Be Adaptable To Where Audiences Are Moving And What’s Capturing Their Interest

Be Adaptable To Where Audiences Are Moving And What’s Capturing Their Interest
Photo credit: Rosa Rafael on Unsplash

Janet Berger, lead strategist at Flow Communications, says everyone who works in communications will attest to the fact that this is a landscape that is fast-changing and often difficult to keep up with.

Last year I was confronted with the reality of just how much it has changed. My generation of South African moms had Marina Petropulos’ Baby and Child Care Handbook as our guide and lifeline for anything to do with the challenges of new parenthood. My daughter is a new mom and no such book exists for her.

Instead she has TikTok. It appears that videos of random new moms sharing their opinions and experiences is of much more worth than any expert in the field. Graphically honest videos of birth experiences and brutal reviews of baby products is the channel and reference point of today’s new mom! The power of social media as an influential communication channel is significant, as is whose voices are being heard.

A challenge we face is getting through the dense filters people use to cope with the overwhelming influx of communications. Really, only the most useful, concise, engaging and pertinent messages will get through; if you don’t make messages immediately relevant, personalised and beneficial, forget it. Time is everyone’s most valued commodity – so don’t waste it.

We need to capture attention immediately and get to the point quickly. Thankfully, good content that includes storytelling still works, but generally we see more engagement with short-form content and, of course, videos. The designer in me loves the fact that infographics and visuals are now playing a bigger role in effective communication. Short, snappy, summarised and useful content is a winner.

Who is doing the talking can also be a big consideration these days – who and where is the message coming from? Channels that allow individual voices to be heard – seemingly without ulterior motives (“I’m not trying to sell you something, just help you out”) – get attention; your average person on the street has a loud voice in terms of recommendations, reviews, opinions and driving public discourse.

It’s a noisy communications space out there, so getting heard can be challenging. Influencers (to an extent) hold sway, as do celebrities (Taylor Swift was Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2023). Audiences spend more time engaging with content when someone else is talking about a brand than when a brand is talking about itself. Public relations works from this premise, and so remains an important tool in a brand’s communications toolkit.

The proliferation of fake news and disinformation as well as believable AI-manipulated images has resulted in a default setting of scepticism and disbelief among many audiences. This makes the communications challenge that much more difficult, as you really have to persuade the audience of the legitimacy of your claims.

We do a lot of purpose-driven work and have recently picked up a sense of apathy or indifference around social challenges. Maybe it’s appeal fatigue; maybe today’s audiences are more focused on personal survival; or maybe audiences expect businesses and brands to do the heavy social lifting for them. However, brands that are legitimately purpose-driven (no greenwashing or rainbow washing) are broadly supported for that very reason.

Communication is in people’s pockets these days, as phones have become the primary source of communication. The growth in smartphone access globally is significant, so we need to tune into the possibilities of this interface (personalisation, engaging, interactive, video-based, etc.).

Data costs continue to be an inhibiting factor, though, and something that many South Africans are resentful of – there is an awareness of the mass of useful information out there, but how do we access it? Also, apps are not always the solution they appear to be – again, the approach seems to be: ‘I will consider it only if it’s useful or beneficial to me.’ Just being aware that an app exists doesn’t mean it will be used.

Language use and appropriate tone are also important and at Flow we are sensitive to how we use idioms, dialects, metaphors and colloquialisms. You need to be acutely tuned in to your audience, their interests and their level of understanding to make sure that your messaging hits the mark and isn’t clicked away from or ignored as a knee-jerk reaction.

The 2024 communications landscape is a bit of a scary place for those of us who have been playing on these fields for decades. Old formulas for success are no longer guaranteed and you need to be more agile and in-tune.

Like moving from textbooks to TikTok, trends, technology, platforms and preferences will continue to change. We’re going to need to hang onto what we know works (good content and design, considered user interfaces, putting audiences’ needs first, and fit-for-purpose solutions), but be adaptable to where our audiences are moving and what’s capturing their interest.