The art and science of communicating with multicultural Victorians


It’s well understood that the key elements in any communications campaign are the audience, the message and the medium. While the same elements will guide decisions when communicating with multicultural communities, the complexity lies in the critical order of priority.

The first and most important element is understanding your audience.

As Tony Robbins, renowned management guru once said “To effectively communicate, we must realise that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”

While the intention of effective communication is to make an important message available to those who need it, you need to know who your audience is before you can start developing content to get a particular message across or start to consider a vehicle for that message.

Hence effective communications starts with knowing and understanding your audience. Secondly, knowing how to provide your information in a way that will be meaningful to the receiver. And finally, using tools or communication outlets that are used and trusted by your target audience.

Cultural difference in the digital world

The way we communicate has changed profoundly in the last decade. The rise of social media has given us the opportunity to engage with more people than ever before. We can have rich dialogues far more meaningful than a one-way flow of information. But we also have less control over content and distribution.

We spend a considerable time and effort developing social media strategies for clients and our starting point is always the audience: who are they? what do they read? where do they go for information? who do they trust?

When it comes to communication campaigns with culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Victoria, there are particular considerations to keep in mind.

First, we must recognise cultural differences: this is the ‘multi’ in multicultural. So often we see communications which seem to suggest that language is all that separates cultural groups. The solution is often to provide translated materials, but of course, language is just one factor that differentiates cultures.

Taking the time to understand the nuances in each culture that may be relevant to your message can help ensure its relevance and achieve better reach. Consider the Victorian Italian community. It clearly bears little resemblance to the growing Somali community, so by simply offering translated materials, you run the risk of providing information, but failing to communicate that information.

Cultural considerations should also drive the choice of medium. When it comes to the message, the written word usually comes to mind first. But to be innovative, particularly in the digital age, messages in various forms such as pictures and videos can sometimes achieve better cut through.

“Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” Walt Disney.

Through our work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities we’ve seen that pictures and videos can often convey a message with much greater clarity and culturally sensitivity.

Trusted communications channels

Finally, it’s imperative to discover what mediums your audience trusts. In many cultural groups, there are people within the community who are very influential. The engagement of those people in any communication campaign can be a powerful way to enhance your communication and ensure the message gets across.

So when working with multicultural communities, remember to take your time and gain a deep understanding of your audiences are and how they may differ from one another. This can determine what messages you need to communicate and what medium you will need to use to communicate your message.

By Melanie Wilkinson and Sorayia Noorani

This article is from a presentation we gave at The Art and Science of Communication in Multicultural Victoria industry forum on 17 March 2016, at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne, as part of Cultural Diversity Week celebrations.