How to advocate for audience development within your company

    Last updated: March 28, 2024

    Media companies say they want to invest in their audience. But often, those companies don’t have a top-down organizational culture supporting audience development.

    Instead, individual departments set different strategies, take in their own audience data. Data gets siloed and insights get lost in translation between departments. And that doesn’t just create busy work. It keeps everyone on your team from getting the information they need to deliver the customized experiences their audience expects.  

    So your email team is giving your audience one message in your newsletter, but your web content’s saying something completely different. 

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    That’s why it’s so important to create an organization-wide, top-down audience development strategy. This way, everyone in your organization is moving in the same direction, advancing the same value propositions, and addressing your key topics with the same tone and perspective. 

    But audience development requires a lot of long-term, content-driven initiatives — and that can be a hard sell if your culture’s biased toward quick solutions over gradual growth. 

    Learn how to create a workplace culture that supports audience development here: 

    6 steps to advance audience development within your company 

    Set organizational standards for audience development 

    Your business depends on having a plugged-in, passionate audience. So audience development shouldn’t be sidelined as just another marketing function, or left for each of your teams to figure out on their own. It needs to be a top-down organizational initiative, with every team contributing insights and working in the same direction. 

    So meet with cross-functional leaders — from finance and IT to operations, editorial, marketing and subscriptions — to create company-wide audience development goals and standards. Ask yourselves the following questions: 

    • Who is our audience? What product/service are they expecting us to deliver? What problem do we solve? 
    • What does our audience know about our industry and topic? How can we fill that gap? What kind of expertise can we provide our audience? 
    • How can we incorporate that expertise into our service and support mechanisms, documentation, onboarding, website content, newsletters, events, etc.? Use these answers to create department-specific strategies. 
    • How do we want our audience to feel after interacting with us? This should inform your branding, tone and voice. 

    Create organizational audience development objectives 

    Audience development and engagement mean different things to different people. Your email marketers might conflate audience growth and audience development, whereas your editorial and subscription teams might prioritize personalization and community-building more heavily. 

    So once you’ve created organizational audience development standards, create a uniform set of objectives. What finish line are you shooting for? What does it look like when you’re meaningfully engaging with your audience, creating community, and turning that engagement into revenue? What kind of workplace culture, systems and workflows need to be in place in order for you to achieve those goals? 

    Some examples: 

    • We know who our audience are and understand their needs and wants, and strive to meet these. We don’t see our audience as static — We’re committed to evolving our own strategies in parallel with our audience’s changing needs. We conduct regular check-ins to ensure that our content and offering is still relevant for our audience. 
    • We collect data from our audience through a variety of privacy-compliant mechanisms, including gated content, newsletter and event signups, website tracking activity, progressive profiling, etc. We combine this data with market and sector research to inform our marketing activities, rather than committing random acts of marketing. 
    • Data collection mechanisms all provide transparent opt-out language in compliance with relevant local, national and international data privacy regulations. 
    • We use segmentation and personalization to provide more specific, relevant content and messaging to different groups within our audience. 
    • We don’t talk at our audience. We have an active dialogue with them. We communicate with our audience through channels they already engage with – and we have developed a survey mechanism to collect qualitative audience feedback. 
    • We regularly monitor audience engagement via a variety of breadth and depth metrics, then plan our content and distribution strategy around observable audience data. 
    • Everyone in our organization, from individual contributors to managers and senior leaders, knows what they need to do to advance our organizational audience development goals. They’re empowered to contribute ideas and they conduct data-driven experiments and campaigns in their area of expertise. 
    • We don’t see audience development as a one-off series of tasks, but an ongoing, evolving process of strengthening our relationship with our audience.  to strengthen your Our team participates in ongoing training related to audience engagement and development. 
    • We actively look for ways to simplify the workflows that keep us from obtaining audience data, shipping campaigns and building segments quickly. More broadly, we look to democratize access to information and insights across our organization. 
    • We partner with other influencers and partners in our space to contribute deeper insights, strengthen our credibility, and provide better insights to our audience, whether through partnered content, expert interviews or consulting services.

    List them out and keep your team leaders accountable to those goals. From there, individual teams can set platform- and channel-specific KPIs that ladder up to those goals. This ensures that your entire organization is working toward the same objective and accountable for growing your audience according to those objectives. 

    Create workflows that support your audience development strategy 

    Everyone’s saying that they want to put their audience first. But to reach your audience growth goals, you need to turn those ideas into reality. 

    After you’ve set your standards and objectives, ask your team leaders what barriers keep from implementing the strategies and campaigns they want. 

    Two common culprits: Audience data is siloed between all of your different marketing tools, so individual teams (email, editorial, etc.) don’t have the insights they need to build accurate marketing segments and personalize their content.  

    So look to democratize access to information and simplify your tech stack. Prioritize integrated solutions that allow your entire organization to collect audience data from every channel, unify and standardize it, then run cross-channel marketing campaigns and run reports, all in one place. This gives your team the information they need to know your audience — and tools they need to reach them — all in one place. 

    Err on the side of overcommunication 

    Cultural changes are a massive undertaking. You might introduce your new audience-centric strategy in a quarterly meeting, but from there, your leaders will need to regularly and visibly reinforce the importance of investing in audience. That’s where many teams stumble, as most leaders underestimate how many repetitions it takes for a message to sink in, according to research from the Wharton School of Business.

    “Frequent, redundant, and copious communication — both upward and downward — is necessary during the change process,” the research says. 

    But if you just repeat “put the audience first” ad nauseum, your team will tune out. Instead, the Wharton researchers recommend reinforcing change through a variety of methods, including “creating a vivid image of what [the change] will look and feel like or using new language or metaphors to create memorable images.” 

    Provide ongoing training

    Audience development and engagement require a different mindset than writing, editing and ideating content. “Provide regular training and workshops on audience engagement strategies for reporters and editors,” says Adriana Lacy, a former Nieman Foundation and Axios journalist and a current media industry consultant. “This can help them develop the necessary skills and mindset to effectively engage with their audience.” 

    Designate engagement captains

    It’s easy to put “put the audience first” on a deck. But if you don’t back it up with execution, you won’t be able to grow or engage your audience. To prevent this, Lacy recommends designating “engagement captains” to guide the implementation of your audience engagement efforts and act as a resource for your writers, editors and other individual contributors.   

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