For all those about to start using Dialogue, this success guide takes you through the actions and planning that should provide a great result.
When designing a product, a lot of thought goes into how it will be used and what we can do to make that process as successful as possible. What also happens is that once the product goes out into the wide world, our users do a myriad of ingenious things we hadn’t even conceived of.
In this success guide we aim to bring together the best of both worlds - all of our top technical advice with all of the wonderful stuff that happens in real dialogues and needs to be shared.
Content, Content, Content
1. Set your audience a challenge they can win
For people to truly engage, Dialogue needs a sense of competition and the potential for users to win.
- Set your audience a challenge, ask them to contribute to something real and people will do it.
- Give your users the opportunity to have a good idea about something specific
- People are much more likely to interact if they feel their idea could actually be actioned and rated highly. What encourages people to write reviews on Amazon, comment on Facebook and tweet is receiving feedback and ratings (in the form of ‘likes’, ‘favourites’, ‘retweets’ etc.) and the belief that their message will have an impact. What all of these things have in common is that the engagement is formed around something tangible; lots of people use social media, but the individual interactions are around small topics that people feel connected to.
2. Who is your challenge for? Ensure your content is easy for them to read
It seems obvious, but it's so important: identify who your audience is. Ensure the team assigned to the project know who they are writing content for and have considered the readability of their copy - you can do that on this site.
For example, this article scores 64 on the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Scale, meaning the language used here could be easily read by 14-15 year olds, but this means it might not be suitable for a proportion of the UK audience, where the average reading age is 9 years old.
3. Ask the right questions
In point 1 we discussed giving your visitors a challenge they can rise to, but how do you frame the kind of question that will simultaneously gather the info you need and get people clamouring to log in and contribute?
Imagine if you were asked something like “What can we do to make our country a better place?”
It’s a good question and I’m sure we all have opinions on this, but isn’t it a little difficult to pick something to say? And would you really believe that your idea could and would be actioned?
How about if you were asked the same thing, but just about your city? Let’s say that question was framed as a challenge to residents of your city to make it a better place.
Well now I’m interested! I live here, this might actually affect my daily life...you can see how people would be invested in that challenge and its outcomes.
George’s Ideas Lab is a good example of this in action - follow this link to have a look at the challenge.
Pro Tip: proximity is key when asking a question or posing a challenge to start your Dialogue. Give your visitors something they can get close to by targeting a specific geographical area, interest or group. The further a challenge is from someone, the less they are invested in it.
Forestry Commission have many great examples of specific groups, areas and interests being asked for their input. As a national organisation they have approached their Dialogue in a targeted way, looking at certain forests and woodlands or even certain activities within those.
4. Consult on meaningful issues and give your participants the freedom to express their opinion
Your site visitors are likely to feel more empowered to discuss the various subject areas when the issues are of relative importance. The more people feel passionate about the areas available for consultation, the higher the response levels you will achieve.
5. Demonstrate how you’ve listened in the past and what you plan to do with the responses
Give your visitors examples of your past successes. By including findings from previous work and the actions you took to address those issues or act on feedback, your visitors will feel that their participation will bring about real change, and they are more likely to engage with the project.
Stating your intentions for this engagement exercise e.g. when it will close, what will happen with the responses to your challenges, how they can find out how their contribution made a difference, will also encourage people to take part and feel like their efforts will be appreciated.
6. Put in some fancy content
You can add videos and images to Dialogue to make it interesting for users. If you’re using Dialogue for place-making you could even add in a map to help contextualise the challenge.
In short, be creative and think beyond just plain copy.
7. Keep it simple
Ideally, no more than five challenges open at once. If people are visiting your Dialogue for the first time and have arrived to find a specific challenge they have heard about (see Promotion section below) it can be confusing to discover twelve things going on.
Pro Tip: you can link people to the page of a particular challenge, rather than them landing on your Dialogue homepage. If you are targeting a group of people for a specific topic, send them the link to that one. They are free to roam once they get to the site, but you’ve directed them to the place you want them initially.
Think about promotion early on - it will be the making of your engagement exercise if you get it right. Remember the tool is just the starting point, you have to get the word out there.
1. Place a direct link on your organisation's homepage
A seemingly obvious thing to point out, but this is an easy way to boost the success of your site.
2. Make the most of newsletters, staff, visitors etc.
Use the power of publications to spread news of your Dialogue. You have a receptive audience right on your doorstep in your own colleagues. Use internal publications, e-bulletins, noticeboards and even incentives to encourage them to submit the first ideas, comments and ratings.
Promote widely -put up posters and stickers and hand flyers out and about - but no fly posting!
If you connect with your stakeholders via newsletters, email and other means - use all of these to promote your Dialogue and the challenges. Consider a targeted campaign for each of the challenges, addressing the appropriate challenge to the appropriate group.
3. Organise a briefing with press and contact local bloggers
Covering all local and national channels of communication available is the best way to ensure each person has an opportunity to hear about and get involved in the conversation.
If a story runs online, ask that a link to the site is included.
Most areas have bloggers that discuss these kind of issues, have a quick trawl of the internet and you may be surprised what you find. There’s a good chance a blogger would be interested in linking to your site, so drop them an email, tweet, get in touch.
4. Offer the potential to win for all participants
It doesn’t need to be something outrageous, but offering a small incentive (supermarket vouchers or similar) is a good way to show your appreciation for people getting involved.
Better still - could you make a promise to review and action the top few highest rated ideas? Perhaps you could offer that the participants who have submitted the highest rated ideas get the chance to have a meet and greet with your key people or assistance from your organisation in getting their ideas actioned. Whatever you choose, make it a worthwhile and valuable win for your participants.
5. Use existing mailing lists
Emails are a great way to promote an online engagement exercise as it only takes a couple of clicks for the recipient to access the site or pass it on. You may have stakeholder groups such as a citizens panel you can contact and existing mailing lists are fantastic - both represent a pool of actively engaged individuals who have opted-in to being contacted for information about your actions.
6. Change your email signature
Add a link and/or banner for the dialogue in your email signature - easy.
7. Use social media to keep people up to date
You probably have a Facebook or Twitter account for your organisation. To ensure the communications coming from your social presence are easy to follow, remember to use hashtags and URL shorteners to drop links into your Tweets.
Dialogue allows you to set a hashtag for your challenge and you can even set up a Twitter and Facebook account specifically for this dialogue.
8. Online advertising
Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google Adwords offer advertising which can be targeted by area, demographic etc. These adverts can be incredibly effective, a recent consultation found their Facebook adverts brought 1/3 of all their traffic to the site.
9. Take your Dialogue on the road!
As well as engagement-focused events, showcasing the site at other events may inspire people who otherwise would not have taken an interest or had an opportunity to take an interest. Tablets and projectors all make it much easier to take your Dialogue on the road.
Vattenfall ran its 'Power in the Valleys' Dialogue to discuss how to best use the Pen y Cymoedd Wind Energy Project Community Fund, the team took tablets out to the local residents to gather real time responses in a widespread and hard-to-reach community who may not otherwise have engaged or been able to use the site.
10. Get others to add links on their site
This helps you to work with other organisations to spread the word about your dialogue, they can add a link to a specific challenge or your Dialogue homepage and promote it for you.
11. Mix up online and offline
Services such as Eventbrite are handy for setting up feedback meetings and any supporting offline events. Plus, if you use a service like this you will also know who is attending as it allows users to register their interest. You can embed a link to Eventbrite from your Dialogue.
12. Consider a fortnightly email round-up
To keep the interest in your challenge alight, consider putting together an email picking out the highest rated/most commented on ideas and feeding back on how your challenge is going so far. You can send this to current registrants to your dialogue and those you have on a mailing list (as long as they have agreed to receiving this kind of email from you). There are a couple of benefits in doing this:
- It lets your visitors know that you are actively interested in the content they are adding to your challenge and are really listening
- It encourages visitors to comment on existing ideas as well as add their own. This opens up the challenge and gets you all the meaty goodness of a collaborative dialogue between your respondents.
Big Lottery Fund used this technique in its large-scale challenge on the future of their funding. The team noticed an increase in involvement after each round-up email sent and used the content of the email to encourage people to comment on ideas
1. Why moderate?
We’ve had a lot of lovely comments from previous users of Dialogue that the users moderate themselves to a large extent, but this doesn’t mean moderation isn’t necessary!
We would strongly recommend having very clear rules for the Dialogue and a solid moderation policy. The BBC are widely known for having a concrete and rigorous moderation policy, we have linked to this here and it is important to give it a read: Also, it's key to ensure that your users know that they themselves can report malicious content to you.
Moderation is a useful exercise too, and here’s why:
It’s your first place to read all the interesting ideas people are submitting and to identify those you can share. It’s also an opportunity to pick out those ideas which you as an organisation might want to comment on further, or to draw out more information from your respondents. And finally, it’s an opportunity to add topics to the ideas to help you with your analysis, and to enable your users to search for groups of ideas in the same topic.
Pro Tip: Do you have an existing social media policy, or a colleague who is a bit of a guru at managing your public face? Can they help with moderating and/or managing the moderation team?
2. Set up a moderating dream team
Have more than one moderator and assign a rota so that any incoming ideas and comments can be quickly approved. If you have more than one challenge then setting up a moderating team for each challenge also means more ground is covered.
3. Pre or Post?
If you choose pre-moderation, you have the opportunity to prevent any ideas or comments going live until you’ve read them and checked them.
Post moderation means that ideas and comments go live immediately and that your moderation happens after that point.
When you’re moderating ideas you can tag them, making it easier for other visitors to find ideas that they are interested in and for ideas to be grouped for your analysis. This in turn, makes it easier for you to analyse as you have done your coding as you go along.
5. Community management
Dialogue is designed to allow for an unscripted debate that will generate exciting and useful ideas for you to build policy around.
What’s really nice is when a dialogue is a two-way conversation between the organisation and the public. This also helps users to stay engaged as they feel that you are really listening and interested.
Pro Tip: Set up an admin user with a name which represents the organisation, or set up all of your admins with both their name and your organisation e.g. Adam-OrganisationName so that users know they are chatting with a real person who could do something with their ideas.
Things to remember:
- Commenting as an admin can be a tricky line to balance, but you can use the comments feature to guide ideas and comments or to get more information if there’s an idea that interests you
- A community manager should have a light-touch approach, act as a guide and support the respondents through the process
Here are a few things to consider that will set you up for a good challenge:
- Tone: Be light-hearted, humble and, above all else, human. Humour is important, but use it wisely. People really respond to an organisation when it steps away from corporate-speak, and there are some good Twitter chats that show large organisations responding in a humorous way to their customers - Sainsbury's recently employed the use of fish puns in a conversation that went viral. Be humble - it's useful to remember that you are asking for help from your visitors, so it's good to acknowledge this.
- Act as a guide and teacher: If a respondent submits an idea that is similar to another already posted, then you as a moderator can highlight this and provide links between the ideas. It's likely that, as an organisation, you have done a lot of things that your respondents don't know about and you may get some ideas and comments asking for or suggesting things that you already do or are planning to do. As a community manager, you can direct them to examples of these and show your visitors the work you are already doing. This is not only a great win for that user, but all of the other visitors who can see that response you have given and therefore know more about your work.
- Support your respondents: If an idea is good and you want to know more, ask the user via the comments section. This is instant gratification for that user as they have been responded to personally and in a supportive way, but this also means you get the information you need for your research. If an idea is not as well thought out, perhaps you can help that user to develop their idea by asking questions about it. You can also make little comments in ideas that have been popular like "great to see so much enthusiasm" or you can encourage more input in ideas with fewer responses to them.
Pro Tip: Decide on your tone of voice beforehand and make sure this is carried through from your community manager, to your moderators, to your Twitter and Facebook feed. It's good for each of your admins to have individual personalities, but the overall tone should remain consistent.
Structuring your dialogue
1. The open all hours approach
The simplest way to run a dialogue is to put in your challenge and then open it up to ideas, comments and ratings from the public for a specified amount of time. This is easy and clear and you will receive ideas right up to the closing day of your challenge.
Pro Tip: Be clear about the closing date and perhaps even have a countdown to get your users eager to submit ideas or contribute to others before that happens.
Following this you can do your full analysis, pick out actionable ideas and feedback the results.
2. The phased approach
Another way of running a dialogue is to stage your process. This requires a little more planning, but allows your respondents to help you pick out the best ideas and adds to the ‘competition’ aspect that works well with Dialogue. In this scenario, the Dialogue has 2 stages:
Phase 1: The Dialogue opens for all ideas, comments and ratings.
Phase 2: You turn off the ability to submit new ideas, but still allow comments and ratings.
This phase is where your ideas get refined by the public - this can help you to pick out the most popular and, crucially, any ideas you can action.
3. Demographic and registration questions
We can customise the demographic questions on Dialogue, which is great if you have specific information you need for your analysis. Think in advance about what you really need to know about your users to help you build your policy, but be frugal! The more questions a user has to answer when they register, the higher the barrier to entry.
Pro Tip: You can have a number of things on the profile form (where they live, age, interests etc.), but not all of them need to be 'required' answers. A user might only want to give you a few pieces of information when they first sign up, but there's no reason why they wouldn't go back and offer more once they are comfortable and engaged in using the site.