Creating audience-driven content

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 cbc756e8b79d10bffdf95bf729e29839to 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” 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.

Posted on November 8, 2015, in Social Media and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I, too, like the tips that I am learning in this class to be a better technical communicator. It has really got me thinking about the purpose of the messages that I am posting, if these messages are actually valuable or not for my customers. Customers do take priority, because without them, there is no business. When I have the money, I will be redesigning my website with my customers in mind, instead of just throwing some things out there and believe that they have the time to figure it out themselves. As a technical communicator, I need to make it easy, quick, and informative. For now, I will focus on my social media messages.

    • Same here. We can definitely be more purposeful, effective and cost-effective with our message by not “throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.” Thanks for the comment!

  2. I was also surprised when I read the statistic about the percentage of tweets in an emergency situation that promoted the organization rather than provided useful tips. You would think that companies would realize that providing helpful information would bolster their ethos and credibility among viewers more than a shameless pitch for their brand.

    When thinking about the crisis situation after it happened viewers are more prone to remember “Wow, XYZ company really provided me with some great information during the storm” rather than “Wow, what a clever pitch for their company”. Additionally, if you are able to make these positive connections in times of crisis, viewers may be more apt to donate to the organization or refer them to a friend later down the line.

  3. Exactly! People will pay attention to, trust, remember and fund organizations that do them a true service rather than ones who appear only self-interested–especially in times of crisis. Many organizations need to work on their ethos regarding these issues. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Excellent post here, and there’s so much I could comment on, but given that we’re nearing the end of the semester, I think it would be a great exercise if you use our final paper assignment to strategize how you might make that e-newsletter better. There’s plenty of scholarship out there that you could include, and while I don’t know if you’re tracking the open rates, there’s also this:

    Let me know if you’d like to talk more about this before the proposal is due!

  5. Hi Mary,

    I really respected your post this week. This idea of noise, or information overload, is a big issue in my perspective. I think it is important that we as technical communicators need to recognize the information we are creating and contributing to the information world. To your point, so often we are put in positions where we are told what everyone feels needs to be communicated and we don’t question it. If we stop and start to question the information that comes our way, we can truly begin to take steps in limiting the amount of information that litters our communication vehicles and social media channels.


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