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Developers should use social media to engage with communities – report

Words: Laura Edgar

Local councillors believe property developers should be using social media to engage more with the public during consultations, according to a poll.

Remarkable Engagement, part of Remarkable Group, a community and stakeholder engagement company, conducted the survey of 1,401 councillors alongside YouGov.

The survey suggests that community meetings and public exhibitions are still regarded as the “most valuable” method of public consultation but that 60 per cent of respondents believe social media is  “rapidly increasing” in importance.

75 per cent said social media is an important or very important engagement tool, while more than half thought that social media carries a great deal or quite a lot of weight in the consultation process.

Of those surveyed, 60 per cent said property developers should be using social media to engage with the public. However, Remarkable Engagement said evidence suggests that many developers are yet to make social media a component of their consulting processes, perhaps due to social media becoming a platform for negativity.

Additionally, 34 per cent said public responses via social media should be included as part of a Statement of Community Involvement while 74 per cent said responses gathered via social media would add value when reviewing planning applications.

"Consultations tend to reach a certain group only"

Speaking about the survey, Terri Reid, deputy leader of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, said: “Social media is becoming the very best way to engage with certain groups and demographics. The regular methods of reaching and recording comments do need to continue as a high proportion of older residents especially, only use this method, but that probably illustrates the problem - consultations tend to reach a certain group only, the group who tend to engage traditionally.”

Reid said she agreed that checks and balances need to happen, such as geotagging responses to ensure they are relevant, something she said is easily done.

“The gain is to reach and engage with local residents who might not otherwise be involved and who therefore lose the opportunity to comment.”

Stephen Pomeroy, chief executive of Remarkable Group said with “87.9 per cent of adults in the UK regularly using the internet,” half of which are active on at least one social media channel, “property developers cannot afford to be neglecting social media as a means of engaging with the public during the planning application process”.

Pomeroy accepted that the survey found fears around the validity of individuals on social media platforms, acknowledging concerns that developers have over the public management of negative posts. But he said that these concerns can be allayed with better education of the benefits of and tools available to manage social media.

“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,” he concluded.

The report can be found here.