How Do I Get the Word Out? The First Step of Public Engagement

While every community is different, government agencies often run into the same initial hurdle: how to get the word out about an upcoming project.

Keep reading to see best practices for initial outreach and how public engagement software helps government agencies:

  • Reach underrepresented groups
  • Increase public awareness
  • Lower the barrier to participation
  • Keep resident input organized and manageable
 Online engagement tools for public involvement -

How can I spread the word if there is no audience?

Government agencies can use a variety of methods for community engagement: email, text, paper collateral, public meetings, and social media – just to name a few. For agencies who have an existing “rolodex” of residents, it is important to utilize a Citizen Relationship Manager to re-engage residents who have participated before. This is a great way to close the feedback loop with ongoing communication that builds public trust and encourages residents to engage, time after time.

However, this database of resident contact information may not be a luxury that all local governments have, especially if revamping their community engagement approach. Previously collected information may have been lost due to replacing software, human error, or internal systems not complying with one another.

Whether you are rethinking your public engagement approach or just looking for best practices for your next project, here are four tips for getting the word out.

 Online engagement tools for public involvement - social media tools for community engagement -

1. Target underserved populations with social media advertising & mapping

One challenge in increasing community engagement is reaching beyond the usual voices to underrepresented groups. One solution is targeted social media posts, which can focus on a desired location or demographic and translate into the native language of a resident.

As we’ve written about in a previous case study, GoTriangle in Raleigh leveraged Facebook targeting to instantly increase reach and participation in the Hispanic community.

Using this kind of targeted outreach not only broadens demographic and geographic diversity, it also builds a broad base for future outreach. With every outreach effort conducted through, you amass more resident location and contact information, which can provide a foundation for even more specific targeting on future efforts. You can “fence” an area and conduct email and text message outreach campaigns to residents in your growing CRM.

2. Target residents through local news integrations

When disseminating information to the public, leveraging local news media can help increase awareness about topics that residents care about the most. For this reason, agencies should always include a link to a project page or survey in media and press releases, allowing news sources to also create an opportunity for public involvement.’s advertising module takes this one step further by embedding surveys directly into news articles. With direct integrations, your survey can appear on articles related to your topic. One common approach we use is embedding transportation surveys on articles related to traffic. Approaches like this allow residents reading the article to instantly provide public input when they’re most likely to be interested.

 Online engagement tools - mobile friendly community engagement tools -

3. Use mobile-first design to lower the barrier to participation

Mobility is more important than ever: The Pew Research Center recently found that 95% of Americans own a cell phone and Forbes reported that cell phones are the most ubiquitous technology to engage both low-income populations and Millenials.

When designing project sites and surveys, it is crucial to keep a responsive design that recognizes what device a resident is using. This means that whether on desktop, tablet, or smartphone, the content is automatically formatted correctly and easy to engage with.

4. Capture contact data and keep it organized to grow your reach

When increasing outreach efforts using multiple methods, it is critical to harness contact information and public input in one place. Remember all those ways that we mentioned for reaching the public: email, text, paper collateral, public meetings, social media, etc? Don’t let that outreach go to waste by siloing in a number of different platforms.

The right public engagement software will bring data (i.e. input) together in an all-in-one hub to be aggregated, analyzed, and easily create reports. Furthermore, a CRM to hold resident information will be essential in re-engaging with the public as that “resident rolodex” continues to grow.

Bringing more voices to the table is the first step in a better community engagement process.

At, we believe that building public trust starts with reaching beyond the usual self-selectors. This is the first step in creating a better community engagement process, which looks like this:

Learn more about public engagement software that reaches beyond the usual voices:

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