There’s a lot of talk these days about the challenge of “hard to reach” audiences. Many times, these demographic groups or population segments are not truly difficult to engage. They just live outside the daily experience and cultural competence of many agency and client communicators.

How can your healthcare institution – which actually does the work of population health – get on people’s radar?

Meet Your Audience Where They Are

You have to speak the language of your audience and reach them at the places they are. Using the wrong language or placing advertising in the wrong places is a waste of money and an ineffective way to be heard.

I’ve seen too many healthcare institutions run public health campaigns using big words and confusing language. This reads well to doctors, healthcare administrators and academics, but it often leaves target audiences confused, searching further for simplified explanations, or worse – uneducated about their risks and options.

Likewise, if you want to affect the environmental health of your population, you have to reach into the digital space when implementing your healthcare campaigns. The digital environment is just as important to a vast majority of the populace as their natural environment. We are seeing our best public health campaign results using mobile channels and especially social media.

With this in mind, don’t be afraid of using bold language and precision targeting to get your public health message across. Tell people directly that you are the expert in their area. Create distribution networks for your content and utilize tools like paid search, remarketing and paid social campaigns to target a specific region or population. Get in people’s digital faces, and be authentic with them.

Doing It Right

We’re involved in campaigns for the Rhode Island Department of Health that are generating terrific outcomes using these principles. These include efforts to increase HIV testing, promote substance use recovery programs, prevent type 2 diabetes and enroll young mothers in family visiting programs. Another campaign for a national AIDs organization meets the audience where they are – using websites catering to men who have sex with men to talk about the dangers of unprotected sex. In each case, we designed the messaging and media approach with a lot of audience involvement and testing, to ensure we were speaking their language.

Moral of the story?

Creating positive population health outcomes needs to be supported by the right tools in order to effect change. Understanding your audience, speaking their language, and leveraging the power of the digital environment over a population’s health choices can bring new dynamics to your next public health campaign.