A few years ago, I watched a famous rock and roll photographer discussing Freddie Mercury on Australian TV. Apparently, when Freddie Mercury was doing a sound check in preparation for an outdoor concert he would get his staff to put a tall, red flag at the very back of the field. When Freddie was asked why he did this he was reported to have said “we need to give the same experience to the people at that flag as those standing in the front row!” Freddie Mercury knew how to captivate and entertain his audience—all of them. That’s part of why his shows made such an impact and are now an indelible part of music history! But this attitude should not be reserved for rock stars.
This principle applies in both your personal and professional life and has never been truer in our globalised and social media savvy world.
In our professional lives, in particular for those working in the public service, this is of prime importance when working with stakeholders (irrespective of whether they are internal or external). This was made very clear to me when I recently created a financial reporting system for a client. It was to initially be used solely by the general manager who already had a solid understanding of the system and how to use it. I created the system to the agreed specifications and the client and the general manager were satisfied. However, weeks later I was asked to simplify the system because the client wanted a wider audience (a group of select employees) to also be able to use it. Since I had initially built the system for a more sophisticated user, this unexpected request resulted in a significant amount of re-work, in a very short time and at an additional cost to the client. This could have easily been avoided if I had thought about the potential wider audience, the consequential need for this simplification and raised this issue when I initially received the task.
Whether you agree or not, an inextricable part of our professional life is our personal brand. Yet, we all know how easily, and often, this can be forgotten. It seems almost every week there is a social media storm around misconstrued comments made in a social context yet on a public platform, on which there are innumerable varieties of audiences. There are strategies you can put in place when trying to target specific audiences but, in general, it is best to ensure your personal brand aligns with your professional brand (as they are entwined!) and that your brand is consistent.
It is important to be proactive and vigilant with knowing your audience, but I acknowledge that this is easier to remember in some environments. For example, during my time in legal roles this was drilled into me. It was important because everything I wrote could be viewed and interpreted by audiences outside of the intended recipient—for instance, a letter to a client may form part of a later dispute. Consequently, it could be reviewed by opposing lawyers and, in the worst case, scrutinised by a judge in court. However, outside of the legal profession, this constant, tangible reminder to know our audience is less prevalent or non-existent. So we need to draw on our self-discipline to ensure our message is received in the way it was intended.
Clearly, knowing your entire audience is a critical part of our lives and one we should strive to remember! Moreover, being positive and proactive around knowing your audience, in the same way Freddie Mercury was, is clearly advantageous. If you are, you will be a more powerful persuader and, more importantly for some, you will not need to worry as much about the risks associated with all forms of communication—which will be a big relief for those who harbour trepidation about using social media in their personal and/or professional lives.