The Anatomy of an Effective Intro

July 1, 2016 – OpenGov

In today’s age of information overload, capturing someone’s attention online can be an uphill battle. That’s especially true for government agencies that have to compete with this week’s viral video.

We’re in the business of helping government staff engage their communities online—even in the face of clickbait.

The recipe for success includes a critical ingredient: An effective introduction for your topic. By that, we mean it includes a few essential parts—an anatomy, you could say. We’ll break those down for you below.

The Lead
Once someone clicks the link to your online topic, you have just a few seconds to hook their attention. The first sentence or two should do that.

The first sentence or two—often called the lead in journalism and mass communications—should tell people the most important information, which in this case, is what they’re being asked to do online.

For example, the City of Foster City, CA, recently wanted to get input about community values, so the first sentence of their topic intro simply reads: “Foster City wants to know what hometown pride means to you.”

Immediately, the point of the engagement is crystal clear—and better yet, it’s stated in plain terms.

Often, we see clients begin their introductions with a chronological summary of background information—an approach that makes sense for staff reports, but not online civic engagement.

The Incentive

After people understand what you’re asking them to do, you need to tell them why they should do it. In other words, they need to understand what impact their input will have.

In the Foster City example, the intro sums that up for residents: “Your input will help us ensure we are working to preserve the community qualities you value most—and, it will help guide the overall look and feel of our City's brand.”

Once people understand what they’re being ask to do and why, you can delve into background information or add some helpful instructions about how to get started with the online exercise. All that information is helpful, but it should come toward the end of the intro.

The Eye-Candy
The brain is hardwired to seek visual stimulation, and the rise of image-based social media platforms has played right into that. Simply put, people are more willing to engage with something if there’s a nice photo—or better yet, a video.

With that in mind, you should always aim to include some sort of art element in your topic intro. In the Foster City example, they added a collage with a simple graphic, proving it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate to get the job done.

If you’d like help developing or refining your next topic intro, contact your Peak Democracy Public Engagement Manager to get started.

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