Quality Civic Engagement Blog

A quiet day in the office is suddenly interrupted by your coworker’s worried face at your door. “Have you checked out the ‘What’s happening in your community’ Facebook page? The information some people are sharing about our new initiative isn’t correct and people are getting really upset. I’ve already gotten three phone calls this morning from angry residents and now the mayor is getting them too. How are we going to handle this?”
image (2)Facebook has become the nemesis of many, particularly in our current highly politicized environment. Unfortunately, it is also where many people get information without always checking the accuracy of the source. As a result, government struggles with getting accurate information to residents and particularly doing so in a timely fashion.

Many in government have since decided to not engage with their community except through their website and newsletters, which risks narrowing the conversation to a small (but often vocal) set of the community. An alternative would be to develop a game plan for how to engage the entire community, and not just the vocal few. The key is to do so in a way that doesn’t rely exclusively on social platforms like Facebook, which are not designed to facilitate constructive input. Those communities who have done this have been able to take these situations and use it for constructive input for decision making.

Imagine what would happen if, in response to the above example, you posted the following on the “what’s happening” Facebook page: “Thank you for your interest in this initiative. You can learn more about it on our website, and also weigh in on several questions we’ve posted for community input. Please participate here (link) so we can gather community insight.”

Micro-surveys are emerging as a way to take back the conversation and provide additional information as well as gain valuable community input. But this is a path that requires careful navigation to ensure a balanced response, and not just an avalanche of opinions from the vocal few.

If you would like to learn more about how to gain constructive input in a timely manner, check out our blog or LinkedIn page in the months of August and September as we continue our 6-part series on “Taming the Social Media Beast”, showing best practices in how to use polls and surveys to engage your community.