How to avoid, and recover from, audience fatigue

How to avoid, and recover from, audience fatigue

Readers who join my email list receive a 1-question survey in their ‘welcome’ email that asks:

“What is the biggest challenge you face with motivating audiences to take conservation and environment related actions?”

This series of articles respond to a selection of these challenges that I’m sure many can relate to. They’ll cover topics of: managing conflict when engaging audiences, reaching tourists as an audience, avoiding audience fatigue (below), balancing results and getting people to care more.

Want to get in on the ‘influencing article topics’ action? Then join the crew here.


This post is in response to two readers’ challenges with keeping audiences engaged and avoiding behavioral burnout.

Fatigue challenge #1:“I am doing an environmental project and it is difficult for the same people to participate in more than one event of my project.”

Fatigue challenge #2: “What if you have an audience that needs to be targeted for a number of somewhat disparate behavioural outcomes? Is there a risk of “campaign fatigue” by your target audience?”

What audience fatigue looks like

I receive emails from a zoo I occasionally visit as a consumer (not as someone working in the field of conservation). I got on their email list when I bought a ticket from their website two years ago.

In the span of 3 weeks (21 days), I received 13 emails from them. And this is par for the course.

Sometimes I get an email every few days. Sometimes I get two emails in one day. Sometimes I get an email everyday.

Every. Single. Day.

If you were to ask me how often I’d like to hear from a zoo that I visit once a year, I would say: maybe once a month or once every other month.

I’m not sure why a visitor would be interested to hear from their zoo every single day.

This, in itself, creates audience fatigue.

Now let’s look closer. 9 out of the 13 emails are asking me to do something URGENTLY.

Donate or contact my congress person. Right now. Today. And in case I forgot to do it, here’s a reminder of the request from yesterday.

70% of what I’m receiving from this single entity in three weeks is asking something of me.

Only four of those emails (30%) are giving me something I would expect from a zoo: fun images of animals and interesting resources.

While the fun emails are nice to get, they don’t outweigh the fatigue I feel from being bombarded with urgent requests most of the time.

As a result, I ignore 100% of the emails.

Asking for too much too often

It’s not simply the quantity of emails that creates fatigue. What tends to exhaust our audience’s attention spans is asking too much of them too often.

This can be things like:

  • Invites to multiple events, meetings or workshops in a short period of time.
  • Constantly asking for donations.
  • Asking them to take on too many different actions or behaviors at the same time.
  • Requesting responses to back-to-back surveys (even if your org wasn’t the one asking them to fill out a survey before).
  • Overloading them with too much information to absorb all at once.

These issues get exacerbated if the above requests do not take into consideration our audience’s schedules and don’t offer a benefit in return.

Meaning, we’re asking them to do a bunch of things at times that are inconvenient to them and they don’t get anything out of it.

How to tell if your audience is getting tired of you?

The main things to look for are drops in engagement and/or higher requirements for participation.

For example:

  • Drops in response and engagement rates in surveys, emails or social media.
  • Declining number of people showing up to events.
  • Only the same core group shows up to events; others have stopped coming and no new people are joining.
  • You’re getting requests for financial incentives to participate in activities like focus groups or meetings, when you didn’t before.
  • A decreasing number of people are following through on a requested action, like donating or signing a petition.

Ironically enough, when we start to see these things happen, our instinct is to push harder.

“People aren’t clicking the donate button in our email? Well, then let’s remind them to do it! Send more!! Faster!!”

This is how we find ourselves sending daily urgent emails.

There’s a better way!

If audience engagement is plateauing or petering out, consider mixing things up with the following ideas.

Reduce the number of activities and interactions

  • Consider if the program’s activities can be reduced or even spaced out.
  • Explore switching up the format of the activity so each event feels fresh and different.

Align the timing with your audience’s schedule

  • Aim to hold activities at times when it’s most convenient for the audience and doesn’t require high trade-offs, like missing work or family events.
  • Consider locating the events in easy-to-access locations for the audience.

Make the activity more personally beneficial

  • Things that are FUN create an intrinsic benefit for participation and a higher likelihood of staying engaged.
  • Explore offering benefits (non-financial) for getting involved that are meaningful for the audience: recognition, certificates, points/rewards, status, etc.

Hand over the reins

  • Invite the core “fans” to lead activities while you take the backseat to switch up the messenger.
  • If your audience is up for sharing one more piece of input, get their ideas on how to keep things interesting.

Expand the core

  • Encourage those who are engaged to invite a friend or family member to grow the audience.
  • Identify and do outreach with a different audience segment to expand beyond the “already engaged”.
  • Recruit a new messenger who can help you reach a new or wider audience segment.

Mix up the message

  • Explore switching to, or adding in, new message frames for your calls-to-action to keep it interesting and different.
  • Consider if it’s time to introduce a new behavior, or a new aspect of the behavior, if you’ve spent a lot of time focusing on a single one.


I’m sure there are more ideas out there! Give me a shout if you have ideas that should be included in this post.