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What to know about engaging audiences in a ‘new normal’ world

30 April 2021

The world we inhabit has changed. Having lived through a pandemic, we are starting to emerge into a ‘new normal’ where the society around us has understandably been reshaped by all of our individual experiences during Covid-19.

But what does this mean for charities? Particularly when it comes to reaching and engaging our audiences? Well, clearly no one has it all figured out just yet but thanks to the amazing lineup of speakers at our latest conference, here are some of the important things to consider when thinking about the ‘new rules of audience engagement’:

The need for charity services is up but trust and donations are not

What’s clear is that the demand for charity services is high, so much so that The British Heart Foundation’s Athar Abidi told us they had been putting a patient focused approach first, to ensure people understood the impact of the virus on their own health. But despite the fact charities are playing a vital informational and support role for the public the stats shared by research consultancy nfpSynergy show that trust has remained static and donations have fallen. Clearly as a sector we need keep pushing for the role we play to be seen and valued in a way that reflects the fact we are delivering essential services that are above and beyond for society as a whole.

Societal polarization can’t be ignored

Research shows ‘85% of the UK and US think that their country is divided’ and it seems this may have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Coupled with this is the emergence of difficult but important conversations around topics like race. This means charities are going through a difficult period of self-reflection and while thinking about how to address systemic and societal issues it’s going to be very important for the sector to get to grips with the culture and values they represent and promote too.

For more fascinating stats check out nfpSynergy’s presentation which will be available on-demand from next week.

Using data, adapting and learning to embrace mistakes is essential

For communicators and engagement professionals a big part of lockdown has been about leading the charge in their organisations, encouraging them to adapt while not being afraid to make mistakes. It’s been about learning from everything they have done while also having the confidence to tear up plans when needed – all in a bid to make an impact for organizations. Moving forward the charity sector can expect to do much of the same but with the benefit of drawing on what we have already learnt. For example, Parkinson’s UK’s Charlotte Jackson says they put a focus on using data to inform decisions during the pandemic – creating fortnightly insight shares involving cross-team working – and this is something that looks set to continue long term given its ability to help them quickly consolidate audience needs and act on them. Similarly, Joe Freeman says the work done to get comms a seat at the table at NHS Digital has been essential to finding out what was going on across departments, being able to feedback social listening and then develop communications best suited to audience needs – given how this has led to an increase in the value of all the organisation does, no doubt this will be something that sticks long-term too.

Audience habits have changed in a way that could be here to stay

YouGov’s Julian Newby shared how audience habits have changed over lockdown, with less people reading print news for example but more people interacting with podcasts. What does this tell us though? Well, essentially it tells us that: ‘The first thing you need to do is you need to really qualify your audiences. You need to look at where they are as where they were before isn’t necessarily where they are now’, says Julian. This awareness of changing habits and the need to try and understand them when thinking about how to engage audiences was also echoed by On Road Media Nikki Hawkins. Nikki pointed out the huge opportunities in understanding this particularly in terms of how we are now seeing people are capable of huge change, saying: ‘before the pandemic change was hard and slow and often elusive and people tend to resist it and assume that things just are the way they are and that not much can be changed [but] if the pandemic tells us one thing, it’s that we can change and we can change dramatically and quickly’. Let’s embrace these changes and normalise this appetite for action and change and adopt this in our communications in order to help to change the big picture.

Don’t forget to listen to what your audience want

Above all, one thing that was loud and clear from the audiences conference was that we need to make be careful not to fall into the trap of being too inward looking. Engaging our audiences now and in the future is about listening to them and really hearing what they need. More Onion highlighted this in their workshop on building engagement strategies focusing us all on how to set impact-driven objectives by first start clarifying what we want to achieve and asking who we need to engage with and why, and them explaining the importance of providing engagement actions for people to interact with. And once again this was echoed by other speakers with Alva’s Bernard Donoghue in particular championing the need for all sectors to be listening to audiences and challenging what we think we know in order to deliver authentic, data-backed comms that serve to meet audiences needs and as well as effectively advocating for the things that matter most.

Above is just a whistlestop tour of our latest conference to help you start thinking about how to engage your audiences in today’s changed world. To expand your thinking, access great resources and hear the inspiring talks for yourself check out the full line up that will be available on-demand soon. Also, check out the pre-records in your delegate bag.

You may also like A hub of information and advice for building audience-centred engagement strategies in the non-profit sector.

Image: Monica Silvestre on Pexels

Christine Fleming

Head of digital content, CharityComms

Christine is the head of digital content at CharityComms in charge of the commissioning and editing of all content on the site as well as leading on the project management of the new look best practice guides. A former journalist with a background in online news, she has a masters in Global Media and Transnational Communications and is passionate about comms and helping charity communications thrive.