Part Three: What’s the difference?

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Audience Engagement vs. Community Engagement

Part Three: What’s the difference?

There are many things that seem similar but couldn’t be more different: capitol and capital; prostrate and prostate; rein, reign, and rain; and, of course, audience engagement and community engagement.

Confusing audience engagement and community engagement is certainly less embarrassing than interchanging prostrate and prostate, but the difference doesn’t have to be ambiguous.

Since this is the third segment in a series exploring the difference a one word answer is not to be expected. Though if one word were chosen, some top picks might be:

  1. Growth
  2. Development
  3. Quantitative
  4. Qualitative
  5. Focus
  6. Relationship

If I’ve learned anything from 17+ years of school, it’s that multiple choice questions can be narrowed down to the two most similar answers, so this is would make it seem that the difference between audience engagement and community engagement must be quantitative or qualitative. (Disclaimer: Multiple choice testing has many shortcomings and not generating quality answers is just one of them.)

Existing research and comparative analysis was limited but the Arts Journal had an article of relevance. “For [Doug Borwick], audience engagement is outreach; its end result is more attendees: expanded “reach.” Community engagement is focused on developing partnerships, deep ones; its end result is trust and understanding from which expanded reach can be pursued.” (Borwick, 2012). Borwick is not the first to diluted audience engagement to reach (read: growth or market share), while community engagement is glorified as development of “deep” partnerships. Audience engagement is often viewed as a facet of fascist consumerism but it is a much more complex concept than another revenue-generating marketing tool.

If only there was a side-by-side comparison of the various components of audience engagement and community engagement… Oh wait! Cue CTM Professional Services to swoop in to the rescue. Though “audience development” is used instead of “audience engagement”, CTM Professional Services offers an in-depth comparative analysis. The figure is included below (Figure 7) for review and select highlights are isolated for further analysis thereinafter.

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Figure 7: Audience Development Compared to Community Engagement

CTM Professional Services identifies several major differences, which include:

  1. Short term marketing strategy vs. long term strategy
  2. Analyze who is and who is not coming vs. analyze what matters to the community
  3. Focus on increasing numbers vs. focus on developing relationships/partnerships
  4. Internally focused approach vs. externally focused approach
  5. Constant identity and goals vs. Changing identity and goals

The strategy length (1) and the duration or identity and goals (5) go hand-in-hand. Audience engagement as a goal of an organization has some stability even as the organization changes, the only caveat to this is that as audience engagement emerges as a field of interest for companies, institutions, and organizations, so does audience engagement planning. Instead of short term marketing strategies, audience engagement can be approached with a long term multi-tier strategy.

Due to the externally dependant nature of community (4), long term planning should be more difficult for community engagement than it is for the internally-focused scope of audience engagement (4) according to the CTM comparison. The objective (3) that could support short term vs. long term (1) as outlined by CTM states that audience engagement focuses more qualitative goals (increasing numbers) than the more qualitative focus of community engagement (developing relationships/partnerships), which would require an abstract approach.

Community engagement planning conducted with an abstract approach lends itself to a long term structure more readily than the specific tactics that would need to be enacted to achieve the qualitative results desired by audience engagement planning (again, according to the parameters CTM has designed). Given the qualitative vs. quantitative nature of the analysis (2) who is and who isn’t coming versus what matters to the community, this would also lend itself to short term tactical approach for audience engagement versus abstract long term planning for community engagement.

The bothersome aspect of this is how it cuckolds audience engagement as a numbers game. When revisiting definitions established in Part One: What is audience engagement? and Part Two: What is community engagement?, these definitions are developed:

Audience engagement is interaction for the purpose of growth and development of the audience.

Community engagement is collaborative interactions within the community to enforce the community’s mission and purpose.

Does that make audience engagement sound like a quantitative numbers game? Audience engagement is quantitative only in the objective of growth, not in the equally important component of audience engagement, which is increasing involvement (read: development) of the audience (despite the ambitious goals of growing audience through audience development, see Part One, Para 6+). There is overlap between audience engagement and community engagement when efforts are made to improve quality of the audience. The qualitative development efforts mirror community engagement efforts.

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Figure 8: Audience Engagement vs. Community Engagement, Qualitative and Quantitative Perspectives

The focus on “quantitative digs” and revenue-focus within audience engagement detracts from the more meaningful strategy that qualitative measures can support in audience engagement planning. Generally audience engagement is more focused on generating growth than community engagement. However, not many community groups furrow their brow at the prospect of increasing their numbers. More members in a support group can offer more support. More members in a community baseball league afford flexibility for members to skip sessions without ruining a game. More is better in a lot of ways—it is a supersize me world we live in after all, but we cannot forget about quality.

Even in audience engagement, which focuses on growth more than development (quantitative more than qualitative) it is important to understand that audience engagement is still an “important strategic initiative for public relation planners” as stated by Ronald Smith in Strategic Planning for Public Relations, Fourth edition (Smith, 2013, p.115), and not just a revenue generating push.

There is a selfish nature at the heart of audience engagement. Audience engagement uses “strong two-way communication tactics and engaging audiences and publics in your communications tactics.” (Smith, 2013, p.115). But the two-way communication is not equal. Audience engagement tactics and strategies are designed to benefit the organization, not the audience. No matter how noble the goals, it still puts the audience on the weaker side in the power dynamics of the communication. A teacher may want to engage a class to increase knowledge transfer but the goal of knowledge transfer is still the teacher’s goal and not necessarily the audience’s goal.

The power dynamics in community engagement are equitably distributed. Community engagement still fulfills a purpose, but it is a purpose central to the community, rather than decided one-sidedly.

Despite the dissimilar power dynamics between audience engagement and community engagement, Borwick and CTM Professional Services are short-sighted by writing off the relationship-development and connections made via audience engagement. Referring back to “The Unofficial Tom Cruise Model” (see Figure 1 below from Part One: What is audience engagement?), which is a reminder that developing the audience and creating meaningful connections is of principal importance to audience engagement strategies. The development of the existing base not only keeps them and allows the audience to inadvertently pursue recruitment and growth. Connections and relationship building is equally important in audience engagement and community engagement.

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Figure 1: Effects of Audience Engagement Activities on Audience Base and Audience Quality (The Unofficial Tom Cruise Model of Audience Engagement)

Engagement, be it audience engagement or community engagement, hinges on connections and building relationships. Other elements contrast, such as:

  • quantitative core values (growth);
  • qualitative goals (development and implementation of mission and purpose);
  • internal/external focus; and
  • power dynamics

Nevertheless, creating meaningful connections is imperative in both audience engagement and community engagement.

Sources:

Association of Alaska School Board. (n.d.). Community Engagement. Association of Alaska School Boards’ Initiative for Community Engagement. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://alaskaice.org/community-engagement/

Borwick, D. (May 13 2012). Audience engagement-community engagement. Arts Journal. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://www.artsjournal.com/engage/2012/05/audience-engagement-community-engagement/

Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization. (2006). Our Organizing Model. Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization. Retrieved August 30, 2013, from http://ccisco.org/about-us/

Drelick, J. (n.d.). Today’s word is ‘Sustainability’. Jesse Drelick. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://jessedrelick.com/todays-word-is-sustainability/

Halifax Regional Municipality. (2013). What is Community Engagement? Halifax Regional Municipality. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from https://www.halifax.ca/crca/CommunityEngagement/

Gaspersz, Anne-Sophie. (September 15 2012). How Online Communities Work: Fostering and Sustaining Engagement in Online Communities (Model). Think Online Community. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from http://thinkonlinecommunity.com/2012/09/15/how-online-communities-work-fostering-and-sustaining-engagement-in-online-communities/

Lester, Rick. (June 27 2013). Audience Engagement’s No Man’s Land. TRG Arts. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://www.trgarts.com/Blog/BlogPost/tabid/136/ArticleId/175/Audience-Engagement-s-No-Man-s-Land.aspx

Pratten, R. (August 5 2013). A Content Strategy for Audience Engagement. Workbook Project. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://workbookproject.com/culturehacker/2010/08/05/a-content-strategy-for-audience-engagement/

Smith, R.D. (2013).  Strategic Planning for Public Relations (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Figures:

Figure 1: The Unofficial Tom Cruise Model of Audience Engagement

Rideout, S. (August 30, 2013). The Unofficial Tom Cruise Model of Audience Engagement. Audience Engagement. Retrieved September 9, 2013, from https://audienceengagement.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/part-one-what-is-audience-engagement/

Figure 2: Increasing Audience Engagement

Pratten, R. (August 5 2013). Increasing Audience Engagement. Workbook Project. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://workbookproject.com/culturehacker/2010/08/05/a-content-strategy-for-audience-engagement/

Figure 3: Stages of Engagement

Pratten, R. (August 5 2013). Stages of Engagement. Workbook Project. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://workbookproject.com/culturehacker/2010/08/05/a-content-strategy-for-audience-engagement/

Figure 4: The Community Engagement Model

Association of Alaska School Board. (n.d.). Community Engagement Model. Association of Alaska School Boards’ Initiative for Community Engagement. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://alaskaice.org/community-engagement/

Figure 5: How Online Communities Work: Fostering and Sustaining Engagement in Online Communities

Gaspersz, Anne-Sophie. (September 15 2012). How Online Communities Work: Fostering and Sustaining Engagement in Online Communities (Model). Think Online Community. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from http://thinkonlinecommunity.com/2012/09/15/how-online-communities-work-fostering-and-sustaining-engagement-in-online-communities/

Figure 6: CCISCO Organizing Model

Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization. (2006). Our Organizing Model. Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization. Retrieved August 30, 2013, from http://ccisco.org/about-us/

Figure 7: Audience Engagement Compared to Community Engagement

CTM Professional Services. (Fall 2011). Audience Engagement Compared to Community Engagement. CTM Professional Services. Retrieved September 3, 2013, from http://www.transformorg.com/Audience%20Development%20compared%20to%20Community%20Engagement.pdf

Figure 8: Audience Engagement vs. Community Engagement, Qualitative and Quantitative Perspectives

Rideout, S. (August 30, 2013). Audience Engagement vs. Community Engagement, Qualitative and Quantitative Perspectives. Audience Engagement. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from

Recommended Further Reading:

University of California, Berkley. (n.d.). Community Engagement Strategies. Prevention by Design. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~pbd/pdfs/Community_Engagement_Strategies.pdf

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3 thoughts on “Part Three: What’s the difference?

  1. Great to have another voice weighing in on the definition questions. And on the whole I agree with you. I will point out though that my posts referenced here were only the first in a rather long series of efforts at definition. And, it has become important to me to include audience development and, on some occasions, civic engagement in a continuum. I will say that I’ve always said that engagement (of any type) implies relationship building. To me audience engagement is, as you say, focused on bringing “them” to “us,” while community engagement (in the arts) is about seeking mutuality of benefit (as opposed to simply serving community). FYI, here are URL’s to a couple of relevant posts of mine: http://www.artsjournal.com/engage/2013/01/an-engagement-continuum/ , http://www.artsjournal.com/engage/2013/05/parsing-vocabulary/

    1. Interesting article on civic engagement. That’s a new term for me. I’m going to share that article. What do you mean by including audience development and civic engagement in a continuum?

      1. Audience development, audience engagement, community engagement, and civic engagement are all forms of interaction with those outside the arts organization. Each, to my mind, has a different set of motivations and practices moving from the most artcentric to the most community focused. As I said before, to me, one of the distinctives of community engagement should be mutual benefit to the art/arts organization and to the community.

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