“At its most basic, community resilience is about people.” I started my last post that way, but it wasn’t quite accurate. Community resilience is about people, but people taking action. Community resilience is a contact sport; couch potatoes and Monday morning quarterbacks don’t help anybody become more resilient [I know, I know; I’ve been watching too much playoff football].
That means that our messages about resilience must be about taking action, i.e., we have to judge our success in terms of action not how far and wide we broadcast the message. Sure, delivering the message is a necessary step but it’s not sufficient. The message must be received and must be actionable. In that sense, there are five steps between those of us who want more resilient communities and those who have to actually take action.
- We have to know who our target audience is.
- We have to prepare a message that will inspire our audience and guide them in taking action. We have to know what actions we want the audience to take and be sure that the resources are available to take those actions.
- We must deliver the message. That means we need to know how our target audience gets information and whom they trust, and get the message to as many of our target audience as possible. Knowing when to communicate wouldn’t hurt, either.
- The audience has to receive the message. Not only do they have to acknowledge it, they have to accept the message.
- Finally, the audience has to take action.
The hoopla around social media focuses on the third step – delivering the message. But too often the hoopla doesn’t really consider the audience at all, nor the message. Most importantly, it ignores the most important point of all – the message has to drive action.
So let’s make this more concrete by considering homeowners as our target audience. From my last post, we know that homeownership is skewed toward older Americans, and that there are good reasons to expect the situation to stay that way. The action we want is for homeowners to protect their homes from natural disasters – windstorms and hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and other weather extremes (and let’s assume that someone more eloquent and articulate than I have crafted some really dynamite messages!). This immediately says that we need different messages for different parts of the country – messages about hurricanes won’t inspire action in Oklahoma.
How do we deliver the message? What role should social media play? Well, let’s look at some data. The Pew Research Center has periodically conducted surveys around internet and social media usage. For their last survey in 2013, they found that 85% of adult Americans used the internet – 98% of those aged 18-29, declining to 56% of those 65 and older. Among internet users, two-thirds used Facebook, but only one-sixth used Twitter and even less used other social media. 83% of internet users 18-29 were on social media compared to only one-third of internet users 65 and older. Combining this with our demographic information about homeowners gives the following graph of the fraction of homeowners using social media for each age group.
So am I saying that we shouldn’t use social media? Most definitely not. What I am trying to say is that a campaign aimed at homeowners that is focused on social media will leave over half of the target audience unmoved (And perhaps much more than half – how many social media messages will actually be trusted enough to spur action?). How do we reach the those who don’t use social media?
Traditional print media offer one path. While readership is decreasing, over half of adults 55-64, and 62% of those 65 and older still read newspapers daily. Augmenting a social media campaign with newspaper messages specifically aimed at older Americans could pay great dividends. And what about getting the messages into the churches? Any devoted churchgoer recognizes that this population is both skewed toward older Americans and that the messengers are more likely to be trusted than many other sources of information – ministers, friends and neighbors all rank highly in surveys about trusted messengers.
This post is already too long so I won’t go into detail about crafting a message properly (not to mention I’m a really lousy source for that kind of information). What I’ve tried to do is point out that communicating resilience messages isn’t about broadcasting but action. We have to know who we want to take what actions, and how we can best reach them. Why? – because we want our communities to be more resilient.