Most modern community engagement and outreach strategies face the challenge of engaging audiences both offline and online.
Typocally, in construction and planning, public exhibitions in village halls used to be the default form of engagement. In recent years, this firm of engagement has been accompanied by approaches that account for our connected lifestyles, using web platforms such as the PlaceChangers engagement platform.
Face-to-face contact in public engagement continues to offer a number of positives over online engagement. So here we provide a few tips on how you can combine the benefits of online engagagement with face-to-face interactions.
Online versus offline community engagement
We know that personal interactions have great social benefit.
In a study by Waterloo University in Canada, researchers asked 45 people to invite 10 participants each to complete a survey. Half of the group made their requests face-to-face, while the other half sent emails. The results were clear: Face-to-face requests were 34 times more likely to be answered. Why? Because face-to-face meetings promote trust and relevance far quicker than any cold email or paper flyer could. They can diffuse conflict more easily, establish trust and better communicate emotions.
Robust community engagement requires different points of interaction. Success means combining online media with the ability for individuals to come to meeting spaces and socialise, either with the project team or with other participants. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that younger people have a greater preference for digital interaction, whereas older people might prefer a meeting or a handwritten response.
Rather than seeing it as a choice between two approaches, it is better to appreciate their relative strengths. In most community engagement projects, your possibilities of engaging a large number of people through detailed face-to-face interactions are naturally limited, due to time constraints and obvious logistical issues. With face-to-face engagement, it can also be a struggle to follow-up and correspond to a large audience simultaneously.
That’s why a dual approach is advisable when it comes to community engagement:
Online and off-line community engagement tips
Lead in with a digital presence of your project
Balance this with a strong grounding in the real world. Consider how to establish a presence where your development may have an impact. Help participants to respond easily without having to go online.
Engage face-to-face on a small budget
Engage face-to-face on a larger budget
When working across different engagement platforms, pay special attention to aligning your tone of voice and visual communication across all channels. This includes choosing and sticking with the same visual colour schema, typography, logos, etc. You should also make sure that the key points of your project do not change, such as the justification for the project, its title and the outcomes that you aim to achieve.
In conclusion, the more aligned your communication across different channels, the greater the chance for individuals to recognise you both online and offline. This generates more trust amongst participants and increases the chance of a good demographic spread – ultimately leading to more robust engagement data.