There are lots of great reasons for organizations to engage online; it allows you to reach a larger, more diverse audience. Engaging online is also a very cost-efficient and effective way to increase participation rates and get a more accurate view of public opinion.
One of the most important reasons to engage online is because you maintain control of the conversation. People expect to be able to engage online - if organizations don't create a place for engagement to happen, then it is very common for the public to create their own space. This may be in the form of a thread on social media, a Facebook group or page, or dedicated website discussing your project.
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Losing control over the information being shared by the public can lead to the issues of:
- Misinformation: Misleading information can result in the spread of rumors, and fake news. These misunderstandings can spread quickly and lead to the community losing trust in the organization
- Inappropriate or unrelated comments: If you are unable to set the house rules and moderate or review comments, the conversation can get off topic or inappropriate.
- Losing access to your data: It is much more difficult to collect and report on engagement when the conversation is held across multiple uncontrollable spaces.
- Defamation: If you are not managing the conversation it can quickly shift from the issues to abusive content about the people involved.
Most modern purpose-built online engagement tools are packed full of features such as profanity filters, link and image detection and moderations tools.
You create the house rules, set the terms and conditions no different to requiring a standard of behavior at an offline event. Having your own engagement platform allows you to build an audience that is not just the vocal minority - but often the silent majority who will prefer to engage online.
We find if you create a place for the conversation to happen, then it is quite likely the discussion will stay there - people are more likely to provide feedback and comments if they think someone is listening and the information they provide will go towards influencing decisions. If you don't just join the conversation but rather lead the conversation, you will be seen to be proactive and show your community that you value their opinions and do want to involve them in the planning and decision-making process.