When I first wrote “The Digital Plan” I called the Digital Engagement Cycle the “The Digital Planning Engagement Cycle” as a clever use of the title. But to simplify things since we’ve updated to just The Digital Engagement Cycle. Here is a text breakdown and a video explainer.
The Digital Engagement Cycle is critical to healthy digital campaigns that meet goals and drive real engagement. The Engagement Cycle is about the union of goals, tactics, execution, and reflection. Each of the five phases of the Engagement Cycle is a key piece, and it’s important not to be hasty because the phases function together as a complete cycle that can build on itself, growing stronger for longer campaigns and projects.
Key Takeaways and Elements:
- A foundational understanding of what the Engagement Cycle is
- Detailed examples of what goes into the phases
- How to use the Engagement Cycle in your planning
The five phases of The Digital Engagement Cycle are as follows:
- Brainstorm & Planning
When working on long-term projects, hitting the Feedback milestone should loop back around and influence your new Brainstorming & Planning phase.
Through each section of the book, we’ll highlight tips on how to engage in the planning cycle for each tactical discipline. Here is a look more deeply at each of the five phases.
Brainstorm & Planning
In the beginning of the The Digital Engagement Cycle, we need to identify the goals, allow space for brainstorming to translate the goals to tactics, and lay the foundation for how we’ll execute the project.
Brainstorming and planning are combined together as one section because of their inherently connected nature. Even when people aren’t holding a formal “brainstorm,” they often go through micro-brainstorming flows when they are working through ideas on their own, or over a planning call, or small meeting. Hopefully, in these large and small brainstorms, you are clarifying what your goals are and sorting through the tactics that will help you meet those goals. In the chapters that follow, we’ll break down helpful tips on how different tactics can be used to reach your goals. It’s important to first recognize brainstorming as a phase for clarifying goals before we can dig into different tactics for achieving goals.
The brainstorming phase is where we allow ourselves to get creative and think through how we’ll tackle a challenge before distilling it into a plan and then bringing it to life through the rest of the Engagement Cycle. The key to a successful brainstorm is to remain focused on what it is you want to do, and who you want to do it for.
As you go between brainstorming and planning there are several essential elements you need to think about:
Goals: What are you trying to impact in the world and the milestones to get you there.
- There is an entire chapter dedicated to helping establish goals.
Tactics: How you are going to reach your goal.
- You might have lots of small tactical goals as well but don’t confuse your tactics for goals.
- The entire rest of the book is really about how tactics help meet goals IE using email to meet your goals, web development to meet your goals, design to meet your goals, etc.
Audiences: Who you are trying to reach to move your goals.
- Sometimes your audience is your target, and sometimes they are separate.
- Audiences are part of reaching your goal when you are asking people to sign a petition to persuade an elected official or company.
- Audiences can be the targets for items like fundraising.
Targets: Who or what you intend to impact to make a change in the world.
- This can be your supporters directly for a thing like a donation, could be an institution you want to make a change, and elected officials or body, or corporate leader or company at large.
You’ll find the master Digital Project Plan and training on the website. www.TheDigitalPlan.com
The design of that planning template is all about laying out a timeline for the main tasks that move you to your goal.
In The Digital Engagement Cycle the Execute phase is the creation of needed items, meetings, and tasks to complete tactics.
- Execute is the task phase. Sure it might involve more calls and planning but here is where you are doing the task-based items to bring your plan to life. Things like:
- Drafting emails, blogs, social media, and website copy.
- Designing memes, images for blogs and emails,
- Scripting, filming, editing videos.
- Building, testing, refining websites.
During most plans Execution and Engage start to overlap when emails get sent, text messages are sent and replied to, memes are published social media. Then small feedback loops should start to loop back through engage and execute.
Examples of small feedback loops:
This is different from the “Feedback” phase, more below.
In the engage phase of The Digital Engagement Cycle where tactics begin to meet with the targeted audience, often overlapping with execution.
This is the point in the cycle where people see your planned content, emails are being opened, and text messages are showing up on people’s phones. Rarely does all of the engagement happen at once. More often than not, it takes over a week to several weeks of a project or targeted campaign to engage audiences.
Email engagement during the Engage phase might be a series of emails over weeks or months and could include things like:
- The initial sign on or sign up form or petition.
- A “thank you for signing” that follows immediately,
- But remember that this is actually staggered. You are likely asking people to keep signing up for weeks via email, social media, or ads.
- A next step for what they can do.
- The next step.
- Maybe a report back on how things are going.
- Maybe a next step.
- A final close to the campaign or project.
As noted before, small bits of feedback will be cycling back into how you execute. This means if what you are doing is performing poorly, it may be time to change tactics a bit as you understand how your intended engagement is connecting with your audience.
When we come to Impact of The Digital Engagement Cycle here is where we understand how the series of actions or content moved the intended audiences, targets, and the goals.
The impact is different from engaging because engagement is an action for the audience you need to move the goal. The impact is focused on the larger goal itself. This often gets cloudy for folks, and there are a few exceptions where it might be very close to the same thing. You can’t determine your impact if you don’t have concrete goals established back in the Brainstorm and Planning phase.
Here are some examples:
If your big goal is to get local legislation or a school board policy change, you would be looking to IMPACT the officials of those bodies, but you would need to ENGAGE your email list to send them a message.
If your goal is to raise awareness about climate change, your goal is to IMPACT the net conversation of a topic possibly defined by shares or views online. You would be looking to ENGAGE your social media followers and email list to both watch and share driving your ultimate goal of awareness.
If your goal is to raise money for your organization the IMPACT is the funds raised. To do this, you must ENGAGE people with tactics. This is one of the few places where it does blur because the people you wish to ENGAGE are closely associated with the goal for IMPACT.
If your goal is to contact voters, your IMPACT is how many voters engaged, and if your tactic was a door to door canvass, then the audience you likely wanted to ENGAGE is your email list and social media following. The success of that ENGAGEMENT is tracked by sign-ups, and the question then is, how did that IMPACT the goal of actually talking to voters?
This nuance matters because your ENGAGEMENT can be great but might not hit the IMPACT you wish. If you have an amazing email list 5,000 people, who open 50% of the emails and 100% of the folks who open 2,500 people make a phone call to their congressperson that might still not be the IMPACT you need if the goal is to change federal legislation.
The Feedback phase in The Digital Engagement Cycle is a moment of deeper analysis of what worked, what didn’t, and how that impacts future planning or re-engagement around the current goals. Ideally a blend of qualitative and quantitative analysis.
Real feedback is a good blend of quantitative and qualitative analysis that helps you answer questions about what worked, what didn’t, what to do less of, what to do more of, and maybe what to test again. This isn’t just what was the open rate on an email, or how many views did a video get, or sign-ups to do a thing. Feedback is what can we infer from those numbers, and what kind of impact we actually had on our goals.
Sometimes the Feedback moment has minor impacts on the next round of Brainstorm & Planning. If you are on track and hitting goals, you may just choose to stay on a similar course, and that’s okay.
You may come to realize one of your tactics didn’t have the engagement you hoped, or even that engagement didn’t have the impact on key goals you had planned on. This is where you need to understand if you need to change tactics, build infrastructure, a larger following, or some other milestone for achieving the impact you want.
There is no silver bullet to answer what works and what doesn’t. Every campaign, nonprofit, and project is different, but the following chapters and online trainings will help you understand what it means to set and track goals, choose tactics strategically, and build a plan using this cycle.
The digital engagement cycle is critical to meet your goals and drive real engagement. The five phases of the cycle are Brainstorm & Planning, Execute, Engage, Impact and Feedback. Long-term projects mean a more dynamic engagement cycle, and it is an ongoing movement from one phase to the next. Use the Brainstorm & Planning phase to identify the goals, allow space for brainstorming to translate the goals to tactics – this will lay the foundation for the project. The Execution phase includes the creation of needed items, meetings and asks to complete tactics. The Engage phase is where tactics begin to meet with the targeted audience, which will often overlap with the Execution phase. The Impact phase is for understanding how your actions moved the intended audiences, targets, and goals. The Feedback phase is for more in-depth analysis of what worked, what didn’t, and how that impacts future planning or re-engagement. Ideally, you will have a blend of qualitative and quantitative analysis.