As someone who believes strongly in online consultation, I work with social media on planning applications on a daily basis. On the whole I think that social media offers some fantastic opportunities for promoting and extending the accessibility of a planning application.
But I have to say, don’t be tempted to use social media just because it’s there. Consider its original purpose and whether the specific tactic meets the aims and objectives of your consultation. Facebook, for example, was designed as a means to communicate with friends, share photographs and videos and to arrange social activities. It has the means of addressing some consultation objectives, but due to the inability to gain user data and therefore meaningful analysis, Facebook’s role as a consultation tactic is limited.
Likewise, Twitter is a useful means of promoting a consultation but its 140 character limit restricts meaningful dialogue.
Bear in mind that many people choose not to use social media, and those that do may not choose to use it to comment on a development proposal. It should not be the sole means of online consultation.
If you set up a social media profile, keep it active: nothing communicates a reluctance to communicate more effectively than a dormant Twitter feed or Facebook page with unread Friend requests and posts. Maintaining a social media presence is a time consuming process but can be helped by scheduling posts and setting up automatic monitoring, with results directed to a designated email account.
Find out more about using social media in consultation on the ConsultOnline website.
Penny’s book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide is published by Routledge. It is available online through Routledge, Amazon and other bookshops.