Learning Area 5: Channels

Where can we reach our online and offline audiences?


Engaging audiences is difficult in a saturated media landscape where few citizens actively seek out information about sustainable development. Communicators need to understand where to find their audiences, and meet them in the physical and virtual spaces they frequent.

Finding audiences can be a complex and expensive challenge. For instance, while billions of people log into social media every day, they are scattered across multiple platforms, most of which charge fees in order to push content into news feeds. To achieve value for money on social media, communicators need to target very specific audiences and continuously audit their performance on different channels.

Moreover, engaging citizens is more than generating clicks. If they want messages to “stick”, communicators need to think multi-channel, reaching out to audiences in different places at different times. They also need to prioritise channels that invite feedback from audiences and enable dialogue, rather than just “broadcasting” messages.

The graphic below provides an overview of key channels for development communications. It also highlights questions that communicators need to ask when choosing their channels.

Infographic - Choosing channels in development communication


A few years ago, communicators flocked to social media as an inexpensive and easy way to reach big audiences. Today, audiences are scattered across multiple platforms and, with “fake news” proliferating, people have lost trust in what they read online. Yet, during a pandemic, reaching people offline is just as difficult: many audiences are confined at home and avoiding public spaces.

Meanwhile, traditional mass media remain powerful and widely trusted. For example, 76% of Europeans prefer television for political news. Worldwide, radio is the most popular medium; it is accessible, real-time and interactive.

With so many channels to choose from, communicators today need to focus their efforts on very specific target audiences. Here are three useful steps to consider in segmenting audiences:

  • Segmenting by age group. While many development organisations claim to target young audiences, they continue to use Facebook or Twitter even when data suggests that 13-17-year olds prefer Instagram or Snapchat. TikTok was the fourth most downloaded app in 2019.
  • Understanding how audiences engage with development. Highly engaged audiences use specialised development channels: platforms like Devex, blogs, podcasts or webinars. To reach the “marginally engaged”, communicators can collaborate with traditional media (e.g. El País) or support positive-impact journalism (e.g. Sparknews or World’s Best News).
  • Unlocking people’s passions. Communicators can engage specific audiences by finding them where they are having fun and connecting with their personal interests, for example on hikes, at music festivals or at business forums.

Besides identifying and targeting specific audiences, communicators also need to consider how channels can have the most impact on attitudes and behaviours:

  • Just be there. Communicators need to bring development messages into in their audience’s line of vision: on the screens of their smartphones, on billboards in the public transport system, or on paintings and murals in town centres.


  1. Read the Digital News Report to learn about the media consumption habits of people in 40 countries.
  2. Explore the Social Media Today website for the latest news and trends in social media, as well as tips on social and content marketing and digital strategy.


Ireland and Argentina operated SDG awareness stands at music festivals, allowing festivalgoers to play, learn and engage with the Global Goals.

Springster is a digital participation platform for marginalised girls to gain knowledge, confidence and connections to navigate difficult situations and make informed decisions.