Say Goodbye to Cat Videos

October 5, 2016 – Kim Newcomer

Gone are the days when our online conversations were limited to food photos and cat videos. These days online engagement is all about governance.

  • 39% of adults do political or civic activities on social networking sites.
  • 39% of adults recently contacted a government official or spoke out in a public forum via offline methods.
  • 4% did those things via online methods.

*2013 Civic Engagement in the Digital Age, Pew Research Center

I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. Online engagement is an important piece of gathering community feedback. But integrating online public input into your engagement strategy requires more than a comment form on a website. To create a viable, legitimate online strategy, you’ll need three things:

1) Buy in from the top

Regardless of how many statistics we share about online engagement, many community leaders don’t value electronic feedback the same as in person input. You may even have heard someone quip, “if someone feels strongly about a topic, they’ll find a way to show up to a meeting.” While the logic is understandable, it’s not practical.

People are busy. Between work, kids, family – oh yeah, and sleeping – finding time to engage in our communities is a challenge. Sometimes life doesn’t allow the luxury of time. As a result, many of us have turned to online tools to share our voice.

We need to help our elected officials and community leaders understand that online feedback is just as legitimate as the comments given by those who attend meetings. We cannot judge the validity of a person’s contribution simply by whether they are typewritten or not.

2) Go Big…Picture

The most helpful feedback comes from informed residents. And that requires spending the time and effort to communicate effectively. Regardless of the topic, it’s important for your residents to understand the current circumstances, their choices and tradeoffs. Remember to simplify complicated issues, use data visualization to make facts and figures more understandable, and always focus the discussion on the impacts to the community. Take the time to educate and inform, and you’re more likely to spark engagement.

3) Integration

Using online tools alone isn’t enough. We need to promote those tools to encourage participation. Of course you can do that online through your website and social media platforms. But integrating your online tools with non-digital efforts will help boost participation and diversify your audience.

  • Community events with an iPad and an internet hotspot to gather online feedback on the spot
  • Promote your online tool in printed newsletters and other materials.
  • Display promotional signage at facilities and public buildings.

At the end of the day, our obligation is to offer residents the opportunity to engage with their government in a way that is accessible and valued by decision makers. Integrating digital engagement tools into your overall strategy will help you incorporate more and varied voices into your community.


This article was authored by Kim Newcomer, the CEO and Co-Founder of Slate Communications.

For more information about Slate Communications, please visit http://slatecommunications.com/