Communicating for online engagement

To communicate for online engagement you will need to:

Make your content engaging

Your content must be engaging. It has to stand out, be alluring, interesting and entertaining. You need to consider and manage your stakeholder relations, be genuine and respectful. Communicate who you are, your intention and the ways people can communicate with you.

Producing content that is engaging will encourage your stakeholders follow you and keep coming back, or give you their details so they receive your updates.

When writing your content you must consider:

  • your brand
  • key messages and marketing materials
  • using the right personality and tone for each channel
  • sharing your content with social networks on social media
  • your stakeholders and their user profiles
  • the journey you want to take them on
  • the relationships you want to create
  • what types of information and data you want to collect
  • the different way people consume information online as oppose to print.

For more guidance on writing for the web see the guidance on writing accessible language and the style guide, and this blog post on getting government to use plain English.

There are three types of content when designing online engagement:

  1. Proactive content– this is your story. Map it, plan and create content and a user journey around it.
  2. Responsive content – responding to questions and issues, acknowledging input, creating content that is sharable through social media, demonstrating you are listening and know what content your audience likes.
  3. Reactive content – a rapid response to an issue in real-time.

Understand your audience

Listening to your community online will help you identify your audience, key stakeholders and how information is shared online and offline among social networks in your community. You need to consider the personality and tone of your communications by tailoring it to the business, audience and engagement method.

You also need to think about what channels your stakeholders are already using as you need to engage with them in the way and using the tools that are most convenient to them.

Use a storyboard to write proactive content

You can use a story canvas to create your story and plan proactive communications. The image on this page is a 'Story Canvas' provided by Digital Storytellers. We recommend using this canvas to create your story then map it to a timeline to create your content calendar.

Your content plan should include content that is on theme and appropriate for you to use and share. Think about your stakeholders, and be proactive in creating content in forms they like. Use rich media, images and video. Proactive communications should be planned with your storyboard and content approved well before it is scheduled to go live or be posted.

How are you going to make your content stand out? Pepper your storyboard with content that complements and enhances your story.

Story canvas from Digital Storytellers
Full-sized story canvas by Digital Storytellers (PNG, 185KB)


This image is a Story Canvas provided by Digital Storytellers. It is a template showing a series of boxes that can be completed to scope out your engagement communications. By completing all the boxes in the template you will understand how you describe how your story relates to your audience, key messages, call to action, story description, people and places and the right style and tone to use. You can then use these descriptions to create a campaign with goals, objectives and map content releases to a calendar to reveal your story throughout your project. Digital storytellers call this creating Stories for Impact.

A series of prompts are written in each section on the storyboard. In the first section, titled Audience prompts are: who do we want to reach? Make it as specific as possible by giving each segment a name & short profile!

In the second section, titled Key Messages the prompt is what 3 things do you want your audience to remember? Below this is a Call to Action section which asks what action do you want them to take?

In the fourth section, titled Story, prompts are: what kind of story shall we tell? A high impact vision piece, a colourful explainer, or perhaps a more personal journey? How does it start, how does it end, and what memorable moments happen in between?

People and places is the fifth section which asks who will feature in our story and what locations will be used?

Below this is Style and Tone which asks what does our story look and feel like? List some key imagery and reference samples. How about some musical direction too?

Campaign makes the seventh section which directs you to map out the main touch points on a timeline. Think about both online and offline opportunities to share and scale our story - and when are they best timed for magic to happen?

The eighth and ninth sections Goals and Objectives sit side-by-side but below sections one to seven. Goals asks what are some of the long-term high level changes you want to happen? Usually involves things like raising awareness, changing behaviour, increasing resources etc. While Objectives asks how will we measure success with some specific metrics & outcomes?

Finally, three phases are included at the very bottom of the storyboard making sections ten, eleven and twelve. Each phase asks you to schedule your content for that phase by month. Phase one includes content from January to March, phase two from April to June and phase three from July to September.

Release open data

Releasing open data using the New Zealand Data and Information Management Principles can significantly enhance the effectiveness of engagement. Open data can be used to inform participants, especially when using thicker forms of engagement. Consider what data you could release for your engagement that could raise awareness and increase stakeholder understanding. It can also be used as an opportunity to test and get feedback on the data you have released and its suitability as an evidence base for your proposals.

Releasing the results of your engagement can also inform future engagements and empower communities to self-organise.

Draft your questions to invite feedback

This is the most critical and underestimated part of engaging online.

When inviting feedback you might ask for input on:

  • sections of a document
  • a set of standard questions
  • open questions about the topic or key themes.

To shape your questions to invite feedback, work backwards from:

  • What do you need to know from these stakeholders to help make this decision?
  • What do you need to include in reports to make them useful and what format do they need to be in?
  • How will you compare and relate metrics in your analysis such as area, stakeholder type and issue?
  • What aspects of the project can be influenced?
  • What is non-negotiable and what is open for discussion / negotiation?
  • Will you engage the same stakeholders again at a different stage in your process? Will the questions be the same?

We recommend you use the guidance on questionnaire design to help you shape questions and develop online surveys.

Create consistent questions across platforms

There is value in consistent questions across platforms.

It is worth considering whether questions asked and the data collected can be the same across all touch points. This will make collation and analysis of input, particularly qualitative feedback much easier and enable real time reporting. Real time reporting helps you build responsive content, improves the efficiency of your Issue and Risk Management Procedure (IRMP) and supports the proactive identification and management of potential project impacts.

Standardise identifiers on all projects

If your organisation would like to coordinate engagement beyond consultation and across project teams, it is worth working out how to standardise the collection of personal data.

This will make it easier to measure:

  • the reach of engagement
  • how representative your processes are
  • issues and community sentiment across projects.

Consider what other useful data you may want to collect about your stakeholders

Your type of engagement, objectives and metrics for success may indicate you also collect:

  • personal data (see note below):
  • identifiers to measure representativeness - name, organisation, position
  • contact details – for future communications.
  • geographical data: a post code could suffice, to understand the site and scale of issues
  • demographic data: nationality, age, gender, language spoken at home - to measure representativeness and refine communications
  • stakeholders interests: so they can be proactively engaged in future
  • consent to use, store and share information.

Note: If you are planning on collecting personal information you need to consider the guidance on privacy and personal information including how you will comply with the Privacy Commissioners Information Privacy Principles and the Privacy Act 1993.

Also see the broader guidance on security and privacy management.

Send us your feedback

This guidance is a work in progress, so please email us your feedback on how useful you found it, what was missing, how it could be improved.

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