….
How the City of Edina Gathered More Constructive Public Feedback
The real value of cultivating more meaningful public feedback online was demonstrated when Jordan Gilgenbach shared Edina’s story. Edina is a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis, MN with claims to fame being the home of the international Dairy Queen headquarters and the very first enclosed mall. Having been an early adopter of social media, Edina also was aware of its limitations. Jordan explained where social media was successful for the city and where it was problematic.
The City of Edina started using SpeakUp two years ago, but one year ago, they started a new strategy: monthly discussions. Since then, they’ve seen an increase in the user base by over 130%. Jordan also elaborated on how they are now getting much more thoughtful feedback, the benefits of all the discussions being centralized, and how much easier it is to use the reporting tools over collecting feedback through social media.
Jordan wrapped up his story in explaining the value of the SpeakUp feedback by showing off a couple of Edina’s real life discussions. These were pretty neat, revolving around the unanimity in a beekeeping discussion and the diversity in opinion on food trucks.
There was a fantastic Q&A section at the end where we addressed numerous issues like the frequency of negative comments (only 0.2%!!!) and what to do with them. Jordan also had a few words to say about the importance of getting buy-in from organization leaders.
All in all, we had a great time and there was so much to talk about. I want to thank Jordan and the City of Edina for coming on to share their story, and I hope you’llcheck out the recording of the presentation.