The following column is the third in a series discussing how organizations can put the public at the heart of communications strategies. This latest column explains what it means, in practice, when organizations harness the power of the public.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve used this space to talk about the importance of harnessing the power of the public. We’ve covered why organizations should put the public at the heart of their communications campaigns and offered tips on how to do it.

This week, I want to explore what “harnessing the power of the public” means in practical terms.  In short, harnessing the power of the public means motivating the public to take concrete actions to help companies and institutions achieve their goals.

In engagement circles, we often use the analogy that people climb a ladder – a spectrum of increasingly active exchanges moving up from passive to active interest; passive supporter to active supporter; and, last, passive advocate to active advocate.

Getting the public from the bottom of this ladder to the top requires time and trust. The goal is to nudge people from passing interest to passionate advocacy. Some may start on the lowest step, while others may already be part of the way up.

A person on the first rung might be passively interested in an issue, in that they read about it when someone sends them a story. The next rung up would see them sufficiently interested to actively search out new stories.

Once they feel sufficiently informed, they might decide that they support a particular take on the issue – but keep it to themselves. It’s on the next rung that they act on their support by sharing stories or information with their personal or social media networks.

The final rungs on the ladder represent the highest levels of engagement – when people begin to mobilize on behalf of their opinion. A passive advocate attends organized events, such as rallies, whereas an active advocate is one who organizes them.

Now, consider this spectrum from the perspective of a company or government institution. You would have moved people from reading and listening to writing and speaking. They organize, they physically participate, and they undertake to recruit others.

Moving people up the engagement ladder transforms your audiences into amplifiers. Harnessing the power of the public is about using your communications as a force multiplier – and every organization should reach for the top.

Rob Mariani is a senior vice-president with Hill+Knowlton Strategies and serves as general manager of their Ottawa offices.

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