If you are not considering the urban-rural divide, you are narrowcasting
It’s been a tense time not only for Americans but for us all, as we are stakeholders in an election with wide repercussions. As the outgoing president was elected in 2016, we transformed our business model to adapt to the post-Trump web. Four long years later, it’s clear that encouraging narrowcasting and echo chambers online is not only unhealthy at an individual level (read our original Thinkbait paper), but disastrous for business and politics.
The challenge for the incoming Democratic administration will be to heal a divided society, but more specifically to address the ongoing nationalist-internationalist duality, reaching further beyond the party’s coastal urban bubbles.
One thing that’s clear in the data is that moving forward Democrats need to work harder to align more with the aesthetic sensibilities and policy interests of young, college educated Brooklyn-based professionals with precarious creative jobs.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) November 4, 2020
The Red State/Blue State divide is a lot less interesting, I’d argue, than the urban/suburban/rural divides; one of the most useful visuals from US election observers in recent weeks is this one, which focuses on population density and partisan affiliation.
Challenge accepted! Here is a transition between surface area of US counties and their associated population. This arguably provides a much more accurate reading of the situation. @observablehq notebook: https://t.co/wdfMeV5hO4 #HowChartsLie #DataViz #d3js https://t.co/lStHeeuMUw pic.twitter.com/MpYiXtsHmu
— Karim Douïeb (@karim_douieb) October 8, 2019
American culture is ubiquitous, here in Canada and throughout the Anglo world. Their politics, unfortunately, often trickle down and help shape our own. Their hyper-partisanship and frustrating red-blue dialectic should remind us all that it’s more important than ever, especially for communicators, to persuade the broadest cross-section possible of a society; even those who fit in between categories sketched out by our finest demographers. America’s master communicators resonate in urban, suburban and rural settings with carefully-considered but bold, moderate and simple statements; one prominent example during the campaign was the work of the Lincoln Project, a group of Republican strategists that oppose the Trump administration that likely swayed swing counties.
They will be caught in Florida. pic.twitter.com/WEBlgGwBgr
— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) November 3, 2020
The Lincoln Project adds are extreme examples in a politically-charged environment but the simplicity and urgency of the messages are worth considering, particularly during a pandemic where government guidelines can vary wildly from region to region. Even in crises, many communicators trained as miners in the attention economy write as if they are communicating with other communicators, not normal citizens with working class jobs, chores, backaches and any number of reasons why their attention may be divided.
For those in business or communicating for national organizations, understanding the urban-rural divide, and understanding that it is not a hard dichotomy, is key to producing effective communications. More sensationalism is not what’s needed, but more simplicity and substance in our communications. It’s not a question of dumbing down but plain speaking in open and civil contexts; it means not resorting to smears or generalizations. It means being especially patient if you feel your audience just doesn’t get it. It is balancing diplomacy and political correctness with honestly and transparency.
“There are racists all around me,” is a version of a common refrain from panicked US liberals on Twitter this week, following closer-than-expected election results. Demonizing opponents, even if those opponents are genuine racists, is the worst possible communications strategy at a volatile time like this. Persuading even xenophobes, while difficult, is not an impossible task. Communicators watching cultural tensions in the US should ask themselves how they would manage seemingly impossible tension in their own sociopolitical environments; if communication is happening, resolution is still possible.
This challenge for communicators throughout the free and connected world reminds me of the reality show The Simple Life which, over the mid-2000s, chronicled two celebrity-heiresses touring rural America, performing manual labour challenges. The awkwardness of stilettos in cow dung and other such scenes illustrate just how far away we’ve moved from each other.
In crises scenarios, when the lives of our fellow citizens may be on the line, clear, concise and honest writing is primordial. There are times for elaborate mission statements and manifestos; these days, simplicity is not only warranted in the midst of a pandemic but the one key ingredient to craft the most persuasive, widest-ranging messages possible.
Dan Delmar is Managing Partner, Communications at TNKR Media.