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2. Engage your stakeholders online

Promote the engagement opportunity to stakeholders and start recruiting participants. Write the content so it's interesting, effective and invites feedback, and then make sure you have a plan for dealing with that feedback.

Get stakeholders involved

Without sufficient promotion you are not likely to get the level of participation you need. Match the methods of stakeholder recruitment to meet your engagement objectives.

When promoting to and recruiting stakeholders you will need to do the following.

Determine the best ways to recruit your stakeholders

Online engagement can be used to support recruitment for offline engagement and vice versa. The World Bank refers to three ways to recruit participants in engagement:

  1. Broadcast – promoting open engagement to the population through online and offline advertising, communication and marketing methods.
  2. Network – using stakeholder and network analysis to identify stakeholders and recruit participants through social networks online and offline. This may be done to increase representation or to target engagement to specific stakeholders because they are most likely to be affected by proposed changes.
  3. Random selection – profiling the community and inviting a demographically representative sample to participate.

Your approach to recruitment should match your type of engagement.

Plan your online engagement

Consider the different ways you might need to promote your engagement during different phases of the project. After the initial launch you will need to use varied methods to boost participation, including reminding people before it closes.

Use stakeholder databases to recruit participants

Your organisation may have a database of stakeholders who have registered their interests and given consent for future communications and engagement. Where appropriate these stakeholders should be informed of opportunities to engage early, especially when broadcasting engagements or targeting networks.

Use online engagement to recruit participants

Social media is one way to broadcast engagement opportunities. Social media monitoring can be used to identify networks that have an interest in your topic and how and where they discuss it online. Tailoring content to your stakeholders demonstrates you are listening and can help you get ‘earned media’ through peer-to-peer sharing.

Earned media — Wikipedia

Monitoring social media and analysing big data can help you identify, map and recruit.

Use offline engagement to recruit online participants

Engaging stakeholders offline is an excellent way to recruit stakeholder types and build relationships with participants. You could do this by:

  • a phone call
  • dropping into stakeholders at their place of work
  • displaying posters, including information in community newsletters
  • talking at public displays and events or onsite surveys.

When engaging offline, take a tablet (such as an iPad) with you to:

  • collect data and information online
  • help you demonstrate and promote opportunities to engage online
  • recruit participants onsite.

Doing this will make the collation, analysis and reporting much easier.

Another way to recruit participants and gather input online at offline engagements is to encourage the use of social media and hashtags. Adding a social media icon, hashtag to posters around your community, newsletters distributed and slides at events can encourage online participation.

Write your content

To communicate for online engagement you need to do the following.

Make your content engaging

Your content must be engaging. It has to stand out and be alluring, interesting and entertaining. You need to consider and manage your stakeholder relations, and be genuine and respectful. Communicate who you are, your intention and the ways people can communicate with you.

Producing content that is engaging will encourage your stakeholders to follow you and keep coming back, or give you their details so they get your updates.

When writing your content you must consider:

  • your brand
  • key messages and marketing materials
  • using the right personality and tone for each channel
  • sharing your content with social networks on social media
  • your stakeholders and their user profiles
  • the journey you want to take them on
  • the relationships you want to create
  • what types of information and data you want to collect
  • the different way people consume information online as opposed to print.

Content design guidance

There are three types of content when designing online engagement:

  1. Proactive content – this is your story. Map it, plan and create content and a user journey around it.
  2. Responsive content – responding to questions and issues, acknowledging input, creating content that is sharable through social media, demonstrating you are listening and know what content your audience likes.
  3. Reactive content – a rapid response to an issue in real-time.

Understand your audience

Listening to your community online will help you identify your audience, key stakeholders and how information is shared online and offline among social networks in your community. You need to consider the personality and tone of your communications by tailoring it to the business, audience and engagement method.

You also need to think about what channels your stakeholders are already using as you need to engage with them in the way and using the tools that are most convenient to them.

Use a storyboard to write proactive content

You can use a story canvas to create your story and plan proactive communications. The image on this page is a story canvas provided by Digital Storytellers. We recommend using this canvas to create your story then map it to a timeline to create your content calendar.

Your content plan should include content that is on theme and appropriate for you to use and share. Think about your stakeholders, and be proactive in creating content in forms they like. Use rich media, images and video. Proactive communications should be planned with your storyboard and content approved well before it is scheduled to go live or be posted.

How are you going to make your content stand out? Pepper your storyboard with content that complements and enhances your story.

Image: Story canvas by Digital Storytellers

Detailed description of image

This image shows a story board split into sections: audience, key messages, call to action, story, people and places, style and tone, campaign, goals, objectives. Plus 3 sections for 3 phases for noting deadlines.

Release open data

Releasing open data using the New Zealand Data and Information Management Principles can significantly enhance the effectiveness of engagement. Open data can be used to inform participants, especially when using thicker forms of engagement. Consider what data you could release for your engagement that could raise awareness and increase stakeholder understanding. It can also be used as an opportunity to test and get feedback on the data you have released and its suitability as an evidence base for your proposals.

New Zealand Data and Information Management Principles

Releasing the results of your engagement can also inform future engagements and empower communities to self-organise.

Draft your questions to invite feedback

This is the most critical and underestimated part of engaging online.

When inviting feedback you might ask for input on:

  • sections of a document
  • a set of standard questions
  • open questions about the topic or key themes.

To shape your questions to invite feedback, work backwards from:

  • What do you need to know from these stakeholders to help make this decision?
  • What do you need to include in reports to make them useful and what format do they need to be in?
  • How will you compare and relate metrics in your analysis such as area, stakeholder type and issue?
  • What aspects of the project can be influenced?
  • What is non-negotiable and what is open for discussion/negotiation?
  • Will you engage the same stakeholders again at a different stage in your process? Will the questions be the same?

Create consistent questions across platforms

There is value in consistent questions across platforms.

It is worth considering whether questions asked and the data collected can be the same across all touch points. This will make collation and analysis of input, particularly qualitative feedback much easier and enable real-time reporting. Real-time reporting helps you build responsive content, improves the efficiency of your Issue and Risk Management Procedure (IRMP) and supports the proactive identification and management of potential project impacts.

Standardise identifiers on all projects

If your organisation would like to coordinate engagement beyond consultation and across project teams, it is worth working out how to standardise the collection of personal data.

This will make it easier to measure:

  • the reach of engagement
  • how representative your processes are
  • issues and community sentiment across projects.

Consider what other useful data you may want to collect about your stakeholders

Your type of engagement, objectives and metrics for success may indicate you also collect:

  • personal data (see note below)
  • identifiers to measure representativeness – name, organisation, position
  • contact details – for future communications.
  • geographical data – a post code could suffice, to understand the site and scale of issues
  • demographic data – nationality, age, gender, language spoken at home, to measure representativeness and refine communications
  • stakeholders interests – so they can be proactively engaged in future
  • consent to use, store and share information.

Note: If you are planning to collect personal information you need to consider the guidance on privacy and personal information, including how you will comply with the Privacy Commissioner's information privacy principles and the Privacy Act 1993.

Manage the feedback you get

Engagement is an activity that generates information as well as relationships. Before you engage ensure you are prepared to manage the information you will gather.

To manage, respond to and share information and feedback you will need to do the following.

Consider how you will comply with information management requirements

For information you have either created or gathered you will need to:

  • comply with the Public Records Act 2005 and the Official Information Act 1982
  • consider the guidance on information and data management.

For any personal information you have gathered you will need to think about privacy.

The volume of information you collect will depend on how open your engagement is, how far you broadcast the opportunity to participate, how open your questions are, and if you are treating input as formal, informal or social.

It is important to communicate publicly how the feedback received will be treated. You must clearly state in your engagement policy how you will collect, collate and analyse the information and how it will be reported publicly and internally. This is especially important for formal consultation processes required under legislation.

Plan your online engagement

Consider data collation and reporting before inviting input

Before designing methods to engage online consider:

  • How you will collate data across systems for analysis and reporting.
    • Can you get your tools to talk to each other or integrate?
    • Can you export or import data from one tool to another?
    • How will you manage data collected offline and compare it to data collected online?
  • The types of reports you will need.
    • Do you need to know issues per area, issues across stakeholder groups, issues at a certain time or phase of engagement?
  • Whether you need to store, use and share the data for issues and relationship management or future engagement.
    • This may include sharing data with other agencies responsible for issues outside your scope.
    • Your information management team will be able to advise about data storage, use and sharing.
  • How to ensure consent is collected with data to meet all your future user scenarios.
    • Most agencies have a privacy officer who can help you with this.
  • How data can be managed to ensure you meet information, records and privacy requirements.
    • This should be outlined in your protocols.

Define your moderating and response process

If you’re using a discussion forum, a moderation policy and agreed protocols for management are essential to ensure your approach is applied consistently and risks are managed. This moderation and response process should also be included in your engagement policy.

You will also need to nominate someone to get alerts and may choose to hire an Online Community Manager to champion discussion, regularly add fresh content and encourage participants to engage. This role would also be responsible for the publishing of comments, keeping stakeholders engaged and the management of the issues and risk process.

Be responsive, demonstrate you’re listening

Demonstrating you’re listening makes two-way engagement through online surveys and submission forms a much more responsive and open process. It also demonstrates transparency of your process which builds trust and makes your processes much more engaging.

Be prepared to share information, listen and respond to information and stories shared by your stakeholders. Listen to what they talk about online, how they talk about your topic, language used, who they trust and content they like. Consider how your story fits and shape it accordingly to illustrate your story. Sharing others' content can also help build relationships online and offline.

Have a plan for how you will develop responsive and reactive content. Provide your Online Community Manager with key messages and a style guide so the tone of content developed is consistent. You will also need a procedure for how issues will be tracked, risk determined and how responsive and reactive content will be approved. Include this in your issues and risk management profile (IRMP).

Publish comments

In two-way engagement it is quite common for submissions to be published publicly during or after consultation. Consent is requested to do this with specific questions asked about the publishing of personal data.

Three-way engagement requires the publishing of comments for everyone to see, like and comment on. You might publish pins on a map, comments on a discussion forum and ideas shared.

Some argue that if published feedback can influence the views of the participants that follow. It is also argued that seeing others' viewpoints published can help put the issue and stakeholders' own interests into context and encourage active citizenship.

When publishing comments a decision needs to be made about whether you will:

  • let people publish comments, and moderate after they are submitted (post-moderation)
  • moderate comments before they’re published (pre-moderation).

This should be accounted for in your issues and risk management profile.

Publish feedback and final reports

Progressive feedback reporting is a great way to provide responsive content and an excellent way to keep participants engaged. Some local governments have used live public dashboards to count down the last days and hours of engagement and display quantitative feedback gathered in real time. This is a great way to close the loop if your approach to engagement changes across the phases of your project.

Publishing the final reports of consultation, or closing the loop, is standard practice. Demonstrate how you’re listening by also publishing summaries of feedback and how it was treated during the decision-making process. This shows respect to stakeholders who have invested their time and attention to engagement. In some cases these engagement outputs also include a summary of themes and how key issues raised have or will be addressed in the next phase of the project development.

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