Once you’ve moved past the initial growing pains, the boundless possibilities of your interactions with your Deputies will begin to reveal themselves. In cases where you receive interest at the outset, you can continue to communicate with these engaged Deputies by asking other questions or following up on tips.
You should also take steps to connect with people who did not respond to the first broad interaction by asking targeted questions that relate directly to their communities. For instance, you could ask how a piece of proposed legislation might impact families they know. Or you could ask for a list of the top three concerns they hear from neighbors and friends. Whatever you end up asking, keep these inquiries pretty simple, as the purpose is to establish a basic workflow and gauge their response, not overwhelm your new Deputies.
It is out of these quasi-organic, SMS-based conversations that the benefits of the Deputy Program will blossom. By building rapport and showing that you care about what your Deputies have to say, you will build strong relationships with groups and individuals that will result in important discourse, informative exchanges, and – eventually – strong, community-driven journalism.
The maintenance of these relationships and the ongoing conversations with your Deputies will drive the success of your Deputy Program. It is critically important that you strike a balance between interacting with Deputies and allowing them to come to you. You will find that some people prefer limited communication, instead choosing to reach out when something strikes them as particularly important. Some Deputies will tell you this, and others will make it clear by their responses to your questions and callouts. Meanwhile, some folks will interact with the program regularly, but only when you call on them to do so. You can create subgroups of Deputies within GroundSource to tailor your interactions to these different approaches and styles.
And sometimes incentives can be the difference between a regular contributor and someone who does not interact with the program often. Incentives also help to drive and maintain interest among even the most dedicated Deputies. What incentives you choose to provide depends largely on your newsroom’s resources, commitment to the program and other factors particular to your specific situation.
Simply inviting Deputies to come into the newsroom once every few months for pizza and face-to-face conversations with the program’s leaders and fellow deputies can build interpersonal bonds that help to sustain and grow the effort. Offering T-shirts, mugs or other swag to the most engaged Deputies can create a “gamification” environment that leverages competition to motivate people to participate. What you provide as an incentive can be tweaked based on response levels and interest, but something as basic as including a line or graphic at the top or bottom of a story explaining that it arose out of the Deputy Program or a specific Deputy’s tip can help build loyalty and drive participation and engagement.
In the end, the Deputy Program is a tool that will respond to what you put into it. If you simply sign up a few dozen Deputies and ask them broad questions from time to time, that will likely result in responses that could lead to important stories. If you engage more deeply, you could foster an environment of collaboration and community that produces even greater insights. And if you provide incentives, you could be well on your way to creating a Deputy-driven ecosystem that increases engagement, boosts your journalism and drives traffic to your properties via organic sharing and other avenues.
Whatever the Deputy Program ends up meaning for you, the result is a new source of information, interaction and insights that will help your newsroom better reflect its community. It’s just up to you to make it happen.
Once again, please reach out to Deputy Program creator Connor Sheets (click this link for contact information) if you have any questions about the program or if you’d like any guidance along the way.