So, tell me about your relationship,” says the therapist, and the weepy-eyed leading lady in the romantic comedy starts blubbering about what she thought her relationship was versus what she wanted it to be. We’ve seen it a million times.

This got me thinking about relationships. There’s always what one thinks it is, what the other thinks it is, and the reality.

Right, Maria – what in the name of burnt toast does this have to do with the news media industry?

Stay with me and buckle up …

Tell me about your relationship – and by that, I mean tell me about your relationship with your audience.

We’re so concerned about audience: gaining audience, audience development, satisfying audiences

But what is your relationship with your audience? What is your audience to you? Is it one audience? Multiple audiences? Most importantly, what do you want to be to your audience(s)?

With new light being shone on the darker side of relationships (read: the hacking of AshleyMadison.com), understanding your relationship with your audience and what’s wanted out of your relationship is becoming almost more important than your end deliverable. If someone is with you for your sexual prowess and you decide to become chaste, that is a bad relationship.

The same holds true for your news media audience.

“Audience” (I’ll use the term like we use the royal “we”) is changing. We expect more. Technology has greatly advanced our consumer power, and, as a result, our options.

But the truth is, even though we all want things customised for us, the majority of us can be easily lumped into an identifiable audience bucket thanks to that Big Data thing everyone’s talking about.

This means each audience is a combination, like a secret sauce, that can be squirted on millions of burgers, a la McDonalds. And with this secret sauce you can have healthy relationship – one that makes your audience think, “You get me. You really, really get me,” while in actuality serving mass quantities.

I believe it’s Burger King that says “have it your way.” Isn’t it funny how “your way” suits millions upon millions each day? (Interestingly enough, after 40 years, the company is changing its slogan to “Be Your Way,” further emphasising the relationship and understanding of the audience. Says the Associated Press: “Burger King says that the new motto is intended to remind people that they can and should live how they want anytime. It’s okay to not be perfect ... Self-expression is most important, and it’s our differences that make us individuals instead of robots.”)

Companies are taking this “customised to you (secret mass audience)” approach and really making big business of it. 

Take the clothing industry: There’s Stitchfix.com, Trunkclub.com, Fabletics.com, JustFab.com, Shoedazzle.com, Bombfell.com, Gwynniebee.com, Goldentote.com … and the list goes on and on.

Each asks you a rather limited number of “specialised” questions to identify exactly “who you are,” and some even assign a name or descriptor to your unique persona. From there, the company curates your wardrobe, hand-picked just for you.

Now, in reality, you’re looking at a limited number of audiences/personas that have their clothing (read: content) curated for them. The audience feels like it is understood and has a company that gets them. The company develops a relationship with each audience, like the perfect boyfriend who always knows just what to say (that is, you’re beautiful and would never look fat in those pants).

Now, I know that a pre-determined set of clothing looks that are bundled and sent to your door isn’t editorial, but think about this for just one moment. If clothing, which is, quite literally, the physical representation of who you are, can be curated with a few clicks and simple questions, imagine how simple an editorial curation relationship can be established.

Feedback mechanisms for this clothing curation are quite simple, too. Tweaks to your profile and returns/exchanges are all feedback to the relationship. Listen and adjust, and your relationship stays strong (i.e., they continue to buy and continue to wear the bundles you send). If not, they’ll find the next clothing hawker who understands their needs, whatever they may be.

Here is an article about six fashion start-ups that focus on the relationship. It’s interesting that they’re starting from scratch. You’ve already got a business, a product, and a still somewhat viable business model. Hmmmm …

This begs the questions: What is your relationship strategy and feedback mechanism with your audience(s)? Do you know who your audience(s) is/are? Do you know what audience(s) you want? And what is the relationship you want? What are they to you and what are you to them?

As a therapist would say, once you know yourself and what you want, you can truly be in a healthy and honest relationship with someone else.

As curation is the future for trusted news sources, we now need to be looking at your relationship with your audiences and how much you understand who they are and what they want from your relationship. To be the trusted curator, you’ve got to ask (if you don’t already know) and confirm that you’re delivering (feedback and tweaking mechanisms).

Have an honest relationship with your audience(s), check in to see how you’re doing, and make sure they’re satisfied. Ask for the feedback. Listen to the feedback. With each turn it seems that publishers are going the opposite way and not listening to their readers (for example, killing comments).

The beautiful thing about actually allowing for and monitoring feedback mechanisms is that you’re actually hearing from people who “care” enough to share. That means you’re important enough for them to be livid about something. In relationship terms, they think you’re worth fighting for!

You want engagement, you want audience, and you want to satisfy them? Well you’ve got to be willing to listen, adjust, and understand what your relationship means to them, or how to make it right.

There are several companies listening and doing it right – we could take a page from their relationship playbook.

All I know is that if you ask your wife how she’s doing, and she grumbles “fine,” you can be damn sure that things are far from fine, and you’d better figure it out quick. If you don’t deliver in your relationship (content or otherwise), remember, there’s always an AshleyMadison.com lurking in the wings.