Audience and the Boundaries It Makes
Posted by lttaylor3
As Part III of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication explains, there are a number of factor key to the field, chief among them is audience. This is nothing new. The idea of audience driven content has ruled the world for ages, well before literacy, digital or otherwise, became the rule instead of the exception.
Audience is everything.
We are taught to think about audience almost as soon as we begin formal schooling, maybe even before that. It’s built into the very systems that sell us the houses we live in, food we eat, cars we drive, and classes we attend. Technical communicators have to look at audience from the other side of the glass. It is so important to us and what we do as content managers, translators, technical writers and edits, UX designers, and professors.
The question becomes, how does that information serves us, as technical communicators, as citizens, and as audience members?
A powerful point is made in Chapter 8 of Spilka when it states,
“She [Longo] contends that the ‘idea of a universal community … is as illogical as it is compelling.’ As she puts it, ‘In order to form a community, some people have to be included and others excluded … Without boundaries, the community ceases to exist” (p. 201)
I had to stop and reread this sentence a second time because it rings with so much truth. The idea of community has been expanded as a result of ever increasing technological advances. It’s not just about where you live anymore. Social media has changed the way we relate to one another by allowing us to relate to people we can never meet. Sharing and exchanging knowledge, culture, techniques, and even basic discourse has become the new normal. We all have opinions and technology has given us the platforms to disperse those as far and as wide as it reaches.
How has mass media accounted for this difference? The Internet is where it’s at in terms of advertising. Air time has been subsumed by streaming and working in the modern age means working online.
Companies who want to sell us things, government entities who want to be elected, professors who want to teach us lessons all have to follow a simple structure: meet the people where they live.
But conducting audience analysis and creating audience-driven content means figuring out who to target. Now, this may not be intended to be exclusive, but it does certainly create an “Us vs. Them” mentality. Spreading yourself too thin means that your message is less likely to hit the mark. With the rise of the Internet and online culture, casting your dragnet without key targets means spending tens of thousands of dollars and battling Ad Blockers, Virtual Private Networks, and other measures users put into place to shield themselves.
When we are talking about pure marketing concepts, this divide cannot be so clear cut. Selling jewelry or cars or textbooks is based on a two-pronged attack: create and maintain a loyal customer base and attract new customers at the same time.
Do we do this as technical communicators? I’m not so sure. A lot of my work in the field is based on fulfilling established needs. As a government contractor, I work to fulfill the requirements established by the client. I am not involved in enticing new customers, just making the already established customer happy. This work does take place, in my case at a higher internal level. Freelancers of course do this automatically in order to keep afloat
On the other hand, on a personal level, this is what’s necessary for technical communicators, at least for me, as job seekers. Through practice, academics, networking, and general curiosity, we work to establish ourselves with steady work and paying clients, with coursework and portfolios. By nature of the field, we also have to keep an eye out for emerging trends and technologies to stay current and up to date.
So where do our boundaries lie? How do we decide what and who to keep and who to throw away? For us, this is an even bigger challenge. Our field is still in flux. There are so many professional titles, so many technical and soft skills, so many things that make up the “technical communications” spectrum. Do we even need to create boundaries then?
To my mind, they are created by companies and contract mandates. By others in our field conducting research and creating standards. By professional organizations like the Society for Technical Communication.
Where do your boundaries lie?
Blakeslee, Ann M. (2010). Addressing Audience in a Digital Age. In R. Spilka (Ed.), Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp.199 – 2529). New York, NY. Routledge.
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