The people whom we call our customers reflect our evolving knowledge about them as a group and as individuals.

With an MBA listing still damp on my resume and a passion for the business of journalism, I found our terminology particularly vexing. In fact, when I started at the The New York Times, I was reprimanded when I used terms like “customer” and “product,” and heaven forbid we consider ourselves “marketers.”

Rethinking how publishers refer to their customers can change how they are treated.
Rethinking how publishers refer to their customers can change how they are treated.

To be appropriate, we referred to our customers as an action: circulation. And, we were circulators.

That arcane nomenclature didn’t last long.

Within a year or two, we were speaking of our customers as readers and conducting research to understand loyalty and involvement with the publication and, gasp, the brand.

With digital news, and the proliferation of content it enabled, came the ability to understand so much more about our readers. We began to refer to them as our audience. Audience conveyed the idea of readership across print and digital platforms.

When considered as community, customers offer much more value.
When considered as community, customers offer much more value.

With 2016 ad revenue continuing the downward trend, we, and other digital content makers, are looking to our next value opportunity from our audience — and that is community.

Community suggests mutual engagement, deeper involvement, and, hopefully, increasing impressions. Audience is a set of consumers to be monetised. Community is a shape-shifting, organic, and enduring group that is as committed to the success of the brand as the brand is to them.

With each new term, we sought to increase our consumers’ value to our advertisers. Advertising revenue within a community framework is more than monetisation.

All streams of community-sourced revenue have greater upward potential: higher subscriber rates, more subscription products, exponential marketing impact, and higher advertising rates based on deeper relevance.

The new revenue possibilities also come with limitations. We can’t just sell eyeballs or the community will lose trust in us. We can’t just throw up any higher priced ad unit; it must be based on the community member’s interests and needs.

Considering communities empowers audience members and offers monetisation strategies.
Considering communities empowers audience members and offers monetisation strategies.

Monetising communities within current ecosystems

The good news is that we have spent millions creating systems for our circulators to become audience directors. With a few twists to the strategy, all the systems and processes put in place to empower audience directors can be used to enable communities.

Within a community framework, monetisation takes on more than the traditional rate and volume dimensions. Revenue becomes a function of a more dynamic mix of data, value, and products that are used to tell a compelling story to and about community members, the content they seek, and the brands to which they relate.