Now that you learned some general theories that help you understand how people process information provided to them via media messages, it is time to get more close and personal with your audience. Remember, as an opinion writer most likely you won’t be able to affect everybody that might read your columns. We learned that already from research in psychology. So, you need to be more focused in your goals and define your audience more narrowly. The best approach is to start with the following questions:
- Who is the audience?
- Why am I writing? What do I want my audience to know or do?
- What do they already know? What is their level of understanding?
- What is their likely attitude about the topic?
- How can I honor my audience’s needs and perspectives?
- What does my audience want to achieve?
- What format or layout will appeal to the audience and support the message?
Defining your audience: Think marketing strategy!!
The very first thing to have in mind is that audiences are composed of multiple people, all of whom have different perceptions, values and backgrounds. This sounds like a messy business, doesn’t it?! Well not really! We can learn one trick or two from marketing research on how to dissect and categorize large audiences in groups that are more easy to tackle. The following are the most important criteria you need to think about when identifying who are your potential readers:
- Geographic market: the geographical reach of the medium you are writing for determines your audience (local community, metropolitan area, rural area, national reach, international reach). So this should be the first (easy step) to determine who is likely to read your piece. For example, if you are writing for the Daily Cougar, your audience will be UH students, faculty and staff.
- Demographic market: in this category fall age, income, education, socio-economic status, race, gender, ethnicity, religion. Example, if your targeted group are UH students, do some research on people who enroll at UH. Age group will be easy to determine, since the majority of students at UH are in their early 20s. How about socio-economic status? UH is known to have traditional served mostly low-income, first generation students. In addition, UH prides itself for having one of the most racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse student population. You get the drill?!!
- Psychographic market: deals with your audiences’ attitudes and beliefs. An example would be to explore if your audience leans more towards conservative or liberal ideology. Coming back to the example of your UH students, what would you say? Well, it is a well known fact that Texas is a very conservative state in general, however public opinion polls also suggest that younger people (early 20s till late 30s) tend to lean more towards liberal ideology. Now you go figure it out!
The benefits of knowing your audience
Knowing or anticipating who will be reading your columns and other opinion pieces is key to effective writing. As an opinion writer, you are “selling” something and that something is ideas. Therefore, knowing your audience will help you adapt the content of your writing to address the main concerns of your audience. This will increase the likelihood that your audiences are interested in what you have to say and will most likely read your column. Second, knowing your audience will help you decide what “voice” to use in your writing. This means that your audiences are not only likely to read your writing, but also to pay close attention and take in consideration your arguments. If you manage to attract your audiences interest and attention, then you are more likely to change a few minds or at least engage them in meaningful conversations! And that is the definition of success for an opinion writer!!