Online engagement seems to be the new trend in the stakeholder engagement era. For many community stakeholders, it’s much easier to pick up a smartphone, read about the project, and share ideas or concerns online, right from home. Online communication also makes it easier for organizations to collect information from these otherwise silent stakeholders – whether it’s identifying multiple stakeholder groups in a high-density area through the comments posted on an engagement webpage, or validating concerns with an online survey.
Also, face-to-face communication does have a few limitations. Time is probably the one that affect the most this approach. After meeting work, family, and other obligations, few people have the time (or energy) to attend a public consultation on a proposed tunnel, electricity tariff, highway or a new railroad at 8 pm on a Monday night. However, some organizations may be running into trouble with the misconception that online stakeholder tools are sufficient for managing a stakeholder engagement strategy.
Online engagement is not a silver bullet
Even in our social media-driven era, people continue to value in-person interactions above all else when it comes to building trusted relationships. That’s because communicating face-to-face speaks volumes far beyond the simple words that come out of your mouth. Sitting together in a room allows others to perceive the meaning of your tone, voice inflection, emotion, and body language.
When it comes to inspiring people or moving them to action (including acceptance), nothing beats looking people in the eye and telling them exactly what they need to know. Keep in mind that this works in both directions, which is why face-to-face stakeholder consultation is so effective.
Another important aspect is to validate you are engaging with your real stakeholders. Virtually anyone can access an online engagement webpage and share their ideas. The last thing you want is to waste time managing concerns – or worse – adopting strategies that are not relevant to those who are actually impacted by your project. So, you still need to validate if the concerns raised online are relevant for your project key stakeholders.
Also, you don’t want to open yourself to people using your online engagement platform to troll your key messages and sowing confusion about your project. In that case, it is important to consider to dedicate someone to moderate the information people are sharing online to avoid this risk.
Relying on a combination of online and offline tools is your best shot
In some contexts, online engagement tools can help you better map out the current stakeholder landscape so that you can leverage this data to shape a more solid engagement strategy. The conversations in the community will take place and you want to know how people perceive your project.
But what online engagement tools can’t do is help you address the issues that arise during these online stakeholder interactions. Effective engagement entails more than simply identifying stakeholders and letting them voice their concerns; it also requires taking the appropriate actions. And these actions must always be in line with the organization’s goals while also respecting key stakeholder concerns.
Sooner or later, you will want to do something about the concerns raised online. You will interact personally with your key stakeholders. You will need to organize and centralize all interactions, concerns, new issues and stakeholders’ contacts in a central platform.
As new issues may arise as the project progresses, you need to continuously review your engagement strategy and make sure you can reach the target. You want to know what’s working? What’s not? What commitments have been made to whom, by whom, and by when? What aspects of the organization are affected?
Being able to instantly share the right information with the right people at the right time – not to mention being able to build an institutional memory to empower future stakeholder engagement efforts – is where stakeholder engagement teams can build meaningful value. A stakeholder engagement platform will allow you to encompass these. This is why relying on a combination of online and offline tools to facilitate dialog with stakeholders will result in a more effective and successful engagement plan.
Optimizing stakeholder engagement efforts with limited resources
Just like their stakeholders, most engagement teams struggle with limited time and resources. They are expected to continuously engage with key stakeholders, re-assess perceptions, track communications, build corporate memory, review and analyze social trends between projects, monitor the progress of engagement plans and consistently improve the overall quality of stakeholder communications.
This is where a stakeholder engagement software can be of immense help. It allows teams to easily coordinate, prioritize and report on activities, demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements, visualize assets, hot spots and rising issues, and generate institutional memory to empower future engagement efforts. Not only for a specific project but on a long-term vision of strategic engagement with your stakeholders.
By centralizing all of this carefully collected data in a single platform – and presenting it in a meaningful way – this valuable information will always be at your fingertips. And as we all know, having access to the right information at the right time is the key to good decision making.
Boréalis online stakeholder engagement software is used by organizations around the world to successfully engage stakeholders and secure social license to operate in a wide range of industry sectors. To request a free custom demo of our software, contact us.
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