I've been looking at Audience Development opportunities lately. It's good to know that websites have begun to recognize that this is different from marketing, and that it doesn't just happen on its own. Historically, Audience Development has been a sticky problem (yes, pun intended) for online properties.
To begin with, the "If you build it, they will come" philosophy of the mid nineties is sadly still alive and well.
Then, large portions of the online industry still don't know what to call the people who come to their website. The words favored by traditional media folks practically have failure built into them: "audience", "readers", and "eyeballs" all imply a broadcast mentality where the company talks and everyone else listens. Words like "users" or "traffic" are a better fit -- although some complain about the drug connotations. If you understand how to leverage the Internet's revolutionary ability to create Many-to-Many conversations you probably prefer words like "members" or "community".
Of course, if I say I'm interested in community development positions, I'll be invited to build latrines in the third world. So Audience Development it is.
Some folks limit Audience Development to Search Engine Marketing. But business development and interactive initiatives that result in lots of links, new visitors, and longer usage sessions generate participation -- while having the secondary effect of bosting search rankings. When people ask me to define what Audience Development means to me, I say it's:
- 40% Biz Dev (partnerships that drive traffic, offer cool prizes/content/interactive, or both)
- 40% Features (user-generated content that keeps people coming back and spawns word of mouth, or real interactive features)
-20% Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) (navigating your way to the top of search engine listings)
Of course, this explanation doesn't even cover what I consider standard operating procedure for all online initiatives: pefecting your navigation and usability, watching your traffic stats to spot what stories or products work best, offering more like that, promoting your features on your own site, creating an appropriate look and feel, talking to the press, and so forth. I think of that basic website marketing as Version 1.0. And if you feel like buying some ads to drive traffic to your site, feel free.
My sense is that most websites hit a number of these efforts, and miss others. For example, there are sites that put big budgets into their look and feel, and do their sweepstakes, while forgetting navigability. Or, companies that got started offline simply "broadcast" on their websites, missing out on the Many-to-Many functionality that enablestheir competitors. Then, you have the sites that look and work beautifully but don't even show up on the first Google page under their own keywords, because nobody ever bothered with SEO.
The biggest problem with Audience Development is how interdisciplinary it is. It's:
- the editor's job to commission good content
- the product development manager's job to think of sticky interactive ideas
- the market research director's job to define the audience demographic
- the user interface designer's job to create efficient navigation
- the graphic designer's job to make the site look appealing
- the business development manager's job to put together partnerships
- the web marketing manager's job to run sweepstakes and ad campaigns
- the PR person's job to get press...
Every website's main goal is maximizing revenues. While this can't happen without maximizing audience development, the actual customer is often someone else, like the advertiser. In many cases, while there is one main person thinking about how to maximize revenues across the board (the CEO), there is no one main person thinking about how to best meet the needs of the site's community.
These needs are met by so many diverse staff members, each with a different agenda. It can be hard for all the different members of the team to coordinate. Therefore, you see spotty successes more often than one unified effort. I'll give some examples in my next post.