Communicators know: The “General Public” isn’t so “General” after all…

A few weeks ago, I was invited on a panel to assess a series of University behavior change campaigns. I sat, intrigued and engaged as varied final year students went into the strategies and tactics they intended to use to reach their different audiences. As one group presented, they went into how they’d effectively utilize traditional forms of communication to reach the “general public”.  The group went on to highlight why radio was selected and the intended outcome via that medium.

As the panel queried the reason for radio for a community level intervention, a team member shrugged “Well we want everyone to know about it”.  A series of questions, comments and other suggestions later, it was revealed that radio would not have been the ideal medium for the audience in question.  In fact, it was revealed that a direct community level intervention such as a community/town hall meeting would have been more appropriate and effective to achieve the intended objectives.

This example brings me back to current realities where the “general public” is a constant phrase in several communication programme discussions.  You may have heard the term tossed around as you were briefed by a programmes unit, head of office, Managing Director and CEO.  Often it is accompanied by the words “We want everyone to know what we are doing”. Realistically, wanting “everyone to know” is not a bad objective, however as many communicators should be able to advise, within that “everyone” group can be found several specific groups including youth, children, adults, men, women, senior citizens, English Speakers, people who listen to the radio, those who watch TV at specific times, those who read specific publications and even those who only consume content from electronic platforms.  I say all of this to say, generally, audiences are not so general after all.

Sure your project supervisor makes it known from day one that they want everyone to know what the organization is doing in relation to the company’s recycling efforts for example, but believe me and the thousands of professional communicators worldwide that this everyone will eventually become specific groups as you dive into audience segmentation.

As you make the move from “general public” to “Specific audiences” a useful guide is:

  1. Who is my audience (age, language, interests etc)?
  2. Can my audience be grouped into any segments based on similar characteristics?
  3. How does my audience communicate and where do they get information from?
  4. Are the channels they get information from effective?
  5.  Is there a more effective channel?
  6. Are their opportunities for feedback?

With Radio as a medium for example, you may find that based on the objectives and the audience, an advertisement aired during a specific radio programme will yield more favorable results than the same being aired on random radio programmes. Frankly,  by segmenting your general public audience, you may further discover that radio is not the ideal medium at all.

Quintessentially,  as with every stage of communication planning,  there should be decided efforts to focus on:

a. Who am I trying to reach?

b. Why am I trying to reach them?

c. How best can they be reached?

With this ABC guide,  every communicator can then better advise or devise strategies for intended audiences. Notably,  you can reach out and engage the public in the broader terms of your communication planning,  but I assure you that this “general public” has several features which can allow for further classification and more targeted communication.

Have you faced challenges with audience segmentation and communication?  Let’s connect.  Let me help you build and tell a great story.

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Shanoy Coombs is a Development Communication Consultant in the Latin America and Caribbean region.  Are you Social? Connect with Shanoy  on twitter via @InspiraShan and learn more about her work via Shanoy Coombs Portfolio

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