2 - Identify Target Audiences and Channels
The second step for developing and implementing a risk communication program for fish and shellfish consumption advisories is to identify target audiences and channels.
The information contained in these webpages is based on extensive research by academics, other federal agencies, and states, and compiled by EPA. In the interest of readability, sources are cited at the end of each section. However, there are certain cases, e.g., tables, where the sources are cited within the body of the section.
Identify Target Population
Target populations are often defined very broadly, using just a few descriptors. Members of a target population are those who are most affected or most at risk from eating contaminated fish. The following examples could be the target population(s) for a fish consumption advisory (FCA):
- General public
- People who eat a lot of fish
- Pregnant women
- Nursing mothers
- The elderly
- People with certain allergies and/or underlying health issues (particularly for raw fish/shellfish)
Identify Target Audience(s)
Target audiences are carved or “segmented” from the target, or at risk, populations. Segmentation is defined as creating subgroups of a target population according to common characteristics. Segmentation can help in the development of messages, materials, and activities that are relevant to the target audience’s current behavior and specific needs, preferences, beliefs, cultural attitudes, knowledge, and reading habits
There may be differences in how the FCA is communicated to different segments of the target audiences, based on, for example, language, messaging, types of graphics, etc. Segmentation also helps identify the best channels for reaching each target audience, accounting for differences among populations, such as access to information, the information sources a specific target audience may find reliable, and learning preferences.
Define target audiences narrowly based on characteristics such as attitudes (e.g., existing beliefs about fish consumption), demographics, geographic region or patterns of behavior. Examples of how a target audience might be identified include people with a high school education, people with certain income levels who eat fish, people who may not trust the entity issuing the FCA, and people who are subsistence fishers.
Select target audiences and develop Communication Objectives in tandem. The target audience’s ability and willingness to make a behavior change affects the extent to which communications objectives are achievable and realistic.
Increase the FCA program’s effectiveness by developing strategies that are attuned to the needs and wants of different intended target audience segments, i.e. the groups to whom FCA experts want to communicate the message. Learn as much as possible about each target audience. Use as many target audiences as necessary to reach everyone that needs to know about the FCA.
When possible, compare individuals who have already modified their fish consumption behaviors with those who have not, and identify the determinants of their behavior. For example, there may be misconceptions that are causing members of a target audience not to modify their fish consumption behavior to be within the recommendations of the FCA.
Target audiences are defined narrowly based on characteristics such as attitudes (e.g., existing beliefs about fish consumption), demographics, geographic region or patterns of behavior. Examples might include people with a high school education and certain income levels who eat fish or who may not trust the entity issuing the FCA, and people who are subsistence fishers.
Select target audiences and develop communication objectives in tandem. The target audience’s ability and willingness to make a behavior change affects the extent to which communications objectives are reasonable and realistic.
Increase the FCA program’s effectiveness by developing strategies that are attuned to the needs and wants of different intended target audience segments. Learn as much as possible about each target audience. Use as many target audiences as necessary to reach everyone that needs to know about the FCA.
When possible, compare individuals who have already modified their fish consumption with those who have not, and identify the determinants of their behavior. For example, there may be misconceptions that are causing members of a target audience not to modify their fish consumption to within safe limits.
Characteristics that can be used to Define Target Audiences
When defining target audiences, FCA program managers can consider a variety of characteristics to help them determine common features of the target audiences. The following characteristics are typically used to do this.
- Behavioral – health-related activities or choices, degree of readiness and willingness to change a behavior, information-seeking behavior, media use, and lifestyle characteristics
- Audience emotional and social context can influence whether they can or will take actions that the message recommends
- Cultural – language proficiency and language preferences, religion, ethnicity, generational status, family structure, degree of acculturation, and lifestyle factors (e.g., activities)
- Demographic – occupation, income, educational attainment, family situation, places of residence and work, reading level
- Physical – sex, age, type and degree of exposure to health risks, medical condition
- Psychographic – attitudes, outlook on life and health, opinions, beliefs, values, self-efficacy, life stage, and personality traits
- Literacy skills
- Economic issues - importance of fish as a food source
- Note: The ethnic composition of a location can change dramatically depending on the latest influx of people to that location.
Primary and Secondary Target Audiences
There are primary target audiences and secondary target audiences. The general primary target audiences for FCAs are later in this section. Secondary target audiences are those who can influence the primary target audiences or those whose actions are required to help cause the change in the primary target audience. For example, medical professionals would be considered a secondary target audience because their advice can cause behavioral changes in primary target audiences.
Reaching the Target Audience
It is necessary to effectively communicate with target audiences to learn about their characteristics and ultimately to communicate the contents of the FCA.
Some people are reached most easily by mail, product labels, radio, television, landline, mobile phone, or various social networks. Some people rely on channels within their ethnic, language, faith, or ideological communities. Some need help with seeing, hearing, reading, or concentrating.
Immigrant groups, which may have common behavioral norms regarding fish consumption that are reinforced within their communities, may be easiest to reach through community organizations serving these populations. The composition of the affected groups may be changing rapidly in some areas, such as cities that are ports of entry for immigrant and refugee groups or rural and other areas where particular groups have settled.
How to Gather Information on Target Audiences
There are different ways to gather information to learn about target audiences. The best ways to reach individual target audiences may differ by target audience. As the information on one target audience is gathered, it may become apparent that there are additional target audiences. The following are different approaches developers of FCAs can use to obtain information about target audiences:
- Talk to community leaders where the target audiences reside. The community leader(s) will likely know the best methods for reaching the target audience. Begin talking with local leaders and local health departments to find out who the contacts in the community should be and who else to speak with to obtain information about target audiences for the FCA. Try to identify the issues from their perspective(s).
- Use focus groups. Focus groups can be an important tool to identify key information from the target audience. Focus groups provide the current awareness level of FCAs, what the information needs are, current behavioral practices, and the importance of the fish consumption-related issues to the target audience. Focus groups can help design surveys that will obtain the best information from the target audience.
- Use surveys (e.g., mail, telephone, in-person, email).
- Use research studies, government reports (including census information), health care organization information and other documents that can provide useful profiles.
Pros and Cons of Information - Gathering Techniques
|Focus Group||Economical||Bias risk|
|In-depth information||Cannot generalize|
|Survey||Can focus on rare population subgroups||Cannot generalize|
|Can generate large samples|
|Email Survey||Representative sample is possible||Low response rate
|Economical||Lots of missing data|
|May not know who actually filled out the questionnaire|
|Telephone Survey||Representative sample is likely||Declining response rates|
|Can gather a lot of data||Expensive|
|Closed-ended questions are not always ideal|
|In-person survey||Maximizes respondent cooperation||Very expensive for any but the smallest populations|
|Maximizes response rate|
- Questions for Gathering Information on a Target Audience
- Building Trust
- Why People Fish/Importance of Fishing
When developing a FCA, it can help to address possible target audience(s)’ misconceptions and misperceptions. For example, FCAs could include diagrams or simplified language to address bioaccumulation if a target audience believes that because the water is clear and tastes good, the fish must be safe to eat. The following list can be a starting point to figuring out target audience misconceptions.
You may need a PDF reader to view some of the files on this page. Refer to EPA’s About PDF page to learn more.
Fish Consumption and Environmental Justice (2002) (PDF) (185 pp, 2 MB)
A Framework and Information Needs for the Management of the Risks from Consumption of Self-caught Fish, Environmental Research 101 (2006)
Audience Analysis and Pretesting of Michigan Fish Advisory Materials Final Report Prepared By Pradeep Sopory, James Cherney, Donna Kashian, Wayne State University, November 11, 2013
Risk Communication in Action: The Risk Communication Workbook (PDF) (75 pp, 15 MB) (EPA, 2007)