by M. André Primus
This fall, Highland Planning organized and staffed an EcoDistrict Launch event with our partners at Greentopia to celebrate the completion of the EcoDistrict Plan. The event marked the start of the project moving from planning to implementation. The NYSERDA-funded EcoDistrict Master Plan will provide a framework for the High Falls Neighborhood to move towards ambitious environmental and social justice goals. It was one of my favorite projects that I have worked on to date at Highland Planning. It is great to see the EcoDistrict moving forward.
We advertised the event using digital engagement on Facebook. Using our organic-reach-focused strategy, we reached over 20,000 people and interacted with over 1,500 people. We also used a Facebook event to connect with vendors, non-profits, and volunteers who were interested in being involved in the project. Some event participants, like the wedding party that jumped in on a game of four square, happened to be in High Falls on the afternoon of Saturday, October 7th.
The EcoDistrict Launch event had two areas, an EcoFair and the EcoDistrict Launch Project. The EcoFair was designed to highlight the EcoDistrict as a destination and help people envision a revitalized neighborhood as enabled by the plan. We had copies of the plan, summaries, and renderings to help attendees catch the vision, and we were on site to explain the plan and the process in depth. The event featured vendors and organizations from inside the EcoDistrict, such as Airagami and Monroe Community College, combined with eco-focused groups from around the region, such as the Stormwater Coalition and the Monroe County EcoPark. In addition to the engaging and educational exhibits presented by our partner organizations, the event featured vegan food and compostable utensils from Marshall Street Bar & Grill food truck, electric vehicles to test drive, a station explaining the new Zagster bike share system, face painting, chalk drawing, live music, games with Rec On The Move, a magician, and more! Overall, our 30 exhibitors, 10 vendors, three performers, eight activities, and six goats added up to one great Saturday for the approximately 600 attendees to the event.
The Launch Project, the first of many events in the EcoDistrict, initiated one project in particular, the revitalization of a greenspace beside the Genesee River gorge which is envisioned to become a part of an “EcoLoop” walking trail. A herd of goats were brought in to clear out the invasive brush along the trail, fossil-fuel-free, in preparation for the human volunteers. On the morning of the event, about 20 volunteers gathered in the EcoDistrict to clean, weed, and plant along the trail.
Part of our event was live streamed on Facebook Live, drawing over 125 more views. By taking a non-traditional approach to a public meeting format, Highland Planning and Greentopia were able to engage a much larger part of the community in a much more meaningful way. This robust and varied engagement sets the stage for a very successful implementation of their EcoDistrict Plan.
An average user spends 50 minutes out of each day on Facebook platforms, viewing hundreds of posts in that time. Facebook has a tool, called “boosting a post” that will allow you to ensure that many people in your project area see your event. A boosted post, however, comes as an advertisement from Facebook itself, not from a trusted source. While boosting posts is a good step to ensure your event is seen by a wide range of Facebook users, to optimize your reach you should be sure your event appears to users from one of the following three trusted sources:.
1. Pages the user “Liked.”
Research what pages are most “liked” in your project area. Government agencies, chambers of commerce, neighborhood/merchants associations, and local news agencies are good choices that often have a few thousand likes each. Seeing an event shared or even hosted by a page the user specifically chose to follow increases their trust in your event as worth their time. Be sure to plan who will moderate and respond to comments on the post. It’s best to assign someone who can post as the page in question, since they will get notifications about any new comments. If this is not possible, someone from the project team will have to be assigned to check in on each post periodically.
2. Groups the user has joined.
With a little Facebook searching, you can find groups for specific neighborhoods, regional special interest groups, and groups specifically for sharing events. Generally, membership to these Facebook groups is restricted, requiring approval from someone already in the group, or from a group administrator. These restrictions mean posts from these groups have a higher trust for users. In order to post, you can ether request to be added to the group yourself, or find someone on the project team, or a stakeholder group like a steering committee, who already has membership in the group. As before you should have a plan in place for moderation, keeping in mind who can access which posts.
2. Personal friends.
Nothing in social media (or in life) is more powerful than a personal recommendation. If you want your event to be successful, you need a plan to get individuals to share the event. Stakeholder groups like steering committees are essential, as they are generally made up of community leaders. Asking them to invite all (or close to all) of their Facebook friends, and to post it to their personal feeds, is the single most effective step you can take in promoting your event. Instructing them to pick two influential people who are not on the committee and asking them to personally invite all of their friends will multiply your reach even further.
Social media is complex.
It’s tempting to assume that putting up posters and making a Facebook event is all you need, and that once it’s on social media, your work is done. However, social media is made of people, and is as complex as a middle-school cafeteria, or a political party, or any other human group. With platforms powered by networks of people that value each other, having valued voices speaking for you is worth more than any advertisement. With these tips on how to capture those valued voices, I hope you are able to bring more of the voice of the public into your planning processes.