Digital community engagement has emerged as a practice in its own right. The benefits of doing digital engagement well are well established. Digital engagement can be cost and time efficient, reach broader audiences than traditional methods, create more inclusive experiences and gather richer insights to inform good decision making.
But leading digital community engagement practitioners look a little different from traditional community engagement professionals. They must be multidisciplinarians with a broad set of communication, digital, engagement and analytical skills. They need to be able to communicate effectively, shape visual content beautifully, assert influence internally and interpret data accurately.
These are the top four core skills we think every digital community engagement practitioner needs to stay at the cutting edge of the practice, achieve great results and inspire participation in their community:
This means a fundamental grasp of core community engagement skills and practices. You must have an understanding of the importance of all kinds of community engagement, not just online. It also means taking a holistic view for planning each stage of engagement. A basic knowledge of the IAP2 spectrum is needed to understand where everything fits within the different levels of engagement.
Facilitation skills are also a must, as you may find yourself delivering consultations where digital meets the real world. It is also important to have internal facilitation and stakeholder engagement skills in order to unite teams that feed into community engagement projects internally.
You will need to know how to identify the stakeholders with interest and influence who will be impacted by decisions leading from an engagement project. An understanding of the importance of, and strong skills in communication, especially listening, is crucial, as is the ability to provide feedback, close the loop and share evaluation results.
Digital content design
To be an online community engagement specialist, you must be a digital content master. You must have flexible and sophisticated communication skills, and experience working in comms and/or graphic design can be a big advantage.
Copywriting skills are a must, as you may often need to distill complex concepts for different audiences and media. You’ll need to know your audience, and align communications to user research and personas, perhaps using stakeholder or customer mapping exercises.
Content should be tailored to the channel or platform. You need to understand your audience's expectations and needs for each channel to make sure your message cuts through. Content should utilise visualisations, imagery and rich multimedia content to hold people’s attention, give them a reason to care and drive engagement.
Data analysis is a much sought after and under-utilised skill which can make all the difference to the success of a digital engagement project. As a digital engagement pro, you should have some grasp of data science, statistics and using business intelligence tools.
Digital engagement requires a data-led approach. That means understanding the data outputs from each participation tool and understanding which tool is appropriate for the job based on the data outputs it provides.
A sound understanding of analysis methods is required, including statistics, so you can interpret how representative your data is of the community and how statistically significant your results are, and therefore how reliable they are for informing decision making. You may need to assist decision-makers to interpret results and create reports that turn data into meaning.
It is also useful to research or mine existing or previously collected data to maximise its value and ensure you aren’t collecting the same data repeatedly or unnecessarily, and have a strong understanding of data privacy principles, only collecting data that you can and will use.
User experience design
Working in the digital world necessitates a strong understanding of user experience design (UX), as well as some knowledge of how behavioural psychology can inform good design choices.
Good UX design means creating inclusive and accessible experiences that help the community tell their stories and communicate their values and priorities. It can help people use technology to translate their dreams and aspirations into high quality, actionable data, and can present engaging experiences that capture attention and drive participation.
When faced with design decisions, you can problem solve by uniting the user research, design and digital journey. Apply design thinking processes, putting the customer or end user at centre of the solution. For instance, think about how an end user would expect a function or element to behave, and ensure it always meets their expectations so experiences are intuitive and never frustrating.
Create user personas to inform your UX solutions ensuring a "clear entry point for all" mentality.
Build prototypes of your designs and test them with user groups to refine and hone solutions.
We can help
Perhaps you feel you are on the journey to becoming a true digital engagement expert, but you see some gaps in one or more of the above areas? This is where a good online engagement platform provider can help, giving you the tools, support and training to enhance your practice and advance your projects. We pride ourselves on working closely with our customers to build capacity, elevate their skills and grow confidence so they can achieve great things for their communities. Getting the best value from our platform is key for our clients.
If you are already a HiVE user, talk to us about our advanced training options or just pick up the phone for a chat. If you aren’t working with us already, get in touch to chat about how we can supply not just cutting edge online engagement software, but support, services and resources to help you take your digital engagement game to a whole new level.