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Social Media Audits and renewable energy in Cambridgeshire: using the audit to start engagement

By February 8, 2012No Comments

Sheryl at the final CRIF event in November 2011

As part of a series of posts about our Social Media Audits, we’ll be providing examples of how we tackled each project and the benefits it helped to establish for our clients. This first example is from the Cambridgeshire Renewable Infrastructure Framework, and it tells the story of how we used the audit to introduce our then client, Cambridgeshire Horizons, to the online community of people talking about renewable energy in the county.

The challenge
Cambridgeshire Horizons was commissioned in 2010 to identify the future energy needs of the county and how this could be supported by renewable energy delivery*. The project, known as Cambridgeshire Renewables Infrastructure Framework (CRIF), would set out how the county should increase its renewable-energy capacity. Horizons asked Public-i to engage residents, business and the public sector in a complex and politically sensitive project that would involve discussing divisive issues, including things like wind-turbine development.

The strategy
We set out to provide what we called a ‘digitally led’ engagement strategy. This would start by finding people online who were already interested in renewable energy, before involving these individuals in developing and informing the project and helping to take the message of the CRIF to communities across the county.

Finding online communities
By working closely with our client to understand Cambridgeshire’s geographical, social and political make-up, Public-i devised a taxonomy to pick out social-web conversations about renewable energy and related subjects. We then qualified and codified these results before looking in detail at the results, which included identifying the individuals behind the groups and offering analysis of the conversations. Finally, we developed an overall strategy for engaging with these groups and individuals.

The audit provided value for the client in several different ways:-

  • The community: Public-i provided a detailed breakdown of the people using social media to talk about renewable energy – finding the real individuals behind online groups and personas. We considered the relationships between them, using social network analysis, to identify who were the most well-networked and helpful to the engagement process.
  • The numbers:The audit offered a statistical analysis of the activity for Cambridgeshire Horizons to help determine the best ways to communicate and engage with the online audience. In total, the audit found more than 300 websites and social media identities that were relevant to the project.
    • Catherine Howe estimated the reach that we gained as a direct result of using the Social Media Audit as the basis for the communication and engagement strategy.Estimated Potential Reach:-
      • Reachable followers on Twitter: 14,000
      • Members of Facebook groups: 19,300
      • 34 hyperlocal websites – if we estimate reach of 300 people then that’s an audience of 10,200
      • 20 significant individuals who are communicating to many more people
  • Providing insight: The audit found positive and negative conversations – offering an understanding of the strength of feeling for and against renewable energy and shedding light on the views these groups had and how they might affect the engagement.
  • Helping offline engagment: The audit was able to help us establish people who were able to carry the message of the CRIF to offline as well as online networks and communities.
  • Joining the conversation: By carefully coding the results, we could see not just who was talking but could understand more about what they were saying. This enabled the CRIF team to join in existing conversations – and ensure the message was relevant to their audience.

CRIF first event - discussing community energy generation

What happened:-

  • The results from the Social Media Audit became the backbone for the engagement strategy. The CRIF project team invited those who were found online to a series of engagement events – which the client feels were invaluable in helping to build a relationship between the public and the project.
  • Public-i developed a blog and used its Citizenscape platform to collect social media activity from the people that we found to help to continue and bolster the engagement process.
  • More events are planned, with the CRIF expected to be delivered in early 2012.

What the client says
Sheryl French was the project leader for the CRIF, working first for Cambridgeshire Horizons and then Cambridgeshire County Council, when the project transferred to the local authority’s control. She says that the audit has proved an invaluable tool for the CRIF team in discovering who the communities they need to engage with are.

She says: “At the start of our project we knew that engaging with our local community online was important, but we only really knew the most prolific and vocal few in our area.

“The social media audit identified the potential for online dialogue in our area and was an invaluable insight into how local residents use social media and what topics they’re actually discussing, and therefore interested in. We are now able to harness this ‘people power’ to help spread our project messages further.

“It has also been good to meet the online enthusiasts face to face. Without the social media audit we would have been blind to these discussions and these important people.”

Our work on the CRIF itself is now at an end: The CRIF report, the culmination of this stage of the project, has been written and handed to decision makers at Cambridgeshire Local Authorities, the Environment Agency and representatives from the Developer and Registered Social Landlords . That report incorporates a huge effort, from all of the people involved in the CRIF – those who were part of the project team, as well as the many people brought into the process from the three pathways – community, business and public sector.

Sustainability East, which part funded the CRIF alongside Housing Growth Funds, has as an extension of the project commissioned Public-i to develop a case study so the strategy we used becomes a replicable programme for engagement and consultation work elsewhere. We’re looking forward to that case study becoming available soon – and we’ll keep you up to date on what happens here on the blog.

It’s allowed us to look at everything we’ve done on the CRIF – in terms of the engagement and how the SMA helped that process (often in unexpected ways!). While this post makes some of that clear, we’re still learning and I’d love to hear if other people have any thoughts on this kind of process – would you use it? Could the SMA help in other ways?

*Cambridgeshire Horizons received funding for this project through the Climate Change Skills Fund – managed by Sustainability East on behalf of Improvement East.

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