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Local councillors and social media: a new age in consultation?

Remarkable Engagement has this week published its report on social media and the planning consultation process. The report, commissioned in association with YouGov, polled 1,401 councillors across Great Britain to ask their opinions on social media, and how they see the social landscape developing in relation to the planning consultation process.

The results make for integral reading for those in the property and development sectors, especially considering 66% of councillors in the North West believe that developers should be engaging with local communities via social media and, according to the New Consultation Principles set out by the Cabinet Office, digital tools should be considered as part of any ongoing consultation process.

There are understandable concerns among developers about embracing social media during consultation, as there is a belief that feedback would be geared towards objections and could possibly create negative publicity for development projects. Nevertheless, all three of the main political parties were in agreement that developers should be engaging with the community through social media, meaning it is something that can no longer be ignored.

Utilising social media would also allow developers to engage with a wider audience. At present, public exhibitions are largely attended by older crowds with many young people and students tending to stay away. Introducing social media as part of a consultation strategy however would certainly help reach a younger audience who are more vocal on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

This could prove invaluable for many of the regeneration projects taking place across Manchester’s universities, such as the Kampus development for Manchester Metropolitan University and at some point, the University of Manchester’s Owens Park Campus. Engaging with a younger audience would certainly add weight to any consultation programme, particularly as almost three quarters of councillors believe social media responses would add value and help to ensure a more robust and thorough public consultation.

Being online can also provide other measurable benefits, as small snippets of positive information can be released which can help mobilise support amongst online readers. This would have benefited Gary Neville’s St. Michaels development, which is facing considerable opposition, and an online petition against it collecting 1,900 signatures. Moreover, misinformation can spread like wildfire, with the simplest quote or piece of information attracting hundreds of shares and retweets in a few minutes. Having a strong and organised presence online can help to minimise these issues and correct any inaccurate stories before they get out of hand.

Of course, social media can only go so far, and traditional methods of engagement such as newsletters and public exhibitions are still effective channels of communicating. Nevertheless, right across the property spectrum, planners, developers and property professionals should now be utilising social media and it’s time to harness this often ignored tool.

To read the full report, please download a copy here: www.rmk.gr/SMsurvey2016

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