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Diversity in Audiences  

Julia Metag and Kira Klinger

Examining risk communication is important in determining how audiences perceive, understand, and ultimately respond to natural hazards and their causes as well as the (political) measures that are implemented to prevent them. The audience, however, should not be conceptualized as a uniform and homogeneous mass but, rather, as comprising distinct groups that differ in their perceptions of natural hazards, their attitudes toward risk, their knowledge and information behavior, as well as their behavior with regard to preparing for and acting during and after a natural hazard. Conceptualizing audiences in this way accounts for pluralization and fragmentation tendencies on a societal level. The diversity of audiences has led to segmentation analyses becoming a prominent approach in understanding audiences in social and behavioral sciences. An audience segment is identified by the shared characteristics of a specific group within a broader audience. From a risk communication perspective, acknowledging audience diversity and studying different audience segments allows for tailored risk communication regarding natural hazards. These segments can differ depending on which issue is concerned, and this can also change over time. When conducting audience segmentation analyses, researchers must choose between different types of segmentation analyses (e.g., a priori vs. post hoc analyses or psychographic vs. behavioral analyses), which kind of variables they select to base their segmentation on, which audience or population is under study, and which methodological (e.g., quantitative vs. qualitative methods) and analytical approach they apply. There are some audience segmentation studies directly dedicated to natural hazards which show that there are diverse audience groups differing in their awareness of the risks of natural hazards and their information behavior and needs. These studies reveal that examining diverse audiences based on segmentation can be beneficial in tailoring communication activities, engaging specific—particularly vulnerable—groups, and improving community participation. Regarding challenges, it remains questionable to what extent skeptical groups can be reached, even if they are identified through segmentation analysis, and whether separate segment-specific communication could come at the expense of building a social consensus. Nonetheless, target group–specific communication allows campaigners to foster dialogue regarding risks and natural hazards by enabling them to persuade many members of society to join the dialogue and use the segments’ preferred communication strategies in terms of channels, tone, and content.