A version of this post originally appeared on the NATIONAL Public Relations blog, an AVENIR GLOBAL company.
As technology is constantly evolving, so too are the ways we engage with it, and by extension, the people, businesses and organizations we use it to connect with. If you’re operating in the sphere of public engagement, advocacy or customer relations, have you assessed your online presence in terms of active participation and visible engagement?
If you had to stop and think about that question, it might be time to get the process started.
Here are three trends that might inspire you to consider new ways to reach out and increase engagement:
As digital consumers, we are becoming more accustomed to participating in two-way interaction, real-time events, social sharing and conversations in ways we have not seen before. Many traditional ‘brochure’ websites don’t change very much over time or have many indicators representing visitor activity, but that’s not in line with how we have grown to interact with online content.
Kickstarter, Change.org, Twitch and many other platforms invite participation and contributions from their visitors in deeply meaningful ways. People are now more able to make an impact on the world creatively, politically, and through entertainment. Following this change, web presences across a range of businesses sectors and organizations are evolving beyond just static information resources, as people are starting to expect a higher level of interaction from brands and organizations wherever they go.
Social media engagement is often measured by the standard interaction of ‘passing along the message’, but we need to push beyond this one-way broadcasting approach. Engage in visible two-way interaction with your audience to create a sense of community and foster more valuable relationships over time.
Invite participation, and people will become more invested in contributing to your success.
Given the opportunity, people are usually eager to recount their experiences and share notable moments from their lives. The beginning of this year saw the launch of the DAL 200 website, created by the NATIONAL Halifax office, marking Dalhousie University’s 200th anniversary, where students, alumni and faculty are invited to contribute to the story of Dal’s history and convey the global reach of Dal’s educational experiences.
Visitors are sharing their memories and stories from their time at the university, digging out old photos, recalling favourite professors, and acknowledging lifelong friendships made there. Another feature–placing their current locations on a world map–expresses the global influence Dal has achieved by people now living, working and teaching around the world, taking their knowledge and experiences with them.
The human value of an organization’s work can be conveyed well by inviting and showcasing contributions such as these. How can you ask your customers or visitors to tell their own story?
You are subject matter experts in your area of business. You have an opportunity to provide more than just an About Us page and archive of press releases. Whether it’s a travel brand giving advice on the best street foods to sample around the world, or a utility company engaging with residents on a local infrastructure project, open sharing can facilitate engagement, endorsement, and ultimately trust and growth.
The NATIONAL Toronto team built a public engagement platform named Talk Hydro, where Waterloo North Hydro customers could share their ideas and sentiments on potential approaches to an upcoming business restructuring.
During physical occasions and events, online engagement platforms such as Slido can also enable wider audience interaction, while website functionality such as a wall of sticky notes or picture and video submissions can encourage broader contributions in a meaningful way at a grassroots level.
‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) has become a popular format for open dialogue with influential leaders and people with unique stories to tell. Participants have included Bill Gates, Astronaut Chris Hadfield and a former 911 operator—all answering intriguing and sometimes difficult questions. Attendees expect an honest and unfiltered insight into your world. Having the courage to open up in this way can create trust and respect with your audience.
Become an ambassador by creating access points for sharing knowledge and insight into your field of expertise.
‘We’re in this together’
Effective online presences can support public engagement objectives with two-way dialogue, visible interaction and engagement, and by offering creative ways to get people involved, helping them to understand your motivations and trust you more deeply. Organizations that encourage public participation and demonstrate social investment become more valuable for everyone involved.
Senior Web Developer, NATIONAL PR