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“The General Public” is a Poor Target

Nurse using mobile device

Recently, I participated in an online debate about using “the general public” as an audience for an association. It’s not uncommon for nonprofit organizations to use broad terms to describe their audiences – and to an extent, they’re right. Mission-centered organizations do serve a greater good, and that appeals to most people. But when you create an engagement platform, like a website, you’re more likely to see meaningful outcomes if you start with insights about specific audiences.

You may already define your audiences by groups like “members and non-members” or “young professionals.” Those are good starting points, but each group represents a broad range of individuals. If your goal is to affect a behavior, like enrolling in a program, then a more granular view of your audience will lead to insights that help you build a more effective strategy.  

Start with a deep dive into data about your audiences. Surveys and focus groups are great for learning about their perceptions and needs. In addition, you’ll want to look at data about your current site to understand audiences’ online behaviors. You can uncover a lot by looking at the paths people take on the site and search data will expose their interests. Once you’ve gathered data, take a step back to see if patterns emerge that help you group audiences differently. For example, we used insights from data analysis to help a program for “nurses,” define multiple user personas representing different segments like “Tara, the mid-career private practice nurse” and “Diego, the recent RN community hospital nurse.”  

Personas humanize your audience and clarify their needs. Once you have personas, determine what they define as a good Mission Experience and design solutions based on their expectations. In the nursing example above, you would go through a series of exercises to determine how your organization’s values align with theirs, what types of content they need and how they want to receive that content. For the Tara persona, her idea of a good Mission Experience may involve on-demand curriculum that gives her flexibility to pursue continuous learning while the Diego persona may need the same content but delivered as podcasts. To optimize results for the program, you’ll need a plan to satisfy both of their needs.  

Defining your Mission Experience is foundational for building a more engaging digital experience for your members. And getting there doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It needs to be rooted in insights about your audience; the more specific, the better. Diving into audience data will shape your web strategy and lead to solutions that yield better outcomes.  

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