Step One of the Communicator’s Ultimate Goal

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.

pic

created by Lisa Rohloff

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).

Conclusion

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.

Posted on November 10, 2018, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Lisa,

    I appreciate your post. As I read through the chapters, I put them in the context of reaching an audience to which you are writing outside of the company. I never considered communication within the company. This is likely due to my limited experience in a company setting in the field and the fact that the majority of my communication in my current job is dealing directly with my customers and maybe some short blurb emails for order corrections to home office. My communication with other consultants and leaders is more on the level if a friendship where we spend time celebrating our highs and lamenting our lows with the business. I am an independent consultant so the company does not have access to my emails and my private messages – which is good, because the friend-to-friend contact with other consultants isn’t always something I would want carried back to the company. Thank you for sharing another side to this and allowing me to re-evaluate the lens with which I originally read the material for this week.

    Rebecca

  2. Lisa,

    I love the following statement, “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.” Many times throughout this course we’ve read about, blogged about, midterm-examed about, and discussed in comments the role of empathy or lack there of in digital space communications. We are so focused on the machine that we fail to empathize with the breathing human(s) across the air at another device-it allows us to generalize, make hasty assumptions, and communicate without the recourse of traditional cultural norms. Furthermore, as a producer of content, we can fail to see who are audience is and what they want. I love how your blog this week talked about connecting with your audience by getting real feedback and connecting directly with them, as opposed to just pushing content to them.

    Jennifer

  3. Hi Rebecca and Jennifer,
    When I read the material, I tried to put it into the context of my own work – which is internal communications at a large company. I wanted to be able to relate to what I was reading and to also apply it in my real life job. That’s how I ended up looking at audience through the lense of internal company communications. In addition, I have noticed a lot of generalizations happening. In a large company of 15,000 + people, it’s easy to just send out messages because we want people to know something or take a specific action. But, one thing I really notice is people wanting to send out messages that are not relevant to the audience – only to the sender. So, althougth “know your audience” might sound cliche’, it is often overlooked or ignored as we send out something we think is great, but to the audience, it’s not great.
    Lisa

  4. Having advised many thesis and field projects for the MSTPC that utilized survey research, I’d like to hear more about your experiences collecting data from both focus groups and surveys. I have a feeling the time commitment is lengthier with focus groups, although it might depend on the questions the company is trying to answer. Can you say more?

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