Case Study

INL Community Engagement

How Community Engagement Helped a National Laboratory Uncover Public Perception and Inform Communication Strategy


By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion, creating an equally increasing demand for electricity and compounding already heightened concerns about the effects of climate change and carbon emissions on the environment.

With the focus on finding clean and renewable energy sources at an all-time high, Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is using its three mission areas—nuclear energy, energy and the environment, and national and homeland security—to discover and demonstrate new technologies that will power and protect our energy future. Yet, despite INL’s long history of nuclear innovation, one-of-a-kind research infrastructure and extensive scientific and engineering expertise, much of the public in Idaho are unaware of or misinformed on the impact and benefits of the lab’s current and future research projects, both locally and globally.

Acknowledging the need to better understand public perception and convey its value to Idaho residents, INL turned to Red Sky to engage the lab’s various public audiences to spark a meaningful dialog and develop a strategy for communicating with these groups in the future.



Red Sky recommended starting with a data-gathering phase to:

  • uncover perceptions and concerns around INL and its missions.
  • identify gaps and opportunities in messaging to help inform the development of a strategic communication plan.

This phase featured the following tactics:

  • An online survey of 1,000-plus Idaho residents from all over the state and representing all demographics
  • Six in-person focus groups located in each region: Boise, Twin Falls, Pocatello, Sun Valley, Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene
  • Audits of INL’s website and social media platforms

Key Findings:

  1. Most Idahoans who live outside of the Idaho Falls area know little, if anything, about INL or the nature of its work.
  2. Residents must have prior knowledge of INL to be able to find any information about the lab or its work online.

These findings transformed the initial project plan from a traditional, singular marketing tactic into a multitiered strategic communication campaign that:

  • launched a smaller pilot program to learn and adapt for scaling.
  • was flexible enough to maximize opportunities available in a variety of communities, large and small.
  • provided insights to inform future messaging, communication channels and tactics.
  • featured a combination of traditional and grass-roots tactics focused on driving engagement and effectiveness with a variety of audiences.
  • set benchmarks for measuring success.
  • developed stakeholder relationships.

With the project focus firmly established, the goals of the campaign were defined:

  • Achieve 75% positive brand awareness among Idahoans across the state over the next three years.
  • Transform employees into brand advocates to educate others about INL and to increase participation and engagement in community activities and on social media.
  • Increase statewide support for major projects and capability expansions that are key to INL’s future and its research objectives.
  • Increase total number and diversity of followers across INL’s social media pages to amplify impact and value.
  • Enhance INL’s reputation as a vital asset in the state and region.

To achieve the campaign goals, Red Sky recommended the following tactics:

  • Evaluate and refresh INL’s brand.
  • Develop personas and key messaging points for each group.
  • Create engaging, audience-specific content and marketing/communication materials.
  • Establish an internal team to brainstorm and create content for various communication channels.
  • Develop tailored materials for specific events, audiences, platforms and outreach efforts.
  • Overhaul and invest in expanding general INL marketing communications materials.
  • Expand and enhance photography and videography library and add animation.
  • Update and repurpose fact sheets into other types of content for various channels.
  • Expand communication channels to include coverage and placement in magazines, trade publications and blogs.


Increased Engagement

Sparked by comments and trends from the online survey and focus groups, INL ramped up efforts to communicate across the channels where Idahoans go for news and information. The top reported sources included social media, TV, radio and newspapers.

The following data shows metrics for social media, traditional media, grassroots community engagement and demographics, and website traffic, and highlights the direct correlation between community engagement efforts and growth in each area.

Social Media

INL’s social media channels experienced steady growth and engagement in 2019, with Instagram and LinkedIn reporting especially strong performance.

Paid Media

Paid media opportunities were used to engage key personas and uncover messaging opportunities while also evaluating communication channels for effectiveness.

Enhanced Communication Strategy

A comprehensive strategic communication plan was created and shared with internal team members to track all communication efforts and opportunities. This increased visibility spawned better alignment among various internal teams and inspired a more collaborative approach to communications throughout the organization.

About Red Sky

Red Sky is a strategic partner skilled in illuminating the key audiences and most effective channels for sharing your story. We align communication strategy with your business goals.