When developing a communication strategy, one of the most critical steps after determining the goals and objectives is the identification of the target audience for the project. The target audience refers to the group a manager is trying to influence. Some key audiences that reef managers commonly target for communication efforts include resource users, community groups, or policy/decision makers.

The key thing to remember is that, for the purposes of communication, there is no such thing as the “general public.” In other words, outreach materials aimed at the “general public” are too general to be effective in their messaging.

Managers responsible for communicating about coral reef health and resilience often need to be creative and innovative to gain support from different audiences. Whether dealing with school children, community members, government officials, fishers, the media, industry, or academics, a well-planned communication strategy or campaign tailored to the target audience is needed.

Communication Tip

Primary Target Audience: The primary target audience refers to the main group a manager is trying to influence. There may be more than one primary target audience for the communication strategy.

Secondary Target Audience: The secondary audience includes people or groups who are less relevant to the communication efforts, but who need to receive the communication or messaging. They will also benefit from hearing the messages, and they may be able to influence the target audience now or in the future. ref

The following questions can help determine the possible target audiences: 

  1. Who is causing the problem?
  2. How are they causing it?
  3. What other audiences might be interested or relate to the project message or goal?
  4. Which audiences have the most political influence?
  5. Which audiences have the most social influence?
  6. Who shares information in this particular location? Who has the most influence on this particular audience?
  7. Who will be most positively affected by the project/management actions?
  8. Who has the potential to be negatively affected by the project/management actions?
  9. Who will be involved in the implementation of the project?
  10. Who usually causes confusion or trouble when information is distributed to the public or the key audience?
  11. Who is directly involved in using and/or taking resources from the reef?

After determining possible target audiences it is necessary to identify the primary and secondary audiences of the communication strategy or campaign.

Target audiences can be identified by considering the following questions:

Fishers presenting

Fishers presenting their suggested park zoning scenarios at a workshop focused on improving information exchange. Photo © S. Wear/TNC

  • What specific action or behavior needs to be changed to address the objectives or solve the issue at hand? In many cases, the majority of communication efforts should be targeted toward the audience most directly able to change the situation.
  • Which audience best helps meet the specific strategy goals? Keep in mind whose behaviors need to be changed with the communication strategy. These are the people that should be the target audience.
  • Is the audience persuadable? It may be more effective to focus on key influencers, such as community leaders, business leaders, or progressive clergy who can “bring others with them” if their support is gained through the communication strategy.
  • Can the target audience realistically be reached with program resources?

Note that in some cases, it will not be effective to direct communication at certain audiences (e.g., if they cannot be reached effectively or if they are not likely to change their behavior). In those situations, it may be better to select other audiences that can function as intermediaries for reaching them.

By gaining a better understanding of WHO is doing WHAT, audience research is helpful when selecting a target audience. It can also provide information on the awareness and attitudes of people towards a specific issue as well as the media usage of different audiences. Audience research can serve as a baseline for post-communication efforts evaluations.

Once the primary target audience is identified, it is important to assess the current behavior of the audience, their level of knowledge and awareness of the issue, their preferred methods of receiving information and their motivations for (or barriers to) receiving the information. To assess the knowledge, attitudes, and awareness of the target audience, a variety of research methods are available including surveys, online research, interviews, and focus groups. Research on the target audience will help to identify key messages and the most appropriate methods for successful communication.

To better understand strategies for communicating with different target audiences, the two case studies below highlight innovative communication campaigns that focus on coral reef health. These examples introduce different communication techniques and provide a detailed overview of the communication efforts and audiences.

Methods can be qualitative (e.g., collecting descriptive data not in numerical form, includes open-ended questionnaires, unstructured interviews and observations), quantitative (e.g.,collecting data in numerical form which can be categorized and analyzed using statistics ), or a combination of the two. Examples include focus groups, interviews, surveys, or observation of sample target audiences. The size of the target audience may influence the methods. With large audiences, quantitative tools may be easier. With smaller audiences, qualitative tools such as focus groups and interviews are more effective. For a detailed overview of qualitative and quantitative research including when to use these techniques, how they work, and potential drawbacks, see Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research Overview (pdf, 229k).

By segmenting audiences into groups with similar needs, and tailoring messages and products to each group, the communication strategy can be more effective. It also helps to identify groups of people who are similar (e.g. have the same views or habits) and more likely to respond to particular messages in similar ways. Possible groups could be based on age, location, income, occupation, lifestyle or ethnicity.

When determining what types of pretesting and audience research will be conducted, it is important to also consider any evaluations that will be done at the end of the communication effort. By thinking ahead about evaluation it is possible to include questions in pretesting that will establish a baseline for evaluation.


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Last updated August 30, 2016

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