Step One of the Communicator’s Ultimate Goal
Posted by lisamrohloff
Getting an audience is hard. Sustaining an audience is hard. It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time.
– Bruce Springsteen
The Ultimate Goal of the Communicator
For communicators, reaching the audience is the ultimate goal, and doing so means gaining their attention and connecting with them so that communicators can teach, help, motivate, inspire or inform them. Getting to this ultimate goal can be a challenge. It’s not enough to understand a process and be able to document it. It’s not enough to have a tremendous vocabulary and the ability to wield a grammatical sword. The first step towards achieving this goal is for a communicator to know who the audience is. Then when connection has been made, we must keep the doorway open. This is what it means to reach an audience, and it might be the single most important skill for any communicator.
All too often communicators make the mistake of generalizing an audience. The nature of the digital age makes generalizing easy. The machines we use to make and send messages are often what we see – not the people we’re sending the messages to. Bernadette Longo tackles this issue in her chapter of Digital Literacy for technical communicators titled, “Human + Machine Culture”. She writes the following:
When I work at my computer, I may feel that my primary relationship is between myself and my machine (Longo, 2010, p. 147).
Her chapter focuses on culture and community within digital communication, and how it directly relates to technical communicators. Within this context, she defines culture as follows:
In this understanding of the term, “culture” refers to the way in which people relate to each other within a particular social context – how their values, beliefs, assumptions, worldview and so on are manifested through everyday actions and decisions (Longo, 2010, p. 149).
Differences Between a Community and a Social Network
A community can exist without it being a social network. Howard Reingold, in his book Net Smart, describes this difference. Online communities are networks where people can go to communicate, but a social network is where people establish and cultivate relationships. Reingold writes,
To me, the difference between an online social network and a community has to do with the quality, continuity, and degree of commitment in the relationship between members. This comes down to whether participants care about each other and are willing to act on their feelings (Reingold, 2012, p. 163).
So, with social networks, it’s easier to get feedback and get to know an audience. But, with communities, this can be a challenge. To illustrate, we’ll take a look at a specific type of community – company intranet sites. These are the hubs where information is posted for internal customers, or employees of an organization. Companies often have many sub-groups within their organization, each of which has its own culture. Communication is going in one direction – out to the audience. This can make it very difficult to determine what and how to post on the company intranet site. In this type of network environment, it’s easy to generalize the audience. Having a deep understanding of an audience is crucial for making connections and reaching them. Blakeslee writes,
Abstractions and generalizations simply are not sufficient for addressing our audiences effectively in digital environments. What writers need, instead, is a full, accurate – and contextualized – understanding of their audiences. One way to acquire this, which was addressed by all writers from my cases, is to interact directly with members of our audiences (Blakeslee, 2010, p. 220).
4 Common Heuristics to Identify an Audience
The first step in reaching the audience is using some tried and true ways to learn more about them. There are 4 common heuristics used by communicators in identifying an audience. They are as follows:
- targeting specific audiences
- creating personas
- interacting directly with the audience
- gathering feedback from the audience, and applying it
Let’s take a brief look at how these four methods can help to identify an audience.
Creating personas helps to understand general groups within an audience, such as specific generations. The following is a persona I developed for a presentation I did on the communication styles of the different generations in the current workforce.
One of the best ways to understand a specific audience is to conduct focus groups. This is a great idea for large organizations that have many sub-groups. Meeting in person with individuals in a focus group can be of tremendous help for communicators and their audiences. It is a way to break down barriers, identify roadblocks, and make a truly personal connection with an audience. Valuable feedback can be obtained from focus groups. Using surveys is another good way to get feedback. Personas, interacting directly and gathering feedback are all ways that can help drive towards targeting specific audiences, and coming up with communication strategies that work. Blakeslee writes,
From all this research, we can move beyond speculation and guesswork and develop a more coherent, substantial, and comprehensive approach to thinking about and addressing digital audiences (Blakeslee, 2010, p. 223).
Reaching an audience is more than just knowing how to write or create pretty visuals. It’s more than being a subject matter expert or knowing how to document a process. It starts with knowing your audience and making a connection with them. To do this, there are several methods that work such as, creating personas, interacting with people, obtaining feedback, and targeting specific audiences with specific messages. Once the audience is clearly identified, communicators can move on to the next step – creating messages that will reach their audience.
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