Wanting to engage online? Put people first.

I had an interesting chat last week with someone from a fairly large NGO who wanted to start using online tools to engage people with their work.

As usual, there were no easy answers.

However, there is an answer, only it takes a bit of explaining and rather a lot of doing. The problem is that people aren’t a homogenous group, they’re all different and they want different things and do different things too.

It’s so annoying!

Anyway, annoying things shouldn’t be ignored, they should be attacked, head on. So, the thing to do hear is to chunk up all these different people into groups and have a think about what they want and what they want to do.

In other words, come up with some personas. The quickest way to describe them in this context is that they are made up stereotypes of the sort of people you are trying to engage with. Then you imagine what their ‘stories’ might be as they come into contact with you online.

You can do this properly and scientifically, but it can also be really helpful if you just do it in the usual JFDI quick-and-dirty style.

In my contact’s situation, they could clearly break people down into several groups, each of which would have different needs and requirements. A one size fits all approach would not be appropriate.

One group would be social media savvy “passers by” who don’t know much if anything about the organisation and its work. The best outcome of engagement with this group might be to simply raise awareness by getting a tweet in front of them, a real success might be getting them to like the Facebook, or follow a Twitter account.

Another group would be an older person, who perhaps has just taken early retirement, has some spare time and is looking to invest it in a good cause. Perhaps they’ve used computers a fair bit in their working lives, and use Facebook for family stuff, but it’s not second nature to them. The organisation might realistically hope to get such people to agree to do some volunteering or perhaps join the organisation.

Thirdly, how about people who are already effectively activtists on the issue, but who do their own thing, not as part of the wider activity of the organisation? They know the issues inside out from a practical perspective and are keen and motivated to get things done in the real world as well as online. They need to be given things to do, quickly, as well as getting the benefits that a larger organisation could offer, including support, research and so on.

A fourth group were identified as stakeholders and academics, who the organisation probably knows by name and have a deep seated interest and knowledge of the topics. The best way to get such people involved probably won’t happen in social media. They probably will want a big PDF report to chew on and talk about in committees.

Such people probably have deep links to specific pages in the organisation’s website saved in their bookmarks. So maybe we shouldn’t use up too much homepage real estate on our website trying to attract their attention.

So pretty quickly we’ve imagined four groups of people with different needs and can use them to work out how we might engage with them online, and where to focus our efforts.

This is pretty standard ladder of participation stuff. The key points are:

  1. You don’t engage everyone using the same medium
  2. Don’t ask everyong to do the same thing

This helps answer a common argument I come across when it comes to digital engagement which is that “our stakeholders aren’t on Twitter”. In which case, fine, do something else with them. But other people you could be working with are in these spaces and you’re missing a trick if you don’t involve them.

So, if you’re planning a campaign that will use digital engagement, bear this in mind and put some work in up front to think about who you want to engage, where they will be, and what they are likely to want to do.

There’s some really good stuff on this from Steph and others here.

Original post

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Andrew Krzmarzick

I definitely teach this in my social media courses, Dave. I recently walked a group of state legislative communications staff through the various constituents based on important legislation of district-level issues…then urged them to adapt their approach to each group. It’s hard work to get there and think it through…but far more effective in the long run when it comes to getting the right info to the right people in the right way.


I would love to see more collective action through social media.

What I see instead are many disconnected efforts to engage citizens. The OGP is a great entity in that it ties engagement to goals and plans.

Here is my recent slideshow on the current state of the OGP participating countries’ action plans, many of which will be presented in London April 22 – 24, and the MDGs for 2000 – 2015, and then those being proposed for the post-2015 development agenda. There are less than 1000 days to meet the current MDGs and a call to action to step up the effort.