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5 Things About My Audience: Riham Mustafa - International Finance Corporation

What we know and don’t know about our audience’s attention

Hi again!

This week, we are continuing our journey to learn about different organisations and their audiences in this series, which has so far featured Matt Carlstrom from Quanta Magazine and John Stack from the Science Museum Group.

Welcome back to 5 Things About My Audience, a series where we interview people who are trying to reach different kinds of audiences, to understand how they approach audience engagement - and how that’s been changing over the years.

This week, say hello to Riham Mustafa, Head of Communications (Middle East, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean) at the International Finance Corporation. Riham is based in Cairo, Egypt. Over to Riham:

My name is Riham Mustafa and I oversee communications for a few regions for the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The regions are very diverse. It’s the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe. My job is to make sure that we get our message out. The IFC is a financial institution with a mission of increasing participation in the private sector in emerging markets, by giving access to finance, addressing development issues, climate issues, and creating jobs in mainly fragile conflict-affected or climate-affected countries.

Image of a woman with short brown hair, brown skinned, wearing a light pink buttoned shirt.

1. Who is your audience? Tell us a few things you know about them. 

The IFC audience is quite diverse, which makes it challenging to design a communications plan. Our primary audience is the private sector in the areas we operate, as well as in areas where we don't operate because we want to encourage them to invest in emerging markets.

The government is also a primary audience because we want the governments in the countries we operate in to help open up the markets for the private sector to come in and invest and help address challenges. A lot of the issues are about job creation - jobs for people in emerging markets, so that people feel productive and have a sense of dignity. 

Our secondary audience is the informed, the influencers, and the opinion leaders in the regions where we operate. These are the ones that influence the decision-makers who need to know why we should grow the private sector and why we need to open up the markets, etc. So these people are enablers, as we see them. I would say these are the three categories of our audiences, from where I sit in my role.

2. What research or tools do you have that back up your understanding of them?

This is challenging, especially if you don't want to spend a lot of your budget on hiring research firms. The way we do this is by interacting with the private sector. We ask them questions about what they read, and where they get their information. It's really about talking and being out there at meetings, conferences, and events.

My team also reads a lot. We like to explore surveys. We read everything that comes out to understand our audience’s behaviours and who they are following. And we measure using the tools that we have. As I said, you can spend a lot on research firms or you can use the social media tools you have. These help us see what kind of content gets more engagement, which languages, and which markets. This is what we try to monitor. 

We also depend a lot on anecdotal feedback. Is this a scientific approach that gives us the full picture? I don't think so. But I've been in the communications sector for over 20 years and it has always been a challenge. I’ve learned how to put all the bits together, because you will never have the full picture.

3. Have you noticed any interesting behaviour changes in your audiences over the last 2 to 3 years?

Yeah. Honestly, I've noticed an increase in our audience listening to podcasts. When I started in my previous role, the audiences for podcasts were very much concentrated in the US, a little bit in Europe, and in Asia a little bit. But now I'm seeing more people listening in the Middle East. In Brazil, podcasts are part of the daily life of people. This has been a huge shift. I think more people started listening during lockdown. Now storytelling has become more important, and I think podcasts have a more intimate relationship with the listeners than reading.

Another behaviour that I've noticed, at least in the markets I operate in, is that people really go for niche news. People are subscribing to more newsletters for the kind of news that they can’t get anywhere else. This is how they are connecting with people in their fields and getting the important information they need. 

Our audience are reading more short form. Less are reading long-form, unless it's a very different, New York Times kind of story. It feels like a lot of social has been replaced by newsletters.

I’ve also noticed our audience is engaging more with Instagram. Not just with youth, but with businesses who want to promote their projects. I think the brevity of Reels makes it user friendly and it’s also really authentic. Less words, more visuals. This is gaining traction in Brazil. It’s definitely more popular in the Midddle East.

4. What’s the one thing you would really like to know about your audience that you don’t know?

That's a good question.

I think the details overall. So, not just what do they read, but what would trigger them to do something, what makes them stop and read or view something. I would love to know more about when they view content, how their consumption differs on weekdays compared to weekends. I'd love to know these kinds of details because they would help in shaping any communication strategy.

5. Is there a project that you’re really jealous of, that you wished you’d done at the Science Museum Group?

The Storythings Newsletter. No, seriously. I really like it. I think it's great, especially for comms professionals or a community of people interested in communications and storytelling. It’s a really great project. 

I love the podcast How I Built This. The idea is amazing. Getting into the details of how people had an idea and fought hard to build it. Hearing about their challenges, their whole story, is really amazing.

There is another similar one that is in Arabic as well, but it's more about people rather than businesses. You really feel that nothing is impossible. Like, if you're persistent, if you persevere, if you really passionately believe in something, you can make it. You can do it. It can happen. So I think this podcast gives me a feeling of hope. That nothing is impossible. 

Thank you, Riham! That is such a good look at an international audience.

Do you know someone who might be a good interviewee for this series? Let us know in the comments - we love useful suggestions!

If you liked this, have a look at our other newsletters , which breaks down successful content formats, and the , a beautifully curated set of links on creativity.

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That’s it for this week, catch you next time.