Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Everybody altogether - from "audiences" to "communities"

Audience. I try my hardest to use this word pretty judiciously. We live in an interconnected world - people are organized into communities or networks or however you want to envision it - they have relationships with each other. It's the main way that people hear about (much less act on) things - through the people that they are connected to. And even the connections themselves are ever shifting.

For me, the word audience tends to conjure up a group of people looking attentively at a stage - a group sitting there because, at least in theory, they want to see, hear, or experience what is on that stage. I'm sure there are more nuanced understandings of audiences out there (I've definitely seen interesting work in literature about theater, for example), but I think the use of the word when it comes to science communication connotes a pretty one-way "transmission" of content to people that are willing to absorb it, and don't interact much with each other around it. In reality, the communications world is far messier these days.

I know this, and yet I still can't totally, consistently wrap my mind around how it changes, in practice, how I do my own work. I have been asking the question a lot lately and I'm not sure that a lot of people have answers that go beyond the theoretical, or don't at some base level revert back to an "audience" model even if trying really hard not to. And, there are some tools. For example, social network analysis can help to better understand communities we work with and how they interact. We might target thought leaders, knowing that they can influence their networks. Or work to get somebody with a lot of followers to retweet something.

But on an even more basic level, it feels like there is a lot more to be gained by engaging deeply with how a shift from audiences to communities changes science communications practice. It's why I spend a lot of time thinking in terms of relatedness and the listening side of communications practice, but I'm curious about what else I should be thinking about.

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  1. I actually wrote a journal paper about "audience construction" during scientific controversies, if you are curious to see.

    1. Thanks for reading, and for the comment Jason. I was thinking of your paper when I wrote that in a sort of drive by way - I did read it a year or two ago. I should take a look again because I'm curious about whether or not the conception of audience in science communication can be expanded, or whether community is really a better way of looking at it. I'm mostly trying to get at how relationships between the people that we are interacting with influences the ways that we might think about communicating. And, maybe if "properly" defined, it's actually a fine word.