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Messaging audiences

Create effective protest messaging
7 min read
Last update: Nov 8, 2023

In this article, you will learn how to formulate your message effectively by analysing your stakeholders and targets.

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Having the greatest and most convincing campaign for stopping climate change isn't worth anything if there is nobody who is willing to listen to it. That's where the importance of identifying possible stakeholders comes into play. Just like in marketing a new product it is important to identify some sort of target audience you want your product, or in our case your campaign (or similar things) to reach. Campaigning with a clear audience in mind, makes topics way more specific and better received. But to be able to do this you not only have to identify or create your audience but also adjust your content based on the behaviour or interests of your stakeholders.

In this article, we discuss:

  1. How to identify your campaign’s key objectives and stakeholders

  2. How to address your audience in a proper way and match your content to the audience. (e.g. Make it more or less specific, personal etc.)

  3. Past examples of campaigns with a targeted audience

  4. How to communicate your movement to make it grow 🪴

  5. The power of storytelling and setting the right narratives

Identifying objectives and stakeholders

Based on the issue that has made you want to take action, there are several ways or steps in defining the objectives of your campaign and the best stakeholders to engage with. This should be reflected in your communications:

  • Identify the issue: Take a broad look at the overall problem and ask yourself “where is my action best placed?” and “what concrete change do I want to encourage?”. Based on that, you might be able to identify the specific ambitions of your activism. This will help you narrow down your objectives to a select few.

  • Determine the goals you want to achieve. Determine what you want to achieve through your activism campaign. This could be a change in policy, increased public awareness, or a shift in societal attitudes.

  • Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals: Develop goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, your goal could be to gather 10,000 signatures on a petition within a month.

  • Identify key groups: Identify the groups that are most affected by the issue, as well as those who have the power to make changes. This can include affected communities, local and national government officials, business owners, advocacy groups, and the media. Reach out to the local community and organize meetings to meet with the stakeholders, while being open to their ideas. In turn, this will help with recruitment involving those who are impacted directly.

  • Assess power and interest: Evaluate the level of power and interest each group has in the issue. This can help prioritise your engagement efforts and determine the level of effort needed to influence each group. For your activism campaign to be effective, you should focus on one stakeholder group. ‘Catch-all’ campaigns are generally ineffective. Make sure you adopt an intersectional perspective that takes into account race, class, gender and disabilities.

  • Determine messaging and tactics: Based on the stakeholder mapping, develop messaging and tactics that will resonate with each group. This can include targeted social media campaigns, public rallies, lobbying efforts, or media outreach.

  • Contact different entities that are involved in decisions (politicians, public departments, companies) and devise a plan on how to best put pressure on them. (Petitions, sit-in protests, suing them in courts, boycotts).

  • Continuously monitor and adjust: As the campaign progresses, continue to monitor stakeholder engagement and adjust your messaging and tactics as needed.

It might seem like these steps aren’t linked to communications directly, yet these steps are necessary in your message being correctly appreciated. If the objectives and key stakeholders of the campaign aren’t correctly identified and reflected in your campaign’s communications, your message will be poorly understood.

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Reaching your goal can have multiple paths

And its very important to reach out and cooperate with as many different institutions, organisations and groups that you can

And the limit to who you can cooperate with is only set by imagination

Every institution that specialises on a subject or field can help you in their way

And this is often overlooked because some connections aren't immediately obvious

A perfect example would be Serbian organisation "ORSP" working to stop construction of mini hydroelectric power plants on certain rivers, that would destroy ecosystems and surrounding villages that get their water supply from those rivers.

They cooperated with Faculty for Architecture in Belgrade to revive those affected villages and bring more value to them, therefore making the projects that would destroy them, less likely to happen

You can also reach out to different stakeholders, that are maybe not directly affected by the issue and find a way to show them how your goal would help them gain or stop a loss in their field

A polluted river in one area of country will lead to local fishermen loosing bossiness, while others will gain from exporting to that area

But what if disturbing that balance of each area having local product leads to some other issues, that no one is aware of

Such a connection can bring an ally to your goal, that would otherwise be indifferent or even against it.

Targeting your message

-"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference."

-Elie Wiesel

You can bet that those who are not already fighting alongside you or against you are indifferent. And that has always been the reason activist movements struggle. If they don't stand to gain or loose from something, people, organizations, governments and businesses Will Not Care.

It is up to you to make them care.

To find a subject, a goal, an angle, that will give them a reason to be your supporter.

Recently in my workplace we have finally received recycling bins for cardboard and glass, of which there is a lot. And the motivator was simple, money. The city public utility offered to pay for all the material my workplace recycles, and even though its a really small amount of money that they will receive from it, it was enough of a push to change them from indifferent to recyclers and to provide both place and organization around it.

When planning an activism campaign, it's important to consider who the target audience is and tailor the message accordingly. This involves researching and understanding the values, interests, and concerns of the intended audience. By identifying what motivates and inspires them, campaigners can tailor their message to resonate with their target audience and encourage them to take action.

  • Identify the different audiences: Conduct research to understand the different segments of your target audience, such as age, gender, geographic location, or interest groups. This will help you create targeted messaging for each segment.

  • Craft specific messaging: Use language, imagery, and tone that will resonate with each segment of the audience. For example, if you're targeting a younger audience, you may want to use social media platforms like TikTok or Instagram, and use trending hashtags or popular memes in your messaging, but if you want to target policymakers, Twitter is the best platform to reach out to them.

  • If you can, use data-driven insights: Use social listening tools like BuzzSumo, Talkwalker, or Hootsuite to understand the conversations and trends relevant to your target audience. This can help you craft messaging that is timely and resonates with them.

  • Engage with the audience: Engage with the audience by responding to their comments, feedback, and concerns. This will show them that you're listening and that their voice matters.

Examples: types of messaging

There are many ways in which activist campaigns can use effective messaging, but here are a few examples to illustrate the different approaches:

  • Make it less boring: Anything new, different or unusual is bound to catch our eye. Reclaim land for agricultural purposes through guerrilla gardening, give away free croissants, or dance for the climate.

  • Focus on the solutions: When activism focuses solely on the problem or negative aspects of a situation, it can leave people feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and disengaged. Shift the narrative!

  • Create good stories: Use spoken word or creative storytelling in your campaigns to inspire change.

Tactics to grow your movement

  • Demonstrate effective activism, so people feel inspired and can join voluntarily. Try to make the success of your activities visible. Potential activists are attracted by successful organizations. Do campaigns and events in your town and do protests for example. People will notice that you can make an impact and consider joining your movement. Nobody likes to think they can’t make a difference.

  • Ask people to join (many people might not even know of your organization; spread the word and increase the outreach. tell your family, friends and other people from your circle who might share similar interests about your organization. maybe they will be inspired and tell others about it too.)

  • Give support, be progressive yourself as an activist

  • Support community organizations

  • Approach the people based on their individual perceptions (some people are more likely to become activists because they have experienced or witnessed injustice and already feel the need to become active

  • Spread flyers in your local area (with links to website)

  • Advertise on your website

  • Detailed and specific messaging, make the readers / listeners feel approached on a personal level, make them feel like they can have an impact in a certain field. Make them feel valuable

  • Talk to the newly joined members, interact with them, so they feel included and want to stay with your movement

  • Use social media channels like Instagram or YouTube to spread powerful messages, repost political statements of others, post important messages related to currently discussed topics

  • Knowledge is power: inform other people. Being informed or informing others can also be a form of activism

External resources

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