For those of us interested in stakeholder engagement, the events of April and early May this year provided an almost perfect case study: the 2015 general election campaign.
Watching a news report about the latest events on the campaign trail one evening, I realised the campaign was an ideal opportunity to examine how and why traditional methods of engagement are failing. The idea came from a reporter approaching a man on the doorstep of his home and asking how many of the election leaflets delivered through his door had been read. "None," was the reply. "They all go straight in the bin."
Now of course, this gentleman did not represent the entire electorate. Perhaps there are people out there who carefully study every leaflet that drops through their letterbox from local candidates. However, my suspicion is that many of us do exactly the same as the man on the news - immediately throw the leaflets away, or collect them all in a pile to be disposed of later.
This is clearly an expensive and highly inefficient way to reach people - many of whom have already made their voting decision anyway, and are extremely unlikely to be persuaded otherwise by the content of an anonymously delivered leaflet.
We might conclude that the only reason this old-fashioned method of engagement survives is because it is only required every five years. However, it's clear that for organisations that need to communicate with and engage with people on a more regular basis, delivering flyers and leaflets is simply not an adequate solution.
Another observation is that despite the continued use of campaign leaflets - the least effective of which were readily mocked on social media - it seems the major parties have already started to move away from those kind of broad, catch-all engagement tactics. An interesting article by Andrew Cooper in the Guardian noted that this year's election campaign seemed "strangely flat and low-key" - an impression created in part by the absence of party campaign billboards and other high-profile advertising.
There are many factors behind the lack of traditional advertising this time round, with falling newspaper readership and the growth of social media chief among them. However, another reason is that the parties have largely replaced high-level, broad-strokes campaigning with more targeted activity, based on precise data analysis. Cooper pointed out that campaign leaders are "using big data to identify the voters who could be won over in the constituencies that might change hands: micro-targeting, with tailored messaging channelled through social media".
Effective stakeholder engagement
It was fascinating to see this played out across the country in such a high-profile event, because it reflects those central principles of an effective stakeholder engagement plan we have so often discussed on this blog: identify your stakeholders, define your purpose and then select the most appropriate channels for engagement.
It may not have killed the humble leaflet off quite yet, but technology is transforming the way organisations reach out to people, create dialogue, seek opinion and respond. Although big data and social media are the two technologies mentioned above, cloud collaboration has a key role to play for organisations that must cost-effectively engage and manage relationships with a diverse group of stakeholders.
To find out more, download Transforming Public Sector Stakeholder Engagement - our free guide.