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Audience Research

No one communication method will reach everyone. To be successful in your communications, you need to know how your audiences get their information, who they trust, and how your messages fit into what they already believe and know.

Don’t rely on guesswork. Instead, make risk communication an interactive process by conducting audience research prior to any emergency event. Continue to check in with members of your target audiences during and after an event so you can evaluate the effectiveness of your communications. Use surveys, focus groups, or interviews with members of your target audiences. Even if you don't have many resources, just getting on the phone with a contact in a community organization can tell you something about that community’s communication needs.

Audience research can help you:

  • Identify the most effective communication channels for particular groups. Do they get information from the Internet, the TV, their neighbors, their religious leader?
  • Determine who target audiences consider trustworthy sources and credible spokespeople.
  • Discover how target audiences perceive risks, what they already know about hazards, and what information gaps exist. This can also help you determine which audiences are most critical to reach during different kinds of crises.
  • Uncover barriers to communication, such as lack of internet access, lower levels of reading and health literacy, limited English proficiency, and other difficulties accessing information.
  • Pre-test messages with members of the target audience to see how people respond to them and how appropriate, accessible, and effective the messages are. Do people understand the key points? Will they pay attention to them? Are they culturally appropriate?

Again, advance preparation can make the difference between whether your key messages actually reach people or get lost amidst all the other noise during a crisis.

For more information about audience research, check out the CDCynergy communications planning tool.