If you don’t know who your audience is, it doesn’t matter how well you write.
From a blog post to a fully integrated public relations campaign, it all begins with understanding who is on the receiving end.
Business writing—and really all forms of professional communication—has value only to the degree that it is meaningful to the reader. Before we can make a statement that resonates, we must first know who is listening.
Defining your audience
The first step in defining your audience is creating groups of people with common characteristics. Take, for example, Google+. It uses the term “circles” to allow users to classify contacts and acquaintances, and form groups based on professional contacts, friends, family, or by interests and hobbies. We can use this framework in the context of writing to pinpoint our target(s).
Often, what we have to say is primarily relevant to one group, but secondarily of interest to others. Together, they make up our audience.
For instance, a local non-profit announcing a youth financial education initiative could identify its core audience, or “circles,” as students, educators and parents, as well as current members and donors. A broader audience would contain potential members, including those who are not familiar with the organization. There may (and, in most cases, should) be different tools and different messages to address these groups, but the process should begin with an understanding of who they are.
From “Who” to “Why”
“Who” is only the starting point. We need to ask questions about our audiences to understand the disparities within them, their motivations and the most effective vocabulary and tools to reach them.
- Identification: Who is listening? Who do you want to listen? Where are they listening? Who else could or should be listening?
- Expectation: What do they want? How do they want it? When do they want it?
- Education: What should your audience gain from your writing? What will challenge them? What will enlighten them?
A writer should answer these questions before they start, which will help to define the best channels to convey a message and the right messages to convey through each channel.
In the non-profit example, it may make sense to target each audience separately. For the student population, target them through social media. The use of direct emails, however, may make more sense to target parents and educators, while other audiences can be reached through local media relations efforts. The content for each medium should have a voice specific to the “circle” it’s meant to reach.
Writers should be able to support the decisions they make—from word choice to page layout—through an understanding of their readers. Selecting the right arguments (even tweets should have an argument) and the right words is not always black and white, but there is most certainly “better” and “worse.” These informed choices are the foundation of effective writing.
Considering audience first gives your writing the chance to leave an impression. Are there other components of understanding an audience that you consider to better focus your communication?