Published in Content + Design -

5 surprisingly easy ways to connect with diverse audiences as a social services provider.

Australia is home to incredibly diverse communities. Together, we come from all kinds of backgrounds and contexts.

Equally, we all have different circumstances, with varying needs and requirements for support. 30% of our population was born overseas and 22% speak a language other than English at home. One in six Australians live with a disability, with around 519,000 people on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. 5.1 million people receive some form of income support. 44% of people aged 18-65 in Australia will experience a mental health challenge or disorder at some point in their life.

Social services providers play a key role in supporting people with different contexts to navigate important social, economic, and health-related issues. And while our collective diversity is something to celebrate, it can also create challenges—and opportunities—for marketers.

How do you connect with such variable audiences and accommodate each person’s distinctive needs or preferences? How do you articulate what you do, when many social services providers are many things to many groups and people?

Here are some proven techniques to consider, honed through working with a range of organisations from the social services sector.

1. Ensure you’re easy to find based on how people actually search for your services.

In order to connect with and support your audiences, you need to be readily available when—and how—they look for you. This means catering to some potential variance in how people are likely to articulate your services, or the search intent they will use to try to find the right support.

While the terminology and language that many organisations use is always appropriately person-centred, aligning with best practice, the general public may not be as progressive or considered when searching for help. Especially if they are in some state of distress.

For example, while a service provider might say ‘support services for people experiencing homelessness’, a person who is actively looking for help might write ‘services for homeless people’ or simply ‘homeless support’.

This phenomenon is also relevant for terminology with things like funding reforms. In 2013, when the Australian Government introduced Home Care Packages for aged care services, there may have been a period where people still searched for legacy terminology, like ‘Community Aged Care Program’.

To overcome this variance and connect with people at the critical moment, you might run search ads that bid on a variety of terms. This will ensure your organisation is present on a search result page regardless of the language people use.

It’s important to ensure that any content page tied to a paid search ad closely and immediately aligns with the intent behind the searcher’s query. If it’s not immediately self-evident that people are in the right place, you’ll see a high bounce rate (whereby people land on the page and leave immediately without any meaningful interaction). Google’s ranking algorithm is also likely to determine your content doesn’t directly respond to the intent, you’ll get a low quality rating in its system, and your ad will be made less visible.

2. Make content available in a variety of languages and formats to accommodate culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

Social services providers offer support for all kinds of people from diverse and multicultural communities.

In order to be effective, website and marketing content needs to:

A polyformat approach to content can deliver against all of these objectives. For example, in its ‘Communication Guide to integrating culturally, ethnically, and linguistically diverse communities in rapid responses to public health crises’, the Migration Council of Australia—the national settlement peak body that supports better settlement outcomes for Australia’s migrants and refugees—highlights that ‘images, animations and videos increase understanding of healthcare information for people in CALD user groups. This is enhanced when those images are culturally sensitive and include representation of individuals and communities from their background’.

Aligning with this approach doesn’t necessarily require an enormous investment into content production. There are small considerations and techniques you can implement that accumulatively contribute to accessible experiences for people from CALD groups.

For example, Jesuit Social Services features illustrations of people from various community groups in the visual language of its design system.

Some of the illustrations featured throughout the Jesuit Social Services website.

The website’s navigation features visual icons to provide helpful cues to guide people towards the right information.

The website’s navigation features visual iconography to help people understand support service offerings and how they may be relevant for different needs or communities.

And, the site offers content in multiple languages—including Arabic, Oromo, Somali, Tigrinya, Tibetan and Vietnamese—and caters to both non-Roman alphabets and right-to-left scripts.

3. Be equitable and inclusive in your approach to representation.

This means taking an inclusive approach to the people and communities who are represented in your marketing imagery. Diverse media representation is beneficial on multiple levels.

Firstly, from a service access perspective, including imagery of culturally and linguistically diverse communities helps people to ‘see themselves in services’. This can make it easier and more efficient for someone to validate that a support service is relevant to their needs and can equally help in overcoming any challenges associated with language or literacy.

There is evidence that people prefer pictures in health messages that are culturally sensitive and include representations of people like themselves. This study suggests people are more likely to notice these messages, increasing the likelihood that people will engage with the service when it is needed.

At the same time, equitable representation contributes to a higher societal benefit: positive media representation can be helpful in increasing self-esteem for people of marginalized groups, and especially young people.

Intergroup Contact Theory—developed in the 1950s by Dr. Gordon Allport—suggests the more exposure or contact people have with groups who are different to themselves, the higher the likelihood of acceptance of that group. It is hailed as one of the most studied and successful prejudice reduction strategies in the social sciences. ‘Mediated contact’, as an extension of the original Intergroup Contact Theory, is proven to create positive effects on both explicit and implicit attitudes and improves intergroup relations in a range of ways.

In other words, according to research, inclusive imagery, video, and marketing materials contribute to a more inclusive society overall in the longer term. While it’s a gradual process, anything we can do to reduce inequality, discrimination and marginalisation is worth pursuing.

4. Articulate your services and supports in the way that people who need them will understand.

Many social services organisations have unique terminologies or shorthand references for concepts. The key here is to ensure that any internal language remains exactly that: internal only.

Any information or descriptions of services should be written in plain language to ensure the material is as clear as possible.

A helpful technique to remember here is the ‘outside-in’ approach. Rather than approach content from the perspective of someone in your organisation (inside-out), adopt the perspective of someone encountering these topics and concepts for the very first time (outside-in).

Guide Dogs uses accessible terminology to articulate services in a way that supports people accessing them for the first time, and that does not require any clinical literacy to understand the benefit of what’s involved.

In addition to ‘Orientation & Mobility Services’, Guide Dogs includes qualifying content to accessibly describe the service: ‘practical skills to get you or your child where you’re going with confidence’.

Guide Dogs ensures its services are described in a way that makes sense to people discovering them for the first time.

Jesuit Social Services employs a similar technique. Many of the organisation’s programs and support services are accessed via referrers—and many are well known in certain areas of practice—so the ‘technical’ or organisational name of each service takes precedence. However, as some services can equally be accessed via self-referral, there’s also a qualifying statement to describe each program in a way that a person looking for support can understand. For example: ‘Connexions’ includes the secondary descriptor ‘support for young people with mental health and substance use issues.’

Jesuit Social Services articulates programs like Connexions (highlighted above) in a way that is easy to understand and recognise: both for referrers and people seeking support.

5. Use goal-based navigation or segment content by key audience groups.

Most people visiting your website will likely have a goal in mind. For people seeking services or support, that goal may be as simple as ‘get help’. With the right approach, you can make it easy for people to self-qualify for the most appropriate content or section on your site, regardless of how familiar they are with your services.

There are many ways to use navigation to connect people with the right service or content quickly.

Mental health organisations like Beyond Blue and Reach Out clearly direct people to the right area of the site based on their emotional context and what they hope to achieve.

Beyond Blue use a series of goal-oriented statements to guide people to the most appropriate information or support service.

Reach Out uses a similar approach, with a navigation and content architecture designed to support people in achieving their goals based on emotional context.

Rather than use labelling that simply identifies the feature or function—for example, ‘case studies’—Reach Out aligns with the emotional objective of someone who is likely to use or read that content: ‘hear from others like me’.

For some social services providers, geographies and catchment areas are important factors in how people access support. Australian Disability Services helps people find relevant information based on where they live or where a person is likely to receive disability support services.

Australian Disability Services helps people to find the right information based on where they live.

Some organisations have distinctive requirements for both people seeking services and clinical professionals looking to make referrals. This is another potentially useful way to segment information to ensure the right people find the right content and features quickly.

In providing a range of healthcare services, Mercy Health segments information to support the unique requirements of patients and visitors in contrast to healthcare professionals.

Mercy Health uses a segmented navigation to provide the right amount and type of information for both patients and clinicians.

This list is by no means exhaustive and there are many more things you can do to meet the differing needs of your varying audience groups. To find out more, check out this library of material we’ve built exclusively for social services marketing teams.

Or, if you’re keen to discuss your goals and some of the tactics that will achieve them, get in contact today. Let’s tee up a conversation and start better supporting the people who engage in your services.