Written by Taylor Haydon
Put a group of developers, planners and architects in a room with the seminar topic “Social Media in Consultation” and you would probably expect the response to be one of reticence, confusion and a general sense of “why bother?” Well you’d be right, but the mood is changing in the industry and for good reason.
In an interesting discussion with both young and old from the world of property, held at the quirky Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell, we talked consultation and the emergence of social media as a platform to engage with local residents and stakeholders.
Of course, every seminar needs a starting point. Our Remarkable survey of councillors (in association with YouGov), on the importance of social media yielded some impressive figures:
- 75% of councillors see social media as an important engagement tool
- 60% believe developers should be engaging local communities through social media
- 60% believe its importance as a consultation tool will continue to grow as the digital age advances.
“All very well and good, but why should I use it? I mean it’s expensive, time consuming and I don’t actually need to as part of the legal requirement do I?” asks one keen developer. And yet here we are, discussing social media and its use in public consultation.
To start, let’s be absolutely clear: the digital world is here to stay. It’s evolving at a fast rate and developers have already been burnt falling behind the curve. Look at your communications teams who have suddenly been consumed by online chatter, customer enquiries and complaints via social media, all in the public eye. Quite a reactive and often crisis management approach to a medium used by most young people but increasingly so the older generation - 45% of internet users aged 65+ use Facebook.
So without further ado…. Three reasons why developers should be proactive in using social media for consultation:
- Mobilising support. Social media allows you to connect with hard to reach groups, including young people and working professionals in a wider area. This will not only create the opportunity to consult with audiences that would not typically engage in the consultation process, thereby underlining the robustness of any consultation undertaken, it will open up new avenues for support. Why take the risk by failing to mobilise valuable supporters?
- Correcting misinformation. Planning can be a contentious process and in such a climate misinformation can spread like wildfire. This is especially true on social media where, without a social media presence of your own, conversations regarding your proposals will be allowed to continue unchecked. Having the ability to step in and correct misinformation will prevent things from spiralling out of control.
- Generating sales leads. Social media also has the ability to drive up early sales interest. Many of those individuals that supported the scheme during the consultation phase will evolve organically into prospective sales leads. Furthermore, by establishing your social media presence early, it can become an invaluable tool in capturing those with an interest in buying a property – all before a single brick has been laid.
Since the Skeffington report in 1969, communities have become actively engaged in the planning process with developers changing their consultation methods in response. To think that the digital world will simply disappear and not influence the planning process or decision makers is a mistake. Preparing now and being ahead of the game is simply a necessity for any developer who wants to put their case across to both the public and politicians through a variety of mediums. After all, those with different ideas, already are.