When I talk to people about the possibilities of engaging with people online, using social technology, I often get questioned about the numbers issue. Stuff like:
- How many people in our area actually use Twitter?
- What about people who don’t have web access?
- What do we do about people who don’t like using the internet to communicate?
…and so on.
It’s night on impossible to give the people who ask these questions the answers that they want. Really, they’re asking the wrong questions.
That’s because they are assuming that what they are doing now already covers all the bases. The fact is, that it doesn’t.
- Meetings usually exclude anyone with a job, because even when they are in the evening, most people are too knackered to attend or have other stuff to do
- Printed media usually goes straight into the recycling bin
- Few people pay attention to the Council stuff in the local paper
The first thing to be clear on is that no one engagement method will reach, or suit, everyone.
The second thing to be clear on, is that you don’t necessarily want to reach everyone, anyway.
The latter point is true of the people within organisations as much as it is people outside. A small percentage of employees couldn’t give a toss about their jobs and are generally quite bad at them. The majority are perfectly competent but aren’t so into their work that they are constantly thinking of ways that things could be done better. Then there are the small number left, the committed, enthusiastic and innovative folk who care about what they do and will put effort into improving things.
My argument would always be to focus on the small number of active, enthusiastic people first.
Likewise, when engaging with citizens, most won’t be too fussed about knowing how their council does things in too much detail, for example. They might like to know that it is being done reasonably well, and cost effectively, but in terms of getting too involved, they’d rather not. But there will be a smaller group of people, those with some social capital to burn up, who want to get involved, who actively think about making things better, and who’ll give up their time to help.
Those are the people you should go after. Don’t waste time convincing people who aren’t and never will be interested to do something they don’t want to do. It’ll make everyone, including them and you, unhappy.
So when people ask about whether 100% of the people in your organisation, or who live in the area, will be involved with a digital engagement project just be honest and say no. But add that you’ll probably get more interest than through current methods, and that they’ll be different people, and people who care.