The Internet is a tick over 21 years of age. So if it were a person by now we’d be bestowing it with a novelty key (a strange tradition but perhaps a topic for another blog) and packing it off for the outside world. In that time we, the consumers of the Internet have toyed with the concept of the web as an “other”, a realm that exists largely outside our own.

This view has been largely reflected in the views of training participants in online engagement too, with many participants seeking to understand this mysterious place.

What is fascinating as a trainer is that recently discussions in training have begun to explore the concept that we are the internet and the internet is a reflection of us. This has many ramifications for the way we approach online engagement, so let’s explore what this means.

The Internet is, for the most part, just people. We need to stop seeing the online world as an ‘other’, we are it and it is us. What’s more this convergence of humans and technology is only going to become even more interconnected. The Internet of Things is a concept that revolves around increased machine-to-machine communication; it’s built on cloud computing and networks of data-gathering sensors; it’s mobile, virtual, and instantaneous connection; and they say it’s going to make everything in our lives from streetlights to seaports “smart.”. The internet of things is here and is only going to get bigger!

So it makes for an interesting conundrum. If technology is already embedded in our lives, why, when it comes to engaging online, do we have a tendency to treat it as a separate entity? Sure we need to consider the technical ramifications and how we manage it but the thinking around online engagement in strategy development should not happen as an adjunct but rather as a critical element to meet your community where they want to engage. Planning should consider who you need to reach and, what information you require and what they need from you as opposed to being led by the latest tools. If you can be clear on your purpose there will almost certainly be a tool out there for you. In our regular research for updating our Online Engagement course for IAP2 Australasia we have created a database of over 50 tools that are currently available to engagement professionals that we regularly update.

Right now, online engagement won’t replace face to face but it may enhance it. It can only do this if engagement professionals embrace the opportunities that technology can provide and plan for the best possible strategic outcomes early in the engagement process. The technology is there, we just have to use it!