Why you can’t reach everyone: the importance of knowing your audience
Recently I had the opportunity to work with a community-orientated, not-for-profit organisation to conduct a communication audit and improve their communication strategy. As a small organisation with little resources, they could not viably spend a lot of time and money to take stock of their communication activity. When asked about who their key publics were, they replied “Well… Everyone!” This actually meant school students from 16 years of age to 75+ year-old retirees of any background or education/skill level. Their only limit was the region in which the organisation operated. While this was justifiable given the nature of the organisation, it proved problematic when it came to deciding how to reach everyone.
Segmenting publics is a practitioner’s bread and butter. Most PR and marketing theories offer segmentation techniques to divide your key publics and make them easier to reach. Demographics look at things like age, gender, income and education. Psychographics are concerned with peoples’ beliefs, attitudes, values and interests. Geographic segmentation separates people by location. Reaching your publics, however, requires more than simply breaking them up. Other questions to consider might be: What do they know about your organisation already? What is their opinion of you? Understanding who they are and how they feel is paramount to reaching your audience. Once you get this right, you’re ready to start thinking about your key messages and ways to deliver them.
Broad, overarching messages might be an easy, one-size-fits-all approach, but it’s unlikely to get anyone excited. If someone doesn’t identify with the message, they will be less inclined to follow up for further information and will probably just ignore it. Tailoring a message to a very specific group is going to achieve more resonance and build rapport.
Now that your messages are planned, where do you post them for the best reach and engagement? Everywhere you can, right? Not quite. Your target publics might be more likely to use Instagram than Facebook, and some might not use social media at all. If you’re posting content directed at seniors on Twitter and writing newspaper media releases directed at teenagers, well, you’re probably going to start a better conversation with the brick wall outside your office. Researching where your target publics are and what kind of media they consume is going to save you a lot of time and energy.
Keeping It Real
Knowing your audience and how to reach them is a valuable skill for any practitioner. It is also important to remember that your audience are, in fact, real people. Public relations theory has taught us that one-way communication is not a viable approach. People are dynamic and ever-changing with different attitudes and backgrounds. Even though we segment people by age, beliefs and locations, we still need to think about the diversity within those segments. If we can understand this, we will have a much better chance of reaching and engaging with those people, starting conversations and prompting them to action.
By Bonny Wythes