Encouraging the silent majority - Why not start with the 3 billion social media users?

My last post looked at the benefits of development that people often don’t hear about, and concluded that those of us in the planning industry need to do more to engage with the people we are building for.

One traditional method is to host drop-in public exhibitions. These are a highly effective way of introducing locals to proposed developments in their neighbourhoods. However, no single approach to public engagement is without limits. Public events are usually limited to one day, and often only encourage those who already have strong views on planning.

So how can we engage with those who could gain from development but remain on the side-lines, what we call the ‘silent majority’? If we are to reach and consistently engage with the whole community, it is vital that we explore other options as well.

Enter social media.

The benefits

It’s clear that social media is popular, with most of us (roughly 3 billion worldwide [1]) using it to some extent. It’s also:

●       Accessible: Information can be shared and accessed 24/7 on computers, smartphones. Underrepresented groups can now access planning information on council’s online portals via their local councillors’ Facebook feeds.

●        Wide-reaching: Social media is BIG. As of 2016, there is an estimated UK total of 39 million social media users, and it is forecast that users on Twitter will total roughly 17.1 million users in the UK this year [2]. This offers the opportunity to learn what key stakeholders and the community think, to engage with supporters, to monitor opposition and keep an eye on relevant policies.

●        Inclusive: Face-to-face or reactive responses to interested parties, are often dominated by those who have already engaged with the planning process. Social media interaction can encourage the ‘silent majority’, giving them a platform to raise their thoughts, and space for quiet reflection and consideration of messages before engaging more vocally.

●        Immediate: As anyone who has spoken to communities about new development knows, a lot of the information circulated can be inaccurate or false. Using social media on a project allows the company to respond immediately to damaging rumours and to spread accurate news before rumours creep into discussions.

●        Cost effective: Unless using premium editions, most social media platforms don’t charge.

Things to beware of

Some of the things to watch out for with social media include:

●        Mobilizing NIMBYs: If social media is a platform for mobilisation, then we mustn’t forget this can work both ways. Just as we may mobilise and engage YIMBYs, we may also open-up the floor to challengers. Petitions can quickly spread online, as can misinformation.

●        Demographic reach: Whilst social media boasts a HUGE number of active users, it is not all-inclusive demographically. Subsequently, the feedback online is unlikely to be representative of the whole community and should not be used alone.

Despite these limitations, used alongside traditional methods, social media offers a wide-range of cheap (mostly free), quick, easily accessible platforms to spread the message of the benefits of new developments to communities. In so doing, we are widening our reach to include those who don’t yet engage with development, but might well be in favour of it.

[1] Depending who you ask. Statistics by Statista (2018) Number of social media users worldwide from 2010 to 2021 (in billions) estimated worldwide social media users in 2017 to be 2.46 billion, and forecast as 2.77 billion by the end of 2018.

[2] Statistics by Statista (2018) Number of Twitter users in the United Kingdom (UK) from 2012 to 2018 (in million users)

This article was written by Phoebe Gray, Account Executive at MPC. 

If you would like to learn more about how social media could benefit your planning application please contact our projects team.