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The general public is not your audience

More often than not, nonprofits tell me they want to use communications to  reach “the general public.” And, I’m quick to respond, “The general public is not an audience!” Since we are not Coca Cola or Nike or H & R Block, we will NEVER have enough resources to market to the general public. So, throw that audience right out the window. The key to our success lies in how targeted we can be.

Once you know what you want to accomplish (your goal), then you have to think about who you’re trying to reach. Who can make a difference on your issue? Who will donate money? Who can impact policy? Who will get involved? This “Who” is your audience.

If we are trying to organize a neighborhood watch group in the Edgewater neighborhood, our target audience is likely adults (maybe parents and homeowners) in the Edgewater community. Secondary audiences might include the alderman, community group leaders and others in that community who are influential and can help organize a watch group.

Once we’ve decided to reach parents in Edgewater, we can think of all sorts of messages and tactics to reach those parents. For example, parents are at schools. What can we distribute at the schools to get in touch with parents? What should those fliers say to pique their interest?

Are their neighborhood school events we can attend to meet parents in person? Do those parents read the local Edgewater blog, the “Edgeville Buzz,” and if so, can we try to place a story in the blog about the need for a neighborhood watch group and how to get involved?

Knowing your audience is important in the social media world, too. If you’re trying to reach parents in Edgewater, maybe you start using hashtags in your tweets such as #edgewater #schools and #parents. Maybe you search on Facebook to find out if any of the local schools or community groups in Edgewater already have Facebook pages where you can share information about your campaign.

What you probably don’t need to do is contact Channel 7 or the Chicago Tribune. Although those outlets do reach millions of people in the Chicago area, the threshold for news is higher and it can be extremely time-consuming to place a story there. If you know your target audience and you know specific places to reach them in Edgewater, you’ll probably have better luck focusing on community-based gatherings, papers and online outlets to get your story out and reach your target audience where they’re already at.

So, the next time you plan to embark on a communications strategy, remember, the more targeted you can be when thinking about your audience, the more success you’re likely to have making sure the right people, rather than a whole bunch of people, hear what you have to say and take action.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to develop your organization’s communications plan, contact me ( to find out if a custom training is a good fit for you. Or call our main number 312-369-6400 to learn more about upcoming trainings.

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One Response

  1. […] goal of your event? Do expensive bus tours and banners help you achieve that goal? Who’s your audience? Will the bus tours help you increase registration by that core audience? And always think through […]

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