Crossing the river ...

Crossing the river ...

Working with communications, you often find yourself in need of getting a point across - or to bridge a gap between a sender and a recipient. However, there might be multiple groups of people you can choose to communicate to. How do you navigate, and how do you achieve this without sinking into the river?

Consider this mind game

You are in a rowing boat, and your task is to get a fox and two chickens across a river. If the fox is left unattended with one or both chickens, he will eat them, and you don´t want that. If you take more than one animal at a time in the boat alongside you, the boat will sink.

Crossing the river ...

There is a solution ...

At first, this puzzle might seem impossible, but the solution is as follows:

  • Put the fox in the boat, row to the other side and drop it off.
  • Row back and load a chicken in your boat
  • Row over, put the chicken on the other side and at the same time put the fox back in the boat
  • Row back, put the fox back to its initial place, and grab the other chicken
  • Row over and offload the chicken. You now have two chicken where you wanted to move them, and the fox is still in its initial position.
  • Row back, get the fox and row across and offload the fox.
  • Finish!

What can we learn from this?

Learning point #1: If you try to move everyone at the same time, you will all sink.

Learning point #2: If you move one at a time, in the right order, you will eventually get everyone across.

Learning point #3: If you mess up the order, some of the animals you would like moved, will be eaten alive.

How does this apply to communications?

You probably got the logics of the fox and the chickens. But you might still not get how this applies to communications.

Communications is about bridging gaps. Either to get your target groups from A to B, or to bridge A and B so that you create common ground for the people on each side of the divide. Too often, communicators fail to be specific about the target group, and they try to reach "everybody" or something not sufficiently specific - like "Farm animals". If you do, you will have little or no effect. The saying that "if you aim at nothing you are sure to hit it" is as true as ever. This is equivalent to putting all the animals in the boat and sinking to the bottom of the river. 

If you, on the other hand, manage to specifiy your target groups - eg "Chicken" and "Fox", you are able to discern a little more. However, the order with which you load them on your boat matters. If you do it in the wrong way, one target group will extinguish the other.

Primary and secondary audiences

You need to consider who your primary audience is, and who are your secondary audience. You also need to look for ways to talk to your secondary audience through alternative platforms. If those alternative platforms are not available, you should strive to reach your secondary audience through your primary audience.

Let me take an example. Let´s say that you need to reach women age 40 and their teenage sons age 15. One obvious way would be to speak to them through different channels - eg a website targeted at the demographics of women 40 to talk to the mothers, and an edgy Facebook page to talk to their 15 year old sons. If you try to communicate directly to both groups through the same website, you will for sure loose both. What if you only have one website, and you don´t have the means to make a cool and popular Facebook page for 15 year old boys by the time you have the need to communicate with them? Then you have only one choice: Speak to the mother! And even those things you would have liked to convey directly to the teenager, you need to word and package in such a way that you empower the mother to do the job for you.

In conclusion

  • Make as specific target groups as possible
  • Find out how your target groups are connected
  • Make a set of objectives for each target group
  • For each target group, you need to either:
    • Make a platform to reach them through
    • OR
    • Find another target group to work through

NB! In a website, please note that a "platform" for a secondary target group can also be a button for people of special interest to go to a specific section, like eg a board or employees, to go to a subsite or farther down in the hierarchy, but in general be very careful in catering to several groups in one website.

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