There is no doubt that we, as a society, are increasing our online presence both socially and professionally; most communication is done online and many relationships are formed and maintained online, we are bombarded with never-ending status updates on social media and we have access to 24 hour news feeds.
While the online world has its place, it is creating a disconnect between people and the world in which they live. In community engagement, online methods have proven to be highly effective in providing great tools to build communities and obtain feedback from more people than ever before, however online engagement should not replace offline methods. Offline engagement methods allow personal interactions which help build better relationships, give participants a sense of community and fosters deeper connections. Next time you are looking to consult with your community, build offline methods into the engagement strategy that compliment the online methods and give the community an opportunity for physical interaction that cannot be found in front of a computer screen.
The 3 benefits of including offline methods into your engagement strategy:
1. Personal interactions
When undertaking engagement with a personal interaction, with methods such as a face to face drop-in centre, a well facilitated public meeting or even a telephone conversation, we are able to obtain an understanding of the individual's personality that we may not otherwise had. We experience their body language (which speaks 1000 words), we hear the tone of their voice, we see their demeanor and we share information from them that would not be communicated via an online method. This is important as it enables a better interpretation of their written communication and gives insight into the intentions behind their opinion. It also allows you to see the community from whom you are seeking feedback as real people, and conversely, allows them to see you as a real person and not just a faceless, cold bureaucrat. These personal interactions are key to building relationships and through these relationships, you will be in better stead to obtain high levels of feedback.
2. Builds a community
In a world where a significant amount of interaction is done online, people are becoming disconnected from the community. While online technology provides some fantastic opportunities for community engagement, it is important that we don't contribute to making an anti-social community. By engaging with the community offline, you are providing an opportunity for social interactions that are needed for us, as human beings, to feel a sense of belonging. You are facilitating relationships, enabling community members to meet and to feel like they are part of a community. As a bonus, when this interaction is positive, the project gains positive tract in the community.
3. Increases your online engagement
People who connect with a project offline are likely to become invested in the project. If they have had a good offline experience, they will want to engage further with you and the people they have met to discuss the project. They will look to the online component of your engagement for information and seek out mechanisms to provide ongoing feedback. They are more likely to contribute to an online forum with the people that they have built relationships with during the offline component and share project content with their social media network, which will encourage even more involvement.
Online community engagement has its place and there are many great tools available for your next community engagement project. However, don't forget the importance of countering the online methods with offline methods. You will not only meet the diverse range of engagement needs and preferences of your community, but you will create relationships, build a sense of community and achieve more overall success.