Elections. The national election is on almost everyone’s mind these days (for better or worse).
But how many of your members are thinking about your organization’s board elections? Probably not as many people as you’d like.
The outcome of the next board elections are vital for your organization’s function and future. They produce important conversations and ideas, enact change, and set the course for projects and growth. Just like your community or local elections, you want high engagement (e.g. voter turnout).
Your online community is a great place to raise awareness, get people excited and increase engagement. So, naturally, it’s a great place to mobilize all of your members (not just the few that stay on top of governance issues) about the future of your organization.
Instead of hoping elections come to your community organically, create a plan and strategy for promotion. Not only will it increase voter turnout, but it will increase your community engagement and reaffirm its value for both members and your organization.
Have a plan
Long before the leadup to your organization’s elections, you need to have a plan for how people, particularly candidates, should conduct themselves in your community while campaigning. Generally, most communities have a “no self-promotion” policy within the terms and conditions all members must sign. How do you plan to address this policy during an election when candidates rely on self-promotion, and your online community is seen as a hub for activity and news?
Rather than shy away from this dilemma or hope it doesn’t become an issue, address it head on -- how would you like candidates to conduct themselves in your community while they’re campaigning? If you don’t have language specifying how candidates should interact on the community, update your community guidelines to reflect your preferences (and, of course, notify the community of the changes).
Understandably, you probably want the community to continue offering a variety of opinions during elections. But since your community is the go-to place for information, you need to embrace elections to a certain extent -- and your community is a great place to raise awareness and increase participation. Instead of letting candidates promote anywhere, give them specific areas or discussions where it’s ok -- and the rest of the community is off limits for their self-promotion. It doesn’t mean conversations won’t sprout up in other places, but candidates can’t overrun those areas. This strategy strikes the balance between embracing your organization’s elections and ensuring your community remains neutral and that other business continues as usual.
Set up specific communities or discussions for people to congregate online and talk about the elections and the process. Host a forum or allow candidates to set up an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session to engage fellow members. By interacting with candidates, the community can function as a an ongoing, virtual town hall event, connecting members with candidates and vice versa.
These discussions benefit more than the election process. Just as constituents theoretically influence their politician’s views on issues, your members can inform your organization’s future leaders about what they need and want. It also reinforces to those future leaders the community’s incredible value for both the members and the organization -- hopefully they’ll be more likely to promote the community once elected, especially if the community was an important piece in their success.
Not only can your online community bring candidates and members closer together and start conversations, but it can build hype and voter turnout within your organization.
Create special ribbons and badges that members can add to their profiles or profile pictures -- sort of like the “I Voted!” stickers you get after voting in local elections. Not only does it raise awareness and show other members just how many people are voting, but it creates a sub-community of voters. Often, people think that badges and ribbons motivate people because they’re a coveted prize. A recent study on Wikipedia contributors found that they actually motivate because people feel like they’re part of an exclusive group -- a mini-community.
Besides increasing awareness and motivating people to participate, badges and ribbons they help you see how many people have voted and target those who haven’t yet. Set up an automation rule to reach out to people who haven’t added the badge or ribbon to their profile yet. Remind them to vote and add the badge to their profile to increase awareness and turnout.
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Keep people engaged
Once the elections are over, hold onto the momentum they created within your community. Archive the AMAs or forums your community hosted and maintain dedicated spaces for those elected board members to continue connecting with members. Your community should be the place those officials go to understand what the average member thinks, and where members go to connect with board members.
Rather than seeing the community as an addition to your organization’s elections -- or as the elections as a burden -- see the community as an integral part to the process, before, during and after. The online community takes an old, traditional practice and elevates it. Now, no matter where the candidates are in relation to other members, they can connect and learn from each other, creating more value for your community and for the organization as a whole.