Four ways social media campaigning can boost public consultation

At becg, we firmly believe that digital campaigning is a key part of a successful consultation.

In a world where more than 50% of people use social media as a news source, local news outlets continue to decline, and Facebook’s advertising revenue is measured in the tens of billions, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore ‘the power of digital’.

However, from conversations I’ve had with colleagues in the industry, the attitude towards social media seems to be:

“We know it’s important, we’re just not sure how it will benefit us or our schemes”

This needs to change because, when used properly, social media can be a potent weapon that really enhances a consultation. Here’s why.

1. It plays well with local stakeholders

In a survey carried out by becg and YouGov in 2016, local Councillors made their support for social media campaigning clear. Of those who were surveyed, 54% said social media carried ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of weight in the consultation process currently, 60% believe developers should be engaging with local communities through social media and 74% believe social media would add value when reviewing planning applications. Considering the influence local councillors have over the planning process, their opinions cannot be overlooked.

2. It helps you to manage your reputation

In local politics, reputation is everything. If developers carry out a detailed, inclusive and transparent consultation, they’re more likely to gain a reputation as being interested in engaging with the local community. This in turn increases the likelihood of both short-term and long-term success. Take a recent consultation we carried out in North Yorkshire. After being impressed by our social media campaign, a local property agent got in touch and expressed an interest not only in partnering with our client on the existing consultation, but also any future projects they had in the area. In a world where developers can be mischaracterised as self-interested, being open and transparent can go a long way in ensuring developers gain credibility and support within communities.

 3. It provides ‘air support’ to existing communications activities

Over the years, developers have been well served by tactics such as local press coverage, letter drops, phone calls, exhibitions and one-to-one meetings. A good social media campaign should aim to build on and enhance traditional consultation activities rather than replace them. All developers will know from experience that every consultation brings with it a raft of complaints from people who didn’t receive an invitation to the one-to-one meetings, or missed the public exhibition, or couldn’t find the information they needed in the promotional materials.  Effective digital campaigning can help to alleviate these issues, because in-depth, up to date information can be hosted online and repeatedly targeted towards the local population.

4. It helps you to build a network of supporters

For developers with several projects, it can be difficult to maintain a consistent presence in the local community. This in turn can make mobilising support difficult, because by the time an application is judged, local residents have often forgotten about the scheme, or lost interest. In campaigning, repetition is retention and so the more you speak to your audience, the better. Social media provides the perfect platform for repetition, because content can be easily tweaked, recycled and shared. In addition to this, services such as Facebook Messenger and Twitter Polling allow for instant interaction and therefore create a feeling of inclusion.

So what?

Social media can be of real use to developers, but only if they understand what they’re trying to achieve. At becg, we’re committed to using digital campaigning to help developers enhance their consultations and achieve success at planning committees. For more information, see and follow @becg on twitter.

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