Creating audience-driven content
Posted by maryvanbe
I was surprised at how off-base so many of the Tweets were in Melody Bowdon’s study, “Tweeting an Ethos: Emergency Messaging, Social Media, and Teaching Technical Communication.” For example, when tweeting to people in an emergency situation such as Hurricane Irene, the three key organizations (the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and CNN), 31% of the tweets were simply promotion of their organization’s programming, like “More stormy weather in store for the U.S.? Watch on cnn.com/cnndc14.” I would say that the last thing a person in an emergency situation needs is an ad.
Bowdon said these ads “enticed readers with potential information but did not offer inherently useful content for readers.” In another tweet, the American Red Cross instructed people in the storm region to “remember to have a nonelectric can opener,” when one would think that if you don’t already have one, you’re probably not going to rush out into the storm to buy one. And these were just a few examples.
Said Bowdon, “According to our analysis, very few of the tweets conveyed audience-centered, immediately relevant, locally focused information that someone preparing for the storm would need or substantive news updates that would help people in other parts of the country to understand in detail what was happening or specifically how they could help.” This really reflects poorly on these organizations’ ethos that they were taking up people’s valuable time with noise and self-promotion when they could have directed people to local resources that could have helped them. The risks they were running were that people would become frustrated and turn to other organizations for news, perhaps never to return.
Sadly, this is so often the case because we communicators (I’m including myself) often don’t stop to think or try to find out what our audiences really need and want and then we don’t think about the purpose of many of our communications. For example, I’ve been writing my organization’s e-newsletter for the last six years, just cranking out the information that passively trickles in to my inbox without often questioning whether it is really helpful and useful to my audience or whether the articles tie back to my organization’s strategic and annual plans.
It takes a long time to read my newsletter, as it is often 10 or more pages long, and I don’t want to waste people’s time with information that isn’t relevant for useful to them. So thinking in terms of ethos will be helpful for me when I produce future newsletters. For example, what am I saying about my organization’s ethos when I publish my newsletter, and what are the implications of that for leaders, staff and my organization’s standing within a larger organization?
I’m seeing the many different ways, aside from Twitter and aside from communicating in a disaster, that we as technical communicators can try to put a little more distance between ourselves and self-promotion and get a little closer to what readers and viewers really need and want. And we can’t wait for a disaster to start doing this; we should always be asking our readers and viewers what they need in different situations so we can be prepared with audience-driven information.
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