Summary: "Preaching to the Converted": Engaging Your Audience and Combating Issue Fatigue

I moderated an online discussion on ArtTribesNetwork, on engaging your audience to combat issue fatigue. The discussion participants were from The Fledgling Fund, Cinereach, the Center for Social Media at American University, The Skoll Foundation, Global Grassroots, The Tiziano Project, the NYC Leadership Academy and the Miami International Film Festival, as well as two independent filmmakers (Brian Glazer, Producer of What We Got: DJ Spooky’s Quest for the Commons, and Marilyn Perez) and a social media expert (Howard Greenstein). We fleshed out some interesting ideas during the hour.

The transcript is online at Here is a brief summary of the discussion:

Causes of issue fatigue
We briefly discussed causes of issue fatigue (also calling it compassion fatigue or psychic numbing). One reason audiences might disengage from a cause is their perception that there has either been no effective activism strategy put into place, or that there is no effective intervention or forward movement arising from activist efforts.

Another currently relevant reason is the economic crisis that affects our interests at home, which cause audience members to focus less on “distant” issues.

Similarly, issue fatigue hits audiences for causes that are large (hitting vast numbers of people) and/or “removed” from audience members’ daily lives faster than for issues to which they can relate personally or which center on one person in particular.

Keeping issue fatigue at bay
Discussion participants detailed their recommendations for keeping their audiences interested and committed. While you can’t necessarily apply the same questions and strategies to social issue media projects that have disparate or unique goals, the participants did come up with an overarching framework for most social issue media campaigns.

(1) Start with
(a) An exceptionally committed outreach team
(b) Sufficient resources to carry through your outreach and engagement plans
(c) A select, interested audience that will help you move the issue forward by engaging in activism and increase audience numbers by spreading the word, and
(d) Clear outreach goals for each audience segment.

(2) Given that issue fatigue hits when audience members feel disconnected, audience members must feel as if they belong to the movement and feel ownership over the outcome of activist efforts. Our participants talked about the importance of creating a personal, emotional connection to the cause through
(a) Visual imagery,
(b) A strong narrative that focuses on the story of one affected person (be that a witness, victim or survivor), and
(c) The opportunity to contribute through user-generated media.

(3) Social issue media campaigns built on slow, collective and continual action are most effective. The more people are exposed to the message through multiple media, the more likely they'll be to respond and/or take action. Therefore, campaigns must provide a pathway to action through creative opportunities for engagement.

It helps to engage in transmedia efforts, by continually creating and delivering new media, information, technologies and opportunities in order to maintain attention, through multiple distribution channels (traditional as well as digital and online), along with the opportunity to engage personally and collectively, in the real world.

(4) To communicate with your base, participants agreed that web 2.0 tools and social networks create an instant, global audience and deliver media and information most effectively. Digital communications tools are particularly useful for convening people virtually; sharing information, resources and referrals; getting attention; and inviting participation. In addition, you can encourage your audience to promote your message to their contacts in their own words.

(5) Audience members respond when the issue is highlighted in the local or national press, as this keeps driving and creating new interest in the issue.

(6) Finally, audience members also respond when they see their efforts are working. Therefore, participants encouraged providing feedback loops and impact measurements.

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