When it comes to engaging with the public, social media is often a first instinct for many government officials. It is easy to access, widely utilized, and is often the first place people go to share their opinions on trending issues or topics in their communities. In fact, according to TechCrunch, 62% of adults now get their news from social media. But when it comes to meaningful and effective community engagement, especially if it’s in pursuit of inclusive and equitable policy-making, social media lacks the moderation, security, and deliberation required for officials to make truly representative decisions.
Social media is reactive, but community and civic engagement software is proactive
When it comes to social media, pretty much any topic is fair game. However, a lot can get lost in the sheer volume of posts, which limits governments’ ability to create proactive and productive conversations. On top of that, on social media you’re often left to respond to the loudest voices in the room seeking to go viral, so social media is not a truly representative platform for community engagement.
Considering that social media also tends to be overarchingly negative, the majority of civic participation is focused on spotlighting problems and dissecting current issues. While identifying what could be better is an important part of the engagement process, social media’s focus on only the negative inhibits solution-oriented conversations among neighbors or between communities and their government officials.
So what does all of that mean for your civic engagement project? Consider a city ready to create their next comprehensive plan: it’s likely that most residents don’t even know this process exists, so they also won’t be posting about it on social media. So how will your administration know what the community wants to see in the plan? And how will your community know you’re hard at work planning for a better future for everyone?
When it comes to online engagement solutions, a digital community engagement platform helps you put important projects in front of people to streamline the input provided and have more proactive and productive conversations. It also helps residents by giving them a centralized place to come to when they want to check in on the projects happening in the community. With a little more oversight on the conversation, you can present topics that are relevant, timely, and planning oriented so you can start to build a better community for your residents.
Social media is highly saturated with content, making it easy for engagement to get lost
Spread across an array of apps and channels and with ever-changing trends, social media is a vast and untamable space. While it is tempting to tap into the expansive amounts of information available on social media, it is a huge undertaking to sift through it all to find and then engage with the trustworthy and productive feedback needed to create meaningful decisions. There might be legitimate comments somewhere, but with so many different platforms, groups, and threads out there, they are difficult to find and easy to miss.
On top of this, what percentage of comments out there are actually constructive? As a low-stakes platform, many people do not take social media seriously and often submit content that is in jest of the issue at hand. When you’re a busy government official, you simply don’t have the time to filter the content across channels to find nuggets of productive engagement.
A dedicated community engagement solution streamlines this input in one location and makes information and two-way dialogue easily accessible for both residents and local leaders. With one trusted platform to come to that encourages easy dialogue, both sides can feel more heard and like they have a say in what is happening. It also provides clear structure for conversations with background information, project folders, timelines, and a community of verified accounts. An engagement platform gives both the government and its community a more structured tool to provide and receive feedback.
With a lack of moderation, social media has no control
With no ability to moderate the feedback provided, social media allows for the loudest voices in the room to take over in pursuit of getting reactions and going viral. The lack of moderation also prohibits true meaningful, constructive conversation. This often means it’s difficult to dig in to opinions and understand why someone feels the way they do. Discussions on social media can be plagued with misinformation and without the ability to consolidate or direct the conversation, threads can succumb to the emotional polarization that often happens on social media.
On a digital community engagement tool, with full moderation capabilities, productive and safe conversations can flourish. At CitizenLab, as civic engagement facilitators, we take ensuring that feedback is free from toxic comments very seriously. Citizenlab automatically flags toxic content that moderators from your administration can review and take action on.
Social media lacks data security, limiting the quality of engagement
As very public facing tools, social media has no data security. In order to have meaningful engagement on the many complex topics governments look to tackle, it’s essential to share proper contextual information so people can provide informed feedback. This can include secure plans and data that you don’t want blasted onto social media, which hinders governments’ ability to share detailed and important information that is crucial to high-quality feedback. Without this level of security and subsequent lack of information, people put forth surface-level opinions or even post harmful content on social media.
You are also unable to gather data on the residents posting about or engaging with issues in the community. Since you do not ‘own’ the platforms at hand, you can only glean basic information about people posting about your community on social media, making it difficult to know if the feedback you’re receiving is truly representative of your community at large.
With a secure digital community engagement platform, you have more control over the content that is allowed and can provide your residents with the full picture of the issue at hand so they can provide more informed feedback. You can also use built-in tools like CitizenLab’s Insights feature to easily analyze feedback and break down issues, and use our Representativeness dashboard to know how representative your engagement project’s results are. By providing residents with a secure, controlled environment to give and collect information and input, an all-in-one engagement platform allows you to make more detailed and data-driven decisions.
Online engagement platforms make community engagement more meaningful, efficient, and secure
Engagement platforms are not meant to replace social media. The tools still have their purpose for information sharing and general community updates. But when it comes to meaningful community engagement, social media is simply too unruly and unregulated.
A community engagement platform is much more strategic and provides the ability to build a culture of engagement, developing trust with your residents. By consolidating information and providing a trusted forum for engagement that is backed by data analysis tools, a community engagement platform will help you gather more informed and productive feedback efficiently and ultimately make better and more inclusive decisions.