Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fill in the blanks for your experts on the public audiences they want to reach

I've spent most of my career working with subject-matter experts, and discovered early on that it pays for communicators to become the experts' advisor on audiences--the populations that experts need or want to reach, either directly or through the news media or social media. Experts always want the public to understand them, but understanding the public is another matter. Your expert probably hasn't paid attention to public opinion research, demographics and other clues to the public audiences she now wants to reach. What experts don't know about audiences could fill volumes. That's why using data to help your experts communicate is one of the topics we'll cover at my August 23 workshop for communicators, Be an Expert on Working with Experts.

So where should you turn for data?

I've got a handful of trusted sources and encourage you to look for more when you're educating your experts about the public. And if data doesn't exist on your intended audience, perhaps you can make the case to your experts for collecting that data and using it to inform your communications. In the meantime, here are four of my go-to sources:
  1. The Roper Center public opinion archives at the University of Connecticut collects all previous public opinion polls from all pollsters, dating back to the 1930s. Most is U.S. data, but dozens of nations are represented in the findings. There are free and fee-based options. Most useful: You can ask for all public opinion data on a specific question, topic or audience.
  2. The National Science Foundation's Science & Engineering Indicators cover all fields of science and engineering with useful data collected every two years (the 2012 set is just out), but most useful to communicators is chapter 7 on public attitudes and understanding of science, and where the public gets its information about science. This type of data can help you help a scientist calibrate explanations based on what the public knows...and doesn't.
  3. The Millennials: Connecting to America's Largest Generation will help your experts get a handle on younger audiences. Millennials--born between 1980 and 2000--behave and think differently from your experts' generations do, so if their focus is reaching young people, it pays to give them an update on this demographic.
  4. The Pew Internet and American Life Project is your source for how your audiences are using technology--an important subtext to discussions about how to do outreach. Its research includes specific demographic groups, such as teenagers, as well as broader pictures of technology user types. 
Of course, there's much more--this is just to get you started. Join me on August 23 to look at other ways to get your experts to connect with public and media audiences, and for more discussion of how to use data to help them communicate more effectively.

Registration is now open for the next Be an Expert on Working with Experts, for communicators and related professionals who work with subject-matter experts, policy analysts, scientists and engineers. The workshop is August 23 in Washington, DC, or I can bring it to your workplace. Get an early registration discount if you sign up by August 3. Details at the link.

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