Last weekend at the Transition Network Conference, R. asked me: “Can you give me the low-down of good communications in a minute? Our group is not doing so well at communicating.” We then got separated, and I promised to send him the link to a blog post about my favourite communications model. As it turns out, that blog post wasn’t written yet, so here we go.

Three Steps for Target Audience Engagement

When to use it: When you are trying to understand your target audiences and communications channels

The idea: Segment your audiences by proximity to your organization and design your communications channels based on this distinction

Sources: ON:SUBJECT’s mash-up of Chris Rose’s How to Win Campaigns and Mark Silver’s Three Journeys of Marketing

When you segment by proximity, try to identify (at least) the following three distinct categories:

  1. The anonymous masses. These are people and organizations with whom you do not yet have any established relationship. For all you know, they might never have heard of you. Your first objective in communicating with this audience is to raise awareness. You’ll want to offer them some low-barrier ways to check you out: an event, for example, or an informative newsletter. The first step is to get them to engage with you – once.
  2. The observers. These are people and organizations that have given you permission to engage with them. They are curious about you, but not yet completely on your side. Because they’ve participated in an event, given you money (once) or signed up to your newsletter, you know them by name (and email address). Your first objective with this audience is to create alignment. Give them plenty of high-quality information, and offer them interactive ways to get active. The second step is to deepen their engagement.
  3. The fan club. These folks are completely on your side, and they actively engage with you. They could be (repeat) donors, volunteers, board members or staff. Do not take them for granted, and encourage them to spread the word. Your first objective with this audience is to repeat engagement. You’ll want to actively involve them in the direction your organization is taking and acknowledge their achievements. The third step is to make them your best ambassadors – for the long-term.

Now, if your organization communicates with different audience sectors (like donors, beneficiaries, activists), you can further segment the three categories above. I usually work with 3-4 of these sectors – more easily becomes overkill. You will usually find representatives of all sectors in each category. If you don’t, ask yourself why that is and whether you would like to change it. You could recruit beneficiaries to your board, for example.

Next, make a list of your existing communications channels and the category they speak to, for example:

Anonymous Masses Observers Fan club
AdvertisingMedia Relations WebsiteNewsletter Annual AssemblyOnline Forum

My rule of thumb is to spend about a third of my communications resources on each category. To make best use of limited resources, it helps to be very clear what the next step is you want each target audience to take. You’ll also want to be clear whom you are asking to take this step (hint: it’s not the ‘general public’).

A nice side-effect of this approach to segmenting audiences is that it makes your communications impact very measurable: Because you are asking people to take an observable actions, you know how many people have ‘graduated’ to being observers or become part of your fan club.

See also: Cultivate your fan club

Over to you: how would this model apply to your organization? How else do you segment your audiences?

Model: Three Steps for Target Audience Engagement
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