Our strategic communications team recently met with a group of senior business executives, and part of our conversation included a brief discussion about news and social media use. More than half of these executives did NOT have a personal social media account, and they didn’t feel like they were missing out. Their preferred means of receiving information was email or traditional news sources. In some cases, they read the Wall Street Journal on their iPads, and received push notifications from traditional news sources on smartphones. Many of them simply didn’t have time to watch traditional TV news.
Our office scenario offers a valuable lesson in strategic communication. It’s vital we know our target audiences, and understand what types of media work best to communicate with them under different circumstances. The tools that work for one target audience may completely fail with another, and preferences may vary depending on the situation.
National research shows a shift in media consumption. Millennials reportedly spend more time on social networks than actual news sites, and they are doing it from their mobile devices. The American Press Institute reports adults age 18-34 simply do not visit news sites, nor do they read old-school, hard-copy newspapers. Even more interesting, API also reported they did not go out of their way to seek the “news.” This represents a radical shift from the previous generation that looked forward to the morning paper and evening news, and it presents a challenge for communicators.
The Pew Research Center, in contrast, dices the data differently. A year ago Pew reported at least 67% of Americans get at least SOME of their news from social media. The number was higher for nonwhites (74%), and varied among those with and without a college degree. Perhaps most interesting, Pew reported Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat had grown in share of users who get news on each site.
Snapchat for news?!
I thought my 15 year-old was the only one who used Snapchat for news, and in her case it simply meant goofy “news” updates from friends via whacky photos with puppy ears, super lashes and animated features. Yet, Pew reports the youngest group of “news users” are ages 18-29, and further stating one-in-five Snapchat users that age get their news from the app.
Does this mean we should dump our traditional ways of communicating and start using Snapchat to stay ahead of the power curve?
Not at all. What it means is that we need to deeply understand our target audiences and how they consume media, and how they communicate. What works for one group, might not work for another. Hyper-segmentation can help savvy communicators realize even Millennials can’t all be lumped together. It all starts with good research.
The U.S. Air Force does a good job figuring out how to communicate with its airmen. Every year the service surveys its troops and civilians, identifying the best ways they like to receive information about the Air Force. While there has been a trend for digital communications, it doesn’t mean email, videos and social media are always the answer. For example, a recent survey indicated the way most airmen want to learn about sensitive issues like sexual assault prevention through face-to-face communication in small groups. So the service adjusted the way they communicated information on that topic, and annual training is no longer a packaged video, but instead small group discussion.
Finding the right media to communicate with target audiences isn’t easy. It starts with research and tailored communication approaches for each target audience. We all need to remember and use the communication channels our audiences prefer. That means a true understanding of our target audiences, which starts with research. It may take some additional time up front, but a clear understanding of your audiences and their communication and media preferences will help you see a better return on strategic communications investment.
The lesson is simple – know your audience, and know how they receive messages.
Appropriate communication channels make all the difference.
- Ann Knabe
The Importance of Culturally Relevant Communications