Tips for Mass Participation

If you want to change behaviour or at the very least get people to engage more deeply with your cause, message or brand, then involving them should be your first choice. As the saying goes…

Tell Me and I Forget;
Teach Me and I May Remember;
Involve Me and I Learn

I’ve been involved in a lot of participative media projects from the early day of Communities and UGC (User Generated Content) when we had to build our own tools, to Social Media and working within the contraints of a someone else’s platform. Whether your aim is education, getting authentic feedback, co-creation or simply getting people to share and engage with your message, there are 6 questions you need to ask youself :

1. Why do you need participation?

Please, not just for its own sake. Be clear on the outcomes and upfront with participants on what you are hoping for. If you just want people to share and cross-promote, then don’t dress it up as something else, focus on giving the audience a way to add their identity or get kudos through sharing.

If you want feedback to improve your service, then ensure you can track the comments and reward those who are helpful. If you want to crowd source content then think about how you will use the content, clear rights and credit people.

If you are using participation to talent spot then make sure you have ways to rate contributions and contact people. Or if the purpose is for people to engage and learn, ensure they know the outcome, reinforce the learning and help them (and you) track their progress.

2. Who do you / don’t you want to reach?

Concern over not getting enough contributions can lead to the mistake of aiming at too wide an audience, and time wasted sifting out the rubbish and managing friction.

Just as you might participate because an influencer you follow is involved, you can similarly be put off by seeing contributions from those you don’t want to be associated with or, worse still, find your contribution is being torn apart by trolls. Yes, protections can be put in place, but setting clear expectations and ensuring good editorial and audience targeting in the first-place, goes a long way in bringing the right community together, while subtly diswading the wrong community.

3. What is in it for them?

Find out why your target users would contribute and what they think they will get out of it (not just what you think!). You can use BBC R&D’s excellent Human Values to help consider this, or simply ask if it will fulfil one of the three ways we feel happy i.e. we benefit by being sociable, it delivers flow (through attainment, closure or mastery) or is a meaningful act. You need to shape the participation to ensure audiences can see what is in it for them.

4. How do we help them make their best contibution possible?

This seems obvious, we now know what we want and what the audience want, but it is amzing how cryptic and unhelpful some calls to action can be. You need to brief people clearly, tell them what you hope for but most importantly give then the tools and support to do their best and add their individuality.

Ideally do this iteratively, intially keep it simple,then as they become more committed to the process give them more information e.g. start with a simple text contribution and then say best rated contributions also have an image, and when they click to add an image give more info/tools on how best to do take and process the image.

There is an art to showing them what success looks like without ending up with your own ideas reflected back to you. It may be better to show a few examples of great contributions or give a clear format within which they have total freedom, instead of telling them exactly what them to do.

5. Where do we reach them?

Think about which platforms, whether your own site/app or on social media. Which ones will let you in reach the right contributors, offer the functionality for creating the type of contributions you want and let you publishing their contributions to reach other audiences.

And within the platform, where are the people you want to contribute currently, what tribes or communities of interest are they in, or who do they follow. They are extremely unlikely to sign-up to new channels, influencers or platforms just to contribute. And, is this the same space or community as the audience you want to see their contributions.

Consider hybrid approaches where you use multiple platforms, both to make it accessible to more people and so you can accept richer contributions on one platform but also showcase on another. You may need to do the leg work to funnel people who do light contributions on one platform to delivering richer contributions on another.

Keep in mind that the best platforms for reach (e.g. WhatsApp or Facebook) are the ones where it is hardest to track or control how the participation is happening as much of the sharing will be through private groups.

6. When do we honour our promise?

How do we make their contribution feel worthwhile, credit them or at the very least say thanks. And do this in a timely manner – if you are not using the contributions until a distant date you need to manage expectation and keep audiences engaged.

Never run a project where the contributions seem to go nowhere, it wastes your users’ time and could damage the authenticity of your brand. Seriously, even a simple thank you or compliment from your team will often get reposted and create deeper engagement and goodwill than their original contribution.