Determining Audience in the Social Media Age


Lisa Gerardy, Purdue University Global Writing Center Specialist

One of the most important parts of a piece of writing is the audience. When a student takes a writing class, no matter if it’s composition, creative writing, or any other writing course, identifying the audience is very important. The perceived audience can change the way a message is delivered, both in writing and in verbal communication.  If a student is writing an essay geared towards kids, he or she may use a kinder voice, but if the student pictures a stern professor, he or she will likely be more formal.  The same is true for professors and administrators.  The perceived audience can change the writer’s tone and message.

For some of us, our first experience with writing for an audience was when we wrote letters to Santa.   Santa is a very definite audience.  Children know who he is, and they know what to write to him.  As we get older, and write for a variety of people, for both professional and personal purposes, it can be tougher to determine how to communicate with our audience.  This is because we begin to make assumptions about our audience.

With the invention of the Internet, and social media specifically, communication has become immediate.  Thus, everyone’s virtual audience has grown.  Instead of having in-person discussions, or phone calls with friends and co-workers, we can now log into Facebook and learn everyone’s opinions on religion, politics and many other topics.  That is when the judging begins.  In short, we learn too much about each other’s personal lives, which should not affect our professional relationships.

When we email a colleague, we may remember that political post we saw on her social media page, and change what we say based on assumptions about the recipient of the email.  If we befriend students, we also learn about their opinions and personal lives. Before social media, we would just focus on the message, on the task at hand, if you will, first, and then the audience.  Now, the audience plays a bigger role because we assume more, which changes the way we deliver the message.

So, when communicating with anyone, colleagues, students, family, or friends, we have to be careful not to pass judgement because of information gained via social media.  We can’t place everyone in a little box.  When we look at Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, let’s focus more on those common kitten pictures, and less on the election year rants.  It will keep communication professional and collegial.




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