Whether you’re looking to launch a project, are already running one, or have reached the report-out phase, a strong communications plan will help drive the success of your efforts. In this article, we discuss the five basic principles of a good communications plan for your community engagement efforts.
While a communications plan can drive participation, we know that the resources and bandwidth to create one are limited. But unlike what you might fear, an effective communication strategy for community engagement projects doesn’t require a huge budget, and even a small motivated team can achieve great results. You’ll see that just a little preparation, planning, and creativity will go a long way.
1. Know your target audience(s) and tailor your messaging
If you know who you are trying to reach, you can gear your communications toward the values and messaging that will resonate most with them. If your project is aimed toward young people, you may define your target audience as youth between 12-18 and their parents or guardians. If your project concerns bike lane improvements throughout the city, you may need to cast a wider net to reach all potential stakeholders. Determine who would ultimately benefit from the project and have something to say about it when crafting your communications.
2. Include regular updates in your communications plan to build trust and excitement
Once you’ve launched your project, it’s essential to keep the momentum high. Don’t let your residents’ attention fizzle! Instead, keep them updated as soon as you have something to share. A quick follow-up on the initial messages keeps everything fresh in the public’s minds and drives more continuous engagement. It offers an opportunity for new arrivals in your city or county to get involved and also engages your community with the progress to show the participants that their voice matters.
Questions to ask yourself: What is the status of a project? Which ideas are the most popular? What are the newest ideas? And what does the timeline look like after the current phase? The answers to all of these questions are important elements to include in your communications plan.
3. Mix different channels
When communicating about projects online, it’s a good idea to combine different channels. If you successfully mix emailing, direct traffic, referrals and social media, you’ve struck gold. There are different ways to tap into each channel to broaden your reach. If you have the budget, you can invest in extensive campaigns with impressive visuals and ads campaigns on social media to reach a wider online audience. But also if your budget is more limited, you can create awareness and increase engagement on your platform through more organic methods such as non-sponsored posts from your social media accounts, a news update on your official website and an email campaign.
But don’t forget: some groups within your community might not always be easy to reach in the digital realm. To boost the impact of your communications plan, it’s best to spread the word offline as well.
Get press involved, send physical introduction letters, or organize a local event. Combining online and offline channels is a surefire way to diversify the audience that hears about your project.
4. Find ambassadors – both internal and external
We’ve often seen local governments so focused on engaging their communities that they forget to bring their internal teams along. Involve and motivate your fellow elected officials and government officials to help amplify your message on their communication channels and even engage with other departments in the process.
A good way to draw attention to your platform is by motivating politicians to share personal messages about the project. This immediately gives the project extra importance. Messages from politicians’ personal accounts will lead to a broader online reach and prove to your community that their (elected) leaders support the project.
Besides politicians, you can also approach (community) influencers or partners to share your message. The wider your network of ambassadors, the wider your reach will ultimately be.
5. Take time for the report-out phase
Now that your engagement project has ended, you might feel relieved to be done… but not so fast. The report-out communications phase is arguably one of the most important if you want continued success. This phase is all about relationship building and helps you build trust to lay the groundwork for the next project you might lead. Closing the loop and letting people know how their feedback was – or was not – used is crucial.
Preparation and continuity are vital for any good communications plan
By considering these guidelines while developing the communications plan for your engagement project, you will be able to maximize the reach of your platform and projects, and ultimately make more inclusive and representative decisions for your community. No more scrambling to get the word out, you’ll be ready from day one to maximize the engagement.
Guide: How to create a communications plan for community engagement projects
From the 300+ local governments we’ve worked with, we’ve learned not everyone is familiar with the ins and outs of a communications plan. That’s why we’ve developed a guide to help you map out the most strategic elements of a communications plan for community engagement projects. It includes more details on developing a communications strategy for launching, running, and reporting on an engagement project, as well as examples of our client community. Download it now!