Written by James Bird
Director, Head of Public Affairs
The growing importance of social media as an engagement tool in the planning consultation process has been highlighted in a Remarkable Engagement survey of 1,401 councillors across Great Britain.
As social media becomes the ‘norm’ as a means of engaging and communicating with stakeholders, influencers and consumers, the survey report, carried out in association with YouGov, shows how property developers are expected to embrace the trend over the coming years.
We polled local councillors on their opinions on social media, and how they see the social landscape developing. Of those asked, 75% said that social media is an ‘important’ or ‘very important’ engagement tool, while over half (54%) believe that social media carries a ‘great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of weight in the consultation process currently.
60% of councillors believe property developers should be using social media to engage with the public, an opinion which is held by the majority within all three of the main political parties. However, evidence suggests that many developers are yet to make social media a component of their consultancy processes. Arguably, this is due to concerns around social media becoming a platform for negativity.
Over one third (34%) believe public responses gathered via social media should be included as a part of a Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) and 74% believe responses gathered via social media would add value when reviewing planning applications.
According to the survey, traditional methods such as community meetings and public exhibitions are still regarded as the most valuable method of public consultation by local councillors. However, social media is seen to be rapidly increasing in importance over the next three years (60% of respondents believing this) and much more so than traditional methods; three times as much as public exhibitions (22%) and twice as much as community meetings (30%).
We decided to carry out this survey because despite the fact that social media is no longer a new medium there remains uncertainty within the development sector on the value of such engagement.
87.9% of adults in the UK are regular users of the internet, and over half of these users are active on at least one social media channel. These numbers indicate how property developers cannot afford to be neglecting social media as a means of engaging with the public during the planning application process.
Admittedly, our survey found there are fears around validity of individuals on social platforms and we know there are concerns amongst developers over public management of negative posts. However, these concerns can be allayed with better education of the benefits of and tools available to manage social media.
There are clear guidance and principles set out by the Consultation Institute and by the Consultation Charter. There is also already a clear understanding of how to engage and interact with both positive and negative sentiment through all the traditional activities that developers currently undertake in consultations.
We conclude that the primary problem with public consultation as it stands is that as a process it can fail to engage with many who could be potential advocates for developers, and planning applications respectively.
With digital and social platforms enabling contact with such a huge community we can no longer leave them underutilised in public consultations. Developers cannot shy away from the space as the need to consult digitally, socially and openly is growing and increasingly is expected.
Remarkable has identified the ways in which social media can be used to turn audiences into advocates and potentially buyers, through allowing them to engage, respond and feedback into the debate and discussion.
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Download the full report here: