Oh, how the audience has changed!

In our Digital Literacy reading this week, I found much interesting content, and I got stuck on the idea of audience in the digital age from Chapter 8.  Now with technology allowing writing in the digital age readily accessible to potentially all Internet users or to anyone who can access  an online document, this much broader sense of audience really does cause some serious consideration for technical communicators.  Who, exactly, are they trying to reach and why?  Are they friends, fans, or followers?  The idea of considering the target audience has taken on new meaning in our Internet, user-driven, and social media run online world these days.

I found that the five case studies offered to us by Blakeslee were helpful in gaining an understanding when thinking about the much bigger “audience” a tech writer now must consider.  She notes, ” …we still need to approach audiences as contextual, unique, and particular, just as we have been doing all along” (202).    This finding made me think of the old adage, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”    I cannot help but think that audiences will  always be very specific, very particular, and  very clear in what they want.   I think this line sums it up nicely, “Such evidence also points to the need to tease out the unique and complex characteristics of modern digital audiences” (202).    It seems that digital communicators these days, much like in days past, should still seriously consider their audience and its needs to really reach the users.

This idea of heuristics was brand new to me; “the digital environment gives writers various mechanisms, or heuristics, for this learning–in other words, it provides them with alternative methods for understanding user needs and a means to solicit user feedback during both early and later phases of learning and research; it also helps them respond to and interact with users” (204).  It is this new age of interaction that really has me intrigued with today’s digital communication age.  The entire concept of audience in the online arena has changed with the way we can and do interact with each other on the Internet.  Now, digital communicators work in a world where they know their audience might prefer interaction and the opportunity to offer feedback right away compared to earlier days where this was not necessarily possible.   The audience of today is a bit more demanding.

With the demands and desires of audiences today, digital communicators who realize that this process is much more user driven today will benefit and be able to target and retain their audiences. Those who ignore their audience needs or oversimplify their needs will not achieve success at reaching their audience.  It must be acknowledged that digital audiences are complex and will require a bit more than what we might have called an audience in former days.

I think the audience has more power today than ever before to affect how digital communicators must write.  Noted by Blakeslee are three very important ideas about how digital communicators must continue to gain a contextualized understanding of their audiences, and I think it is worth it here to point them out again:

  • 1) need to know how readers will read and interact with their documents
  • 2) need to know how and in what contexts readers with use their documents and
  • 3) need to know what expectations readers will bring to their digital documents

I am not sure that in the past authors in the print or early digital realm really considered point three very much.  However, in this time of heavy user interaction, those who fail to realize and address the expectations brought by the reader will not reach them the same way others might.

Audience has really opened up quite a bit with the Internet and its power of interaction and immediate feedback.

Posted on November 10, 2013, in Literacy, Society, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. This is a wonderful reflective piece on how times have changed. I think describing “the audience of today [as] a bit more demanding” isn’t even scratching the surface!
    I wonder if this comes back to the Turkle ideas of relying on technology too much because if “audiences” are anything like some freshman comp students I have, they are demanding but aren’t fully reviewing their options or the directions.

  2. Yes, I can see how this relates to Turkle’s ideas of relying on technology too much at times, and I can see that some students these days do rely on technology often and at times do not take adequate time to really review sources and connect them more appropriately. I wonder if technology is hurting some in this way by allowing so much information available that it becomes a bit difficult to be more selective in choice.

  3. Your observation about # 3 “know what audience expectations are,” caused me to ponder and compare the past (pre Internet) to now. I think writers still had to think about audience expectations and how they would interact, but the whole range of choices was simply not as large. For instance, if I consulted assembly instructions that accompanied my daughter’s playhouse, I would “interact” by reading and attempting to follow them. The only “help” function would have maybe been an 800 number to call. Now, however, the possibilities are way more numerous. I could click or hover, depending on what part of the instructions I’m struggling with, maybe click on additional visuals, including video possibly, possibly ask a question on live customer support, or maybe just send an email, just to name a few options.

    I think it’s the fact that the process is so dynamic and the audience/user has so many more choices that is making this question of audience so complex (along with a potentially much larger and diverse audience, as you and others have pointed out).

    • Great example with the playhouse and how that process could be so much more interactive today.

      Options are definitely opened up to us in this digital age, and the idea of being just a click away from a much more interactive experience has become the norm.

  4. What an interesting post! I liked your point about how much more user-driven the process is becoming. I think that you are really correct. I feel like this user-driven economy makes writing for the audience even more difficult because every user is going to have different expectations and needs. And let’s face it, we generally want those met. So how do you speak effectively to such a vast audience?

    I do think that the only answer to that is that we have to roll with the changes in technology and move to that dialogue with the user that all of our readings have called for. It is the only way to address individual concerns that may not fit into the way you defined your audience for a piece of communication.

    • I really liked how you said, “…move to that dialogue with the user…” What an interesting way to capture our interactions with the digital user.

      It might be impossible to meet all audience expectations, but starting with at least the attempt to understand the expectations is a great way to begin.

  5. I agree with you that technical communicators years ago didn’t pay much mind to the documents in the way they do today. The age of the customer really does change how everyone does their jobs. It’s not just a switch in marketing and customer service, it’s also a switch in documentation and other things.

  6. I, too, really enjoyed your article. Even though I do not currently work in a technical writing field, paying attention to audience makes complete sense to me. Until this week, I had never really thought about audience “expectations” and digital documents, as you point out in #3 above. It is apparent that the digital realm brings a much more dynamic quality to the audience – it is now an interaction, not just a one-way communication.

  7. Your comment about a one-way communication makes me thing about this “dialogue” with users. Digital communication allows us to engage our audience in such ways that they may feel it is more like a “conversation” but often times, they are still just interacting with the medium of technology, but the tools of today allow the the experience to feel more live than static.

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