5 Audience Development Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

Some web publishers get fully engaged in the audience development process to the point they forget something vital: the actual audience.

Don't forget the actual audience in your audience development efforts.
Don’t forget the actual audience in your audience development efforts.

Platforms, social media sites, and revenue development efforts like custom job boards are all tools, but the ultimate goal is to engage with those people clicking on your links so they share your content with others and want to return to your site themselves. Here are 5 common audience development mistakes you may not realize you’re making.

1. Forgetting Who Really Creates Brands

Agencies, marketing professionals, and designers don’t create brands. They may help make a brand readily identifiable, but customers are the ones who create brands. Al Wightman of SmartInsights.com writes, ”A brand is the emotional and psychological connection a customer has with a business and its products and services. What marketers and agencies are good at is creating environments that encourage a brand relationship to occur between a customer and a business, and nurturing that relationship once a connection has been made.”

He goes on to point out that you can’t force customers to have a brand relationship with your product. In fact, every marketing channel, digital or otherwise, can encourage or discourage a brand relationship. Furthermore, every customer interaction is an opportunity to increase brand loyalty.

2. Going by Feel Rather Than Metrics

Few things are better than watching something on your news or trade publication website catch fire with your audience and spread to new readers. But that feel-good sensation isn’t enough for boosting audience development. You have to look at the hard numbers, even after a viral hit.

There's nothing wrong with listening to your gut feeling, but crunch the numbers to be sure.
There’s nothing wrong with listening to your gut feeling, but crunch the numbers to be sure.

You may think you know where new traffic is coming from, but you may be wrong. Digging into your analytics is the only sure way to learn how your audience development efforts are working. Which social sites are they using as a path to your website? What keywords are they searching on? Gut feelings may give you an overall positive or negative sense of how audience development is going, but you need the numbers as proof and to guide you further.

3. Clinging to the Old Media Model

When print newspapers reigned, information was segregated and categorized. But things are different now, and you can see this clearly on one of today’s most popular sites, Buzzfeed. Go to the site, or bring up the app on your phone and you could see a long-form article on a college student abducted in China in 2004 adjacent to a story on ”25 Giant Bunnies So Big They Could Destroy You.” Jon Steinberg, President and Chief Operating Officer of Buzzfeed told the min day Digital Summit how the paradigm has changed: ”There was a time when having a food article next to the Pentagon Papers was considered absurd,” he said. ”(But) scoops are another kind of shareable content that spread cross Twitter and Facebook.”

4. Trying to Be Everything to Everyone

The ”go where your audience is” rule hasn’t changed. Content marketing expert Pratik Dholakiva, writing for online and mobile campaign developer Heyo, believes that many social media sites are ”fads,” which is debatable, but he makes a good point about segmenting audiences by niche: ”On the TV, yeah, it’s good to go where the biggest audiences are. On the web? Not really. Not when you can segment your audience by interests and commercial intent. Stop trying to appeal to everybody with the same message. Go where your audience is. The rules haven’t changed. Only the platforms.”

5. Focusing on Platforms to the Exclusion of Everything Else

At the Association of Online Publishers (AOP) recent Autumn Conference, Tim Weller, chief executive of Incisive Media, told the audience that too much focus on platform is detrimental: “I think its wrong that we think of mobile first, we think of web first, as I think that’s the wrong way to approach things. At Incisive we take a customer-centric view, so we put the user first.”

Weller’s sentiments were shared by other industry leaders, including Rebecca Miskin, digital strategy director at Hearst Magazines UK, who said, “We’ll be successful when we stop talking about digital and data and start talking about just the customer.”

The biggest mistake you make in your audience development strategy is forgetting the audience – the real humans who read your content and have definite feelings about it. Platform is important, but ”going mobile” shouldn’t be the end goal of your audience development strategy. Learn about your audience through their interactions and through your metrics and analytics. That’s the key to audience-centric audience development, which feeds audience engagement and revenue development tactics like sponsorships, ecommerce, and custom job boards.

Photo Credits: adamr / freedigitalphotos.net, ddpavumba / freedigitalphotos.net

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