Over the last several weeks, we have explored several ways agencies can use virtual public involvement tools to increase engagement in public outreach activities. Online ads, often informing the public about a survey, meeting, plan, or project, are a popular and cost-effective way to encourage engagement on matters of public concern. Agencies can choose from a wide array of social media ads and promoted posts, as well as internet search and display ads that appear on websites or in mobile apps.
The highly targetable nature of online ads allow agencies to access hard-to-reach communities or demographic groups, which provides diverse points of view from those who have never participated in public engagement in the past. These ads can target geographic locations (called geo-targeting or geo-fencing) or demographic groups, to strategically expand public awareness in the transportation planning process. Online ads are often paired with print, radio, or television ads, and with other types of information dissemination as part of an overall communications campaign.

The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) used geo-targeted ads to increase participation in a virtual meeting and survey for their long-term regional transportation plan, Plan 2045. NJTPA designed the ads to help viewers relate to planning topics by including images of children and adults to remind the public that this plan will affect individuals over a long period of time. The ads reached 1.6 million people over a six-week period and helped to generate 3,000 survey responses. This broad engagement helped NJTPA identify community-supported priorities for improving transportation in the region.

The NJTPA used social media ads like this to encourage public engagement with PLAN 2045. Credit: NJTPA

The Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) also used social media ads to promote participation in a survey for their Complete Streets Master Plan. As part of this effort, the MPO identified three under-represented areas of the region for a geo-targeted ad campaign. They received over 1,000 survey responses, including 378 responses from areas where participation had been low traditionally. The survey results supported Broward MPO’s development of a prioritized list of Complete Streets projects.

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