Strategic Comms Pt 27 Engaging Your Customers via Social Media and New Media

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(This is the 27th in a continuing series on strategic communications. Click here for earlier segments)

By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group

Social media has numerous definitions, and they continue to evolve with the advent of new platforms.  In fact, social media is now being used by companies in every aspect of their business including communicating with their employees, partners, suppliers and customers.  This new landscape is so vast and its potential is so great that it requires some companies to initiate organizational change programs.

However, for the purpose of land use politics, we’re going to define social media as “a virtual community in which businesses and customers can maintain on ongoing dialogue,” including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.  Further, to distinguish social media from new media, we’ll define new media as “web-based communications developed by businesses to communicate with their customers,” including websites, blogs, email blasts, etc.

Both social media and new media offer a very effective and low cost way of reaching voters.  This is because social media and new media provide an easy way to target your voters and because people are spending more and more time online. Seth Cargiuolo, our company’s Chief Knowledge Officer, previously authored a great series on The Saint Report regarding social media tactics for developers (see http://bit.ly/plUmu4).  Unfortunately, with so many options, it becomes difficult to determine where to allocate your resources. So, here are a few guidelines to use when developing your strategy.

First and foremost, as with any strategy, you need to define your goals.  For instance, do you just need a means of establishing a dialogue with residents about your project?  Or, do you actually need a means of converting those residents into supporters?  Only after you’ve answered these questions can you decide which tools to employ.

Next, you need to know that social media and new media each have their strengths relative to voter outreach activities.  To illustrate, if your goal is simply voter education to engage residents and address any questions or concerns they have about your project, then you should employ either social media or new media as both are equally effective for this purpose.

However, if your goal is voter identification to enlist the support of residents in the community, then new media is far more effective due to its ability to qualify voter interest on your issue.  That is, though some residents may “like” your development proposal on Facebook or “follow” you on Twitter, a company-sponsored website could offer various tools such as online petitions, web-generated letters to public officials, etc. that enable you to better gauge levels of support.

Finally, if your goal is to mobilize residents in support of your project through so-called get-out-the-vote efforts, then you should also utilize new media as it outperforms social media on this measure as well.  While social media provides a high level of interactivity with your customers and may enable you to build support for your project, new media will allow you to readily identify your supporters and mobilize them to act.

Generally speaking, we recommend that both social media and new media be utilized in all land use engagements.  However, clarifying your goals and integrating these tools into your overall organizational efforts will help you maximize their efficiency and realize your desired outcomes.

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for Saint Consulting, an international management consulting firm specializing in land use politics.  He is also an adjunct faculty member at Emerson College, the nation’s only four-year institution dedicated exclusively to communications and the performing arts. Email Eagan@tscg.biz

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