As we’ve all seen, public understanding of an issue develops over time, often slowly, and in several stages. Compelling messaging will help you to connect with key audiences to shape public opinion on the cause that you work for and believe in.
But what does your audience know about your cause in the first place? We’ve adapted the Seven Stages of Public Opinion model (1) to give you some ideas for your next public campaign.
Are you raising an issue that no-one has heard of? Something that has not yet reached the public consciousness? To make your issue resonate with journalists and their audiences, it’s key that your message at this stage is simple, core and compact(2). Avoid the curse of knowledge and take the time to disseminate information to build public awareness.
Sense of urgency
This is when people realise that there is an issue and they start to develop an opinion on it. Making your message concrete can really help. In the business world, consider the case of Irish company, Sugru, developers of mouldable glue that turns into rubber. Apart from a small community of designers or makers, who cares, or even understands why they would want mouldable glue? Realising they were destined to remain a niche product if they failed to take action, Sugru made this video. Here they position their product for everyone – it’s a helping hand to fix annoying everyday problems that we all experience.
This is when public opinion has started to develop. People listen to other points of view and now start to evaluate the choices that they can make around your issue. Think about case studies and stories to help you connect with your audiences. By the time people reach this stage, they’re clarifying their thinking, talking to their friends and starting to understand more fully what supporting you means to them. If they give up time or resource, what do they get in return? In our workshops, we’ll give you structures to help you to develop a persuasive argument.
Accepting an idea
People are more ready to commit to an idea in their minds than in the actions they take. You could ask people to do something public, such as ‘Like a Facebook page’, ‘Share a post’ helps them to commit to a point of view. Once people have made a choice or adopted a position, they’ll want to behave consistently with that position (3). The Rainforest Alliance followed up the viral buzz from their Follow the Frog video with action-led social campaigns with partners to help consumers commit to buying Fairtrade.
Making a responsible judgment
This is where you move people to the stage where they will take an action – Vote! Buy! Do something differently! Public opinion has been developed. Believe in what you do, and make sure your message resonates with the audiences you need to reach.
1) Yankelovich, D. (1992) How public opinion really works. New York: Fortune. Available from: http://archive.fortune.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1992/10/05/76926/index.htm
2) Heath, D. & Heath, C. (2007) Made to stick New York: Random House
3) Fazio, R. H, Blascovich, J. & O’Driscoll, D.M. (1992) On the Functional Value of Attitudes: The Influence of Accessible Attitudes on the Ease and Quality of Decision Making. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 388-401