Communicating With No Audience

Yesterday I kind of pulled the rug out from under a few people with that whole “Your Audience is a Lie” bit. Today, we talk about what that means for us as communicators (but I’m still not walking it back).

So, let’s say you agree with me about the audience and you can no longer write a message for a person. We know they won’t sit there and wait for your message. They’ve got fifty thousand other messages streaming at them at the same time, and many of those messages (especially for folks in public health) counteract. (And let’s not pretend like our government messages are nearly as slick as our, ahem, competitors.)

Assuming that your message does get through, what if they don’t necessarily agree with what you’ve said? What if they talk back? What if they tell their friends (who tell their friends, etc.)? I think that’s the essence of Mr. Livingston’s post, that our “audience” is not a passive observer or sponge. They are now friends, stakeholders, enemies, crazy people.

They. Talk. Back.

Inserting that idea into your communications flow is the first step towards the future of communications. We can no longer stop at “audience receives message,” we now have to build in feedback loops. And (this part is really important) actually use them to engage in conversations and improve our messages and learn how to do our jobs better–directly from the people who know best!

Beyond those newly empowering conversations, there are even better reasons to shift away from an audience-centric model of communications: to stop limiting ourselves. Messages written for one audience will only succeed with that audience. There is no latitude given for serendipity or kismet.

People are not meant to happen upon our messages and be moved. But like cat videos and hours whiled away on Wikipedia, our modern, information-addled brains learn through these so-called weak ties. We see something that looks slightly askew or interesting or novel and we investigate. When was the last time you found ten minutes of attention to devote to a brochure written for your “audience type?” When was the last time you promised yourself you’d only look up one thing online, and then came to your senses an hour later looking at a Wikipedia article about Helen of Troy?

I say let your content be free, and reap the attention of people who may not necessarily fit into your target audience.