Publishers, how well do you know your audience? What are you doing to maximise its value?

MTA media headhuntersThe long-term viability of digital publications that rely on scaling audience has been called into question in the last few months. Digital advertising has continued to grow, but increasingly the idea of a business model focused on generating a massive readership or viewership is becoming outmoded by the fluctuating demands of advertisers.

There’s also a prevailing feeling in the media industry that there’s too much content chasing too little advertising cash. This doesn’t necessarily mean that cutting back on both content and audience size will be beneficial, just that a new way looking at the quality of content and its ‘appropriateness’ to the audience is taking hold.

With this new approach come a requirement for new skills, and increasingly digital media businesses are looking to hire heads of Audience Development to their senior management teams.

Audience development is a new discipline where a team or an individual works to maximise the value of an online platform’s audience. These people will often have an excellent command of SEO and a first-rate knowledge of how to bring-in the right audience through smart management of social media content, but this isn’t a traditional marketing role and not everyone working in this new area will have a marketing background. Some will be focused on data and analytics, and others are likely to be editors with experience in producing and managing content.

Developing the audience doesn’t always mean maximising its size. Galleries of cute cats and wardrobe malfunctions can attract millions, but if your brand is not aligned with this type of thing, it can be detrimental as the audience is unlikely to be engaged or willing to dwell on your site. And it’s engagement that’s attractive to advertisers. Audience development is about finding the right people, those who share the values of your brand and advertisers.

Advertisers buy audiences, rather than publications, and the more a publisher know about its audience, the more valuable it is. If you’re selling a high-value audience – hedge fund managers for example – then all the clickbait in the world won’t help. In fact, you probably want a relatively small audience as there aren’t that many hedge fund managers about. Increasing the number of eyeballs on your site above a certain level could even dilute the value of your proposition as it’s likely to shift away from your small core demographic.

In the world of consumer online publishing, where appeal is generally more broad, media owners are looking to maximise the value of their audiences by treating all those that engage with their properties not as one entity, but as a series of different audience types. To increase appeal with each targeted demographic, publishers are segmenting as much as possible and putting together proactive strategies to target each of their recognised demographic groups. The overriding philosophy here is: why take a one-size-fits-all approach to your audience when, at one time or another, you might really want appeal to new parents, the grey audience, teenagers who are into gaming, and men in their 40s  in the West Midlands who enjoy fishing?

It’s the job of audience development to recognise who their audience is, who they really want to target, where that audience is, then work to adapt content strategies to attract those groups. For some publishers, these revelations can bring uncomfortable results. They might require a shift in editorial emphasis, the launch of new content channels, or heavy investment in SEO keyword analysis, deep analytics work, or the application of a new and different strategy for each social network on which they have a presence.

As media owners rush to know more about their audiences, it’s becoming apparent that a combination of those elements mentioned above is what’s really needed. As a result, individuals or teams who can cover this range of skills are becoming increasingly sought-after by smart. forward-thinking companies to help guide editorial and marketing strategies.

The question for those brands that have not yet started to investigate their own audiences, however, is how long are they willing to remain in the dark about their customers?