When facilitating online community engagement, we’ve found there are certain steps that must be taken on the way to a successful project. Those steps include everything from outreach to follow-up. But before you think about spreading the word about your new initiative, you have to take that first crucial step: you have to create content that people will find engaging.
The easiest way to ensure compelling content is to start by identifying your inspiration. It sounds simple, but this step is often overlooked. If your question doesn’t fall into one of the following categories, you can expect your audience to let the question wither. Keep in mind that the best questions fall under all three. Are you asking something:
You need to know? Why are you engaging in this online conversation? What brought you here? Are you hoping to make your city one of the greenest in the country like Orlando, Fla.? Are you shaping the general plan that will guide campus development like Marshall University? Don’t make the mistake of asking a question as filler. Make sure you are asking questions your really need to know the answer to.
Your community is talking about? Take the opposite perspective for a moment. Sometimes the best content is shaped to tap into an already simmering dialogue. Are parents in your district concerned about the use of handheld devices in the classroom? Ask them about it. Even asking something more social – “If our community had a theme song, what would it be?” – not only encourages high engagement. It gives you a window into your community’s collective identity as well.
You can act on or respond to? The third question type can make or break your engagement campaign. Without coming clean about what you intend to do with the information you are gathering from your community, you risk not only losing their input, but their trust as well. Ask questions that you intend to act upon, or at the least, respond to. You should also be sure to let people know about the actions you do take. Your audience is giving you their time and thoughts, they deserve to hear what you are doing with that input.
Following these 3 guidelines will help to nurture a robust and fruitful dialogue. Once you feel confident in the inspiration for your questions, you can tailor the format and reach to fit your project goals, and get the conversation started!