A Brief Introduction to Online Engagement Platforms

06 May 2020

A Brief Introduction to Online Engagement Platforms

With Covid-19 preventing us meeting research and engagement participants face-to-face – now and probably for several months to come – there is a growing need to reimagine this work online. Online engagement is by no means new, but the idea of being the main route to engagement is new to lots of us. For many organisations keen to explore their options, therefore, it is difficult to know where to start. This short review aims to help you understand the main functions of online engagement platforms, what they can help you to do and some examples of which platforms offer which features.

We have reviewed some of the leading online platforms for public engagement and research, based on their ability to provide the features we discuss. We have personal experience of some, but not all, so we don’t go so far as to make recommendations – rather we want to help you think about what functions you most need and thus where to look.

Common functions of online engagement platforms

Ideation

This refers to the process of co-creating and crowdsourcing ideas. Participants are given a challenge and asked to submit concepts using text, images or video. They can also then give feedback on each other’s ideas with comments and ratings to create a leader board.

Journals/blogs

Depending on the platform, this tool might be labelled as a ‘blog’ or ‘journal’ activity. The blog/journal tool can be used for to keep digital diaries and journals. Participants upload text, pictures, video and web links in response to questions/prompts they have been provided with. Blog/journal activities usually remain open for several days so respondents can return, add more detail or complete multiple entries (e.g. to document daily habits).

Surveys/Polls

 

Although online platforms reviewed here are essentially made for qualitative research and engagement, most feature basic survey capabilities too, including open-ended, single choice and multiple-choice questions. There is normally no routing and logic, so the main use is to get simple, structured responses – like a virtual ‘show of hands’. Many online platforms also apply quick polls to test the ‘temperature of the room’. Polls can normally be conducted live during discussions with groups on the platform; or in participants’ own time when they log in.

Mark-up

 

This tool is mostly used for ad and concept testing. Participants drop pins onto specific areas of an image and can enter text responses or post emojis to explain what they like or dislike about the stimulus material. The output can include a heatmap of pins.

Mapping

 

This tool will help you gather feedback from your participants linked to specific places, so works well for getting comments on a local vision, a built environment or transport scheme. It normally allows participants to drop a pin on a map and leave feedback specific to this point on the map.

Discussion boards

 

These are similar in format and features to blogs, but discussion boards enable interaction between several community members. The community manager (researcher) sets the topic to be discussed and moderates the discussion.

Mood boards

 

Participants can select and upload images to a template then share their board as an image for the rest of the community to see. This tool is normally used to get a visual presentation of participants’ feelings on a topic.

Live chat

 

Some platforms can host live group chat meetings with optional live video, prepared questions and media items. Like discussion boards, the moderator normally posts a question or topic for participants to discuss. Recently, platforms have started to introduced video functions to live chats. The video live chats currently only allow for a restricted number of people to join.

Gamification

 

Platforms with gamification features allows participants to collect points as they become increasingly active members. You can attach different numbers of points to different activities, and create leader boards to drive participation.

Moderation

 

Platforms for online engagement require a moderator. This could be someone who conducts the research, but most online platforms also offer to take on this role for an additional cost. This could be a valuable addition if the engagement is large scale.

Analysis

 

Online platforms for engagement and research also commonly feature some sort of analysis function – from filtering data by activity, segments or person to reviewing response streams, charts and data tables. There are also possibilities to download content and key information.

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