Selecting different ways to reach audiences: a strategically ongoing effort

20 August 2014
SERIES Think tanks and video 12 items

In this previous post about how think tanks are segmenting communications to reach different audiences we shared some findings of this study, mainly centred in the levels and tools with which these organisations go around segmentation. One of the main ones is the stakeholder mapping/analysis, which was also analysed in that post.

What do think tanks usually do after defining their priority stakeholders? Many of them compare these maps map with their existing offer in terms of content and communications channels. In doing so, they usually face some of the following situations:

  • Almost all their existing channels reach the different audiences making no distinction among them
  • There are issues that are attractive to only a few prioritised stakeholders
  • There are relevant stakeholders that they don’t reach with their areas of interest or adequate channels (for example, university students that could be engaged through Twitter)
  • There are existing channels with enough flexibility as to reach different stakeholders in diverse specific ways (i.e. an annual dinner can help convince donors about the contributions of the think tanks but also to show policymakers the kind of support that they could provide to them).

Consequently, and depending on the available resources, they need to decide which communication channels will be reinforced, modified or cancelled and which ones should be added to the current set.

In this regard, the following table presents the type of channels and tools used by think tanks that have been more successful for reaching specific stakeholders:

Type of channel/tool Stakeholder
External newsletter Peer organisationsDonors
Social mediaVideos General public, specially other organisations and university students/young people and media 


Forums/Seminars/ Open events  UniversitiesCentral Government

Civil servants with whom there is a close relationship

Internal newsletter ExecutivesContributors
Policy briefs  Subnational and local governmentsLegislators

Decision makers



Publications (books, research outputs, essays about and specific issue) More stable civil servants/ technocrats
Personal meetings/close events  Politicians with whom there is less proximity/ less developed bondsPoliticians with whom you work confidential or delicate issues


Training/Debates JournalistsFuture civil servants


Exclusive/outlined information  Journalists
Networking opportunities or visibility and recognition (events/ bi or multilateral meetings)  PoliticiansDonors
Inventory of publications and research  UniversitiesUniversity students

Future decision makers

Press (specially columns and opinion editorials) Civil servantsPoliticians


Journalists/ media persons

However, whatever mix of channels and tools is deployed, interviewees have stressed the need for continuous improvement and fine-tuning based on evaluating and learning about what is working better (which may be why IIED has a person focused on this issue). Indeed, segmentation is not a job that is done once; even during a project’s lifecycle it is possible that the organisation could include a stakeholder or a group of new stakeholders (for example, when opposition legislators request help for the design of a draft legislation), or detect a specific communications format that is not useful (for example, when a blog doesn’t have followers or comments).

Being dynamic is crucial. Think tanks should try to avoid getting stuck within categories. There is always the risk that categories identified through segmentation become ends in themselves, losing sight of the purpose of the research, the opportunities that emerge in the external context and the real needs of the end users.

Therefore, efforts are made by several think tanks to ensure that they are good at receiving and using feedback about the effect of their channels and communications practices in a very systematic way. Through trial-and-error approach they notice the ways to adjust their communication products, or detect the need to innovate or stop the use of certain tools.

So, is segmentation a good investment for think tanks? Our preliminary response would be yes, but as long as it does not become a rigid skeleton that constrains both the organisation and its stakeholders but a vibrant and dynamic way of thinking to promote effective interaction between what happens within the think tank and outside its walls.