CitizenLab has put together a communication guide that provides some of the best practices tips on launching or increasing engagement on your public participation platform
So you have built a digital citizen participation platform, but how do you launch it and increase engagement and raise enough awareness to turn the platform into a successful citizen participation or civic tech platform? Brussels-based citizen participation platform Citizenlab has put together the best practices essential Communication Kit.
Having launched various cities and local government platforms, CitizenLab suggests that launching a civic tech platform or citizen participation platform should reflect the wide array of voices within communities. The report states that when launching a new platform, it must be guided by these three principles:
- Clarity — Your platform must have a clear message and you should focus on that important message.
- Continuity — Communication is an important part of any citizen platform, so communicate with the citizens on a regular basis.
- Diversity — Use different channels to spread the message about your platform to the citizens.
CitizenLab suggests using these key channels to communicate and reach citizens: direct web traffic, emailing, website referrals and social media. These are channels you can use without the need for a lot of resources while still reaching and increasing more engagements on your platform. As a citizen-focused platform, it would work in your favour to use these channels to communicate, share and boost your platform. We expand a little more on this:
Direct Web Traffic
Citizenlab says direct web traffic is the main driver of visits to a website. So you must make sure that the platform is well referenced and easily findable by citizens who look for it in search engines. You can do this by choosing a domain name (URL) relevant to the platform and easy to remember. Then you make sure your webpages are correctly linked and featured on other platforms citizens spend a lot of time on.
Email is a channel that can generate the most engagement on your platform. You should build a platform that can be trusted and recognised by citizens and if the citizens trust the work pursued by your platform the email opening rates can be high and the emails can drive a lot of traffic to the platform. Consider using email campaign newsletters after the launch of the platform to communicate and promote the platform in the community.
The best way to use email campaigns successfully is to have a defined audience and clear message, know who your platform is catering for. Then find the right channels to use some of the most popularly used newsletter channels are Mail Chimp, SendinBlue, Mailerlite, Campaign Monitor and Everlytic.
The Kenyan parliamentary monitoring platform, Mzalendo, like many other civic tech platforms uses weekly email newsletters to communicate parliament news and proceedings.
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You can also leverage the citizens’ social media presence for your platform. Citizenlab recommends using different social media platforms to promote the platform. Citizenlab suggests using a strategic approach to social media, figure out which social media channels to use.
The first step in using social media for your platform is to think about the channels widely used by the citizens as well as the purpose and demographics of different social media platforms. For instance, LinkedIn is aimed at professional communities, Instagram has younger users and is image-based, Twitter is for instant news and trending topics, Facebook has an older demographic and is a good place to share information and events.
Many communities have Facebook groups so perhaps consider posting about the platform in the neighbourhoods associations and community groups. Posting informative messages about the platform in these targeted groups might help turn these users into ambassadors. If you want to engage in trending topics and with younger demographics, consider signing up on Twitter and growing that demographic.
You also must consider your messaging strategies because for a post to drive traffic to your platform, it has to clearly demonstrate the benefits of participation to your citizens. Citizenlab recommends highlighting specific projects, showing things to vote for or to decide on, and sharing ideas inputted by other citizens.
If you have a bit of budget you can also consider using sponsored ads on social media as they can help you with targeting and reach a specific age or interest groups in defined geographical areas.
Many African civic tech platforms use social media to their advantage and their following and the reach keeps growing, a few examples include Nigerian civic tech organisation BudgIT which boats 160,200 Twitter followers, Ugandan parliamentary monitoring platform Parliament Watch has about
27,598 Facebook page followers.
Traditional Media and Offline
Do not underestimate the importance of traditional media in your community. Citizenlab says involving local press when launching the platform (newspaper journalists, but also radio or television) is an efficient way to reach more people. Consider sending out a press release on important moments and subjects. Send the press releases to local magazines, newspapers, digital media platforms and press outlets, but also blogs and local influencers.
And lastly not every community member is online, so promote your organisation and platform offline as well, when you attend community events, conferences and so forth make your platform known. Share the URL at neighbourhood meetings or city councils and add it to print materials you can distribute through the city, consider printed newsletters, flyers in public places such as at the reception, in the library, stickers at the local bar.
Increasing the visibility of your platform everywhere and anywhere is a great way to get the community involved in the platform. Follow these tips and launch your community public participation platform or civic tech platform and increase your community participation.