“Target audience” is a common marketing term for the people you are trying to reach with your communications. I’ve used it regularly since I started working in this field, but I’m using it much less often now. In fact, I just did a search/replace in the new book I am writing to eliminate it in the draft. The term “target audience” embodies the old way of looking at nonprofit marketing and communications, an approach that I hope you are working on moving away from.
While the concept of focusing on specific groups of people via segmenting is still valuable, thinking of it as “targeting” is troublesome because it conjures the image of you blasting your content toward the target, rather than creating content that naturally attracts them to you. “Audience” creates a similar problem, because it implies people passively sitting there while you present to them.
Today, our goal is engagement. While some will still sit and passively consume what we produce, the goal is to get them to take some sort of action in response, even if it is as simple as standing up and being counted by clicking Like on Facebook or sharing a story they read in your newsletter over coffee with a friend.
That’s why you’ll see me use the terms participants, supporters, and influencers as much as I can, throughout our website, blog, and the new book — at least until we come up with something better.
When I use participants, I am referring to the people your organization serves, as well those who have actively embraced your mission and are helping you directly implement your programming, like your regular volunteers and super-advocates. When I use supporters, I am talking about donors, those who more casually endorse your work, and those volunteers and advocates who help build your community without directly implementing programs and services. When I use influencers, I am talking about people who are typically more disinterested or objective about your particular organization, but who can still have a big impact on how others perceive you, such as journalists or elected officials.
There’s often overlap between these groups, especially participants and supporters, and supporters and influencers, and that’s fine. It’s less important who is a participant or a supporter or an influencer and more important that you view them as part of the community making good things happen, rather than passive bystanders in an audience who can be targeted against their will.
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