The following column is the fourth in a series discussing how organizations can put the public at the heart of their communications strategies. This latest column explains how organizations can harness the power of the public on the public’s terms.  
Over the past few months I’ve written about how we’ve entered an era of engagement. Yet, organizations seeking to earn the public’s trust are forced to do so in an increasingly oversaturated communications landscape and with increasingly cynical public audiences.
In order to cut through the noise and truly connect with the public, organizations need to use data to understand what people want. This data comes in many shapes and forms, from public opinion research to social media interactions to live in-person transactions.
Using this data to build smart audience profiles is the key to driving engagement as, more than ever, the ability of an organization to engage with its audiences – as citizens, customers, investors, or employees – is intrinsically tied to engagement on their terms.
Building smart audience profiles starts with understanding people and how they engage: Do they click on links?  Do they share posts?  Do they attend events?  Answering these and related questions can tell organizations who is likely to engage and in what manner.
Starting with the concept of individual engagement preferences, organizations can identify clusters of people who, more likely than not, will behave in the same way. This allows us to be more efficient in our communications and is the essence of microtargeting.
Some argue that microtargeting is an intrusive approach, but the opposite is true. By identifying how and when people want to be engaged, we can ensure we are not intruding on – or inserting ourselves into – the lives of those who don’t want to engage at all.
This is critically important for two reasons. First, communications directed at unreceptive audiences are a waste of time and resources. Second, and more importantly, communications initiatives which miss a target audience can enrage more than they engage.
Rob Mariani is a senior vice-president with Hill+Knowlton Strategies and serves as general manager of their Ottawa offices.