Reaching Your Chosen Audience

Thinking about the audience for your digital history project is an important step in any digital history project.

Few of us, especially in the nonprofit world, have the luxury of creating these types of online projects without a defined purpose: to educate, to motivate, or to engage a specific population. We might hope to create a resource for students and teachers on a specific topic, or aim to persuade people to come visit our sites in person. In other words, we want to accomplish something specific with our digital projects.

So how do we know if we’re succeeding?

Audiences for digital projects are just as important as those for public events. You don't want to be talking to an empty house.

Once a digital project has launched, how can you make sure that your selected audience has not only noticed you, but also is acting or learning or thinking in the way you hoped they would?

First, you need to confirm just who *is* using your site. You can use a tool like Google Analytics to track numbers of users, which pages are getting the most traffic, how long users stay on the site, and much more.

You probably also want to reach out to users directly to get their feedback. SurveyMonkey is a simple, free tool for creating online surveys. Or you could email a questionnaire to users (or people you hope are your users). If you have access to potential audience members at public programs or other in-person events, you could ask them to fill out paper surveys or interview them directly.

But be prepared: you might not like what you hear. Users might misconstrue your main theme, or be confused by your site structure, or hate your color scheme. Heck, you might learn that your desired audience isn’t even using the tool you’ve carefully chosen, adapted or crafted for them.

All is not lost! Sometimes, you can get your goals back on track with a little strategic marketing. You can’t expect your chosen audience to stumble upon your digital history project on their own. You need to publicize it in ways that will connect with your chosen audience: on list-servs, in social media, in newsletters or in the media, at public events, etc. Make sure your new project is getting the attention it deserves.

If you’ve already marketed the heck out of your digital project and you still aren’t connecting with the right audience, you may need to get more creative.

Why else might your chosen audience not be using your site? Do they need additional training, or enticements for using the digital resource? For example, if you’re hoping to connect with teachers, would it help to hold training workshops to give them the confidence to use your site in the classroom? Or perhaps a digital scavenger hunt or other online contest could help encourage your selected audience to explore the new digital resource?

Worst case, perhaps you need to tweak either your tool or your ideas about who is your audience. But you might just learn something that will help make your current and future digital projects successful.

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