Thursday, March 17, 2016

11 Marketing Tips for Planners to Engage Their Communities

Engaging the community can be a difficult, time consuming, and expensive task, but it doesn’t have to be. Getting the message out to the community to bolster attendance and public input in planning projects also doesn’t have to be done entirely by you. Although it is good to use social media, mailers, and newspapers (the most common forms of City Planning marketing efforts), your experience with these methods may have only supplied you often with meager turn outs of almost exclusively the older generations. Although the older generations are great and have experience, their viewpoints and needs are only a portion of the community’s.

Before I introduce myself, I wanted to give you a taste of what this list entails. Below you will find a list of 11 marketing tips to help increase community involvement and engagement. Along with these tips will be a brief explanation of the tip and how you can carry it out with little effort. (You can skip the intro and go straight to the tips below.)

Although the question of why you should care about increasing public input may be obvious, why I care might not be. My name is Chris Hupp and I'm a marketing consultant turned urban planner. I attend Utah State University for Landscape Architecture then transferred to the University of Utah for Urban Planning. As a profession, however, I spent close to the last decade and a half in marketing and marketing strategy.

A while ago I was asked to attend planning meetings throughout Salt Lake and Utah County and critique their planning processes. Some of the critique questions we were asked to answer were: who attended, who was invited, how representative were the attendees/invitees, and what kind of input was sought. The majority of the meetings were attended by the older generations previously mentioned, and had it not been for me actively searching for meetings to attend I would have never heard about any of them.

That’s when it hit me; marketing is something foreign to the Planning world. Without public input planning solutions can fall flat; just like a doctor trying to diagnose a patient without knowing their symptoms. Better marketing strategies will help planners gather the input or symptoms of their communities.

Marketing Tips:

  1. In Person Canvassing: (Service Driven Canvassing)
    I placed in person canvasing first on purpose. Right now a lot of you probably send mailers out to the communities you want to reach. These can just as easily be thrown away as any piece of junk mail your community receives. The in person canvasing idea reaches more individuals in the community and adds that personal touch which is harder to forget.

    You might be thinking our planning department doesn’t have the time or ability to canvas any area we want to reach, and I agree. There are hundreds if not thousands of individuals in your communities looking for service opportunities and resume boosters. These individuals aren’t hard to reach either. They include High School and College Student Councils and clubs, Girl Scout and Boy Scout Troops, The 4H Club, etc. These groups can pass out flyers in your target areas or put up posters in local businesses and gathering places and save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars on postage and potentially wasted mailers. Involving these groups will also create a character of civic involvement in younger generations helping boost later support for public engagement and pride.
  2. Opt-in Text/Email Campaigns: (Quickest Marketing Tool on the List, But Use Judiciously)On civic websites, at events, or other public engagement activities you can have community members opt-in or sign up for email newsletters and/or announcements and text announcement campaigns. These can be grouped into different campaigns based on neighborhood, census block, etc.

    Texting is hands down the best way to reach the majority of your community nowadays. Emails are also effective, but not as reaching and active because community members can get inundated with emails or just as easily delete the email without reading it. This said texts can be used as reminders and emails as a way of conveying greater amounts of information.
  3. Radio, Local News, and School News: (Tons of Local Viewership)90+% of Americans still listen to the Radio, 70+% watch local news, and 95+% of students in schools where news is broadcasted, watch it. With this kind of viewership, loads of community members will have exposure to your planning projects, meetings, and events. The more the community hears about that event the more they will remember it and potentially plan on attending it.
  4. Local Bloggers and Podcasts: (Local Podcasts and Bloggers Have Tons of Local Followers)Local Bloggers and Podcasts as stated above can have hundreds if not thousands of local followers. These followers often act on the recommendations of the bloggers and podcasters they follow. Having local bloggers and podcasts place plugs for your events is usually as difficult as getting in touch with them. (This may be a little more difficult than finding Local Event Calendar Websites as listed below, but asking a techy son, daughter, or spouse can solve this problem.)
  5. Local Event Calendar Websites: (Posting on Popular Event Calendar Websites)You might not know of any event calendar websites in your area, but a simple web search using your city, county, or region and event calendar would resolve that. Posting on these sites also doesn’t cost you a cent. The majority of these websites crave local community postings, and have an easy post feature located somewhere on the site. The only cost involved with this is the time it takes you to post your events, which are then at the fingertips of large amounts of community members.
  6. Local Events: (Advertising at Local Events)While you are on the Event Calendar Websites take note of all the events happening in your area. These events are being advertised by others, allowing you to not spend money and capitalize on the audience full of your community. Plugs or advertising for your meetings and projects can often be easily incorporated into these events, and as listed above, setting up a booth for in person contact would go a long way to help communities remember to attend your event.

    Examples of Local Events you can attend are: concerts, fairs, festivals, mall or shopping center events, school events, sporting events, food truck gatherings, seasonal events, fundraisers, charity events, neighborhood block parties, fun runs, and treasure/scavenger hunts. (If nothing seems to be going on you could always sponsor an event or contact groups to create one.)
  7. Capitalize on Civic Activity: (Raffles and Contests for Locally Donated Giveaways)I realize the title for this one may alarm you, but let me clarify. You are already receiving public input, and have a select group who always are civically active. To capitalize on those and make the event go viral or explode socially, incorporate a contest or giveaway. Although a hat or shirt with the City logo might be cool, it won’t excite people enough to want to engage or share the event. Herein lies your problem, but a problem easily solved. Local businesses, who you want to succeed, are constantly looking for ways to promote their business. You both can receive mutual benefit by approaching these businesses seeking for gift cards or merchandise allowing them to promote their business while enticing the community to respond.

    You might be asking now, how you would get the community to share the event; well, the response to that can be simple as well. Incentives based on attendance can be given to either those who attend or the referrer of attendees. They can also be given to individuals who follow and post feedback or share event details on their social media pages (tracking of this can be managed more easily through hashtags #YourEvent.)
  8. Social Media: (Make Your Posts Welcoming and Useful to the End Users)You probably have a social media account, and may even post regularly. You might even have a decent amount of followers, but still potentially be using social media incorrectly to reach your target community. All good post should: grab attention, be shared at optimal times, and call the end user (the community) to action.

    Now you might be asking how I do all that with one post. For a lot of individuals it takes practice, but I will include some hints to help you get there faster. First, use attractive images, attractive images if nothing else will at least get your target audience to pause and glance at the post; though the more likely response would be to associate the activity with the image. Using more senses increases the chances of individuals remembering the post/event. Another way to grab attention is by sharing how your event is useful or beneficial to the reader.

    Second, if you want your post to be shared more, post it at times when people are on social media. Many articles say to post Thursday-Sunday between 1pm – 3pm. You can also post the event multiple times, changing the wording of the message each time. Lastly, a call to action is a call for someone to do something. Examples of this are “buy now”, “click to learn more”, etc. Calling someone to do something changes the community member from passive follower to an active follower.
  9. Infographics and Pictures: (A Picture is Worth 1000 Words and Attracts Attention Better) As mentioned above pictures use more senses and go farther to help your target audience remember the post/event. Infographics take this idea to the next level. Good infographics convey large amounts of information quickly and effectively, allowing you to mix text and pictures. Consolidating this information down also helps you to focus on main ideas and the most crucial information, information that will then be easier for your target audience to remember and find important.
  10. Online Ads: (Facebook Ads)For those of you who actually use tip 1, you can use a portion of the money you saved from not sending out mailers to put up city targeted Facebook Ads. Facebook Ads allow you to target specific locations, and can cost drastically less than mailers. When posting these ads abide by the information found in tip number 9.

    Also to help improve your Ads over time, pay attention to ads or articles you click and analyze them as to why you clicked it. Those similar things could be done to your posts and ads to improve their effectiveness.
  11. Videos and Live Feeds: (YouTube Videos and Live Meeting Feeds)YouTube is the third most visited site on the internet, and millions of searches are happening ever second. Your target group is searching on it right now. Videos can be incredibly useful for sharing information, concepts, drawing attention. You can use them to teach, inform, and train your public to better help with planning efforts. You can record your meetings allowing more of the community to essentially attend your meetings. These videos can help the community envision the future of their communities, through different scenarios, or similar communities experience with related issues.
  12. Bonus Tip. Location: (Use Popular Places Not Just Public Ones)This tip may be just as important as the rest of the tips on the list. If you hold your event in the council chambers you will get only the people you were able to reach through your marketing efforts. If you hold your event in a senior center, you will get seniors. If you hold your event in a popular public place, you can still draw a large crowd even if other marketing efforts failed. People frequent that place and often have a few minutes to spare to time to kill. Hold your meetings in popular public places, not just public ones.

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I just wanted to take a moment to send a personal message out to all those in the fields of Landscape Architecture, Gardening, Horticulture, and Urban Planning/Urban Ecology. I created Landscape Connections for the purpose to share my love and passion for Landscape Architecture and Design, and Urban Ecology. I was a Landscape Architecture Major at Utah State University and currently study Urban Ecology at the University of Utah. I am working to compile as much information in the four previously mentioned fields as possible. If you have any further information, or would like to either add information or see information posted to landscape connections please let me know.