A very diverse population exists in rural communities and they are faced with unique challenges and opportunities. This is important to understand when determining a target audience for a rural organization and how to best communicate with that audience while recognizing these differences.
I have been fortunate to work with the Brock Community Health Centre since its inception. As the “new kid on the block” ten years ago, the organization was no different than a newcomer just moving into the neighbourhood. It took time and patience to gain the trust of the community, and it was clear that building relationships, being involved, and communicating in a very open, transparent and humble manner was the key to acceptance.
Our target audience is as diverse as the population – there are farming families who have lived in Brock Township for generations; blue collar workers who moved from the city to raise families; and an upswing of educated and trendy millennials. They range in income, lifestyles, education and age, although seniors and youth are our priority populations. Community health centres address the social determinants of health, so we aim to assist people who face barriers such as income, employment, transportation and isolation.
The advantage of connecting to a rural audience is that most people are well connected within their community. Once the Centre gained the community’s trust, partnerships were formed with the Township, local schools, and allied organizations, and personal relationships were developed. Connecting to and working with established groups such as churches, seniors networks, schools, coffee shops, Lions Clubs, etc., allowed us to communicate with our target audience.
Currently, face to face contact, networking and print publications (newsletters, flyers, advertisements in the local paper) are our prime sources of communications. We look forward to launching our social media presence in the very near future to connect more broadly with our target audience, to listen and respond, and to complement our overall communications strategy. Our primary platform will be Facebook, as this is widely used in our community now to share programs, services and information and we will easily connect to existing networks. We will also use Twitter to connect with our allied organizations and will explore YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest for our youth programs. In this rural community, talking on the street still seems the preferred way to communicate, but social media will allow us to greatly expand our reach.