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Does your news media company really know what “audience” means?


  1. The group of spectators at a public event; listeners or viewers collectively, as in attendance at a theater or concert.

  2. The persons reached by a book, radio, or television broadcast, etc.; public.

  3. A regular public that manifests interest, support, enthusiasm, or the like; a following.

  4. Opportunity to be heard; chance to speak to or before a person or group; a hearing.

As we know in the publishing business, audience is key. We sell more advertising because of it, we beat our chests when we reach a certain number, and we believe what we are doing is ultimately for “our audience.”

Looking at the quick online definition of “audience” – I think it’s a good eye opener for us that we’re not quite getting it … yet.

First: The group of spectators or listeners at a public event; listeners or viewers and the persons reached by a book, radio, or television broadcast, etc. This is what we are calling our audience, and rightly so. However, as we dig further into the question of audience, many of us are still blindly counting a pair of eyeballs as audience, without identifying who that audience really is.

Due to cumbersome legacy systems that leave our companies in a silo, many of us only know one side of this audience. As Earl J. Wilkinson, INMA’s CEO/executive director, shares in his Outlook presentation we need to be replacing Mad Men with Math Men – digging into the data and understanding who your basic audience is.

Until you understand the “who” of your audience, you can’t (and likely won’t) do a good job of engaging with them further or creating/curating content and products for them. You’ll be throwing spaghetti to the wall and hope enough sticks.

At the recent INMA Data Insights Conference in Chicago, Tom Argiriou, vice president of customer insights and data strategy at Gannett spoke about this very issue. He talked about the business challenges of consumer marketing. And he asked:

As publishers, if you haven’t asked these questions and taken the steps to answer them, you’ll quickly find that newer content vehicles (in any form) are asking and honing their products to do this better, faster, and smarter than you.

Audiences are fickle: Today they may buy tickets to Justin Bieber, but not understanding what a true Belieber wants and why they went to see him in the first place could leave you singing to yourself.

After the first two definitions, to me, this is where the concept of “audience” gets interesting, and is where we have much room for growth: A regular public that manifests interests, support, enthusiasm, or the like; a following and the opportunity to be heard; chance to speak to or before a person or group.

Let’s call this “the rest of audience.”

This is the rest of audience so few of us have even ventured into (assuming the first definitions and audience data analysis is happening or quickly in the works), and this is where technology becomes key to the rest.

The regular (meaning consistent) public that manifests, is interested, supports, and shows enthusiasm for your product – now that is the audience gold.

Let’s be honest: How many publishers can say their audience is enthusiastic about their content? Are they supporting your content? Are they interacting with it – or simply consuming it? Your Beliebers need to believe (sorry, I couldn’t help it) in your content and in the community rallying around it (by supporting, following, and showing enthusiasm).

Regis McKenna in 1991 said: “Marketing is everything, and everything is marketing.... Today technology is creating greater customer choice, and choice is altering the marketplace. Six principles define the new marketing: marketing is a way of doing business that pervades the entire company; companies must dispel their limiting market-share mentality; programmable technology promises to open up almost limitless choice for customers; a feedback loop is making advertisings one-way communication obsolete; the line between services and products is eroding; and the marriage of marketing and technology is inevitable.”

They were saying this in 1991. Here we are today, still talking about the basics. <Sigh.>

The fundamental principle is that you have to have feedback loops for the two-way conversation. Your audiences want an audience with you. To truly have audience and keep audience, you must both get and act upon feedback.

Kissmetrics says the five best ways to get feedback are:

  1. Surveys.

  2. Feedback boxes.

  3. Reaching out directly.

  4. User activity from your analytics.

  5. Usability tests.

I highly suggest you read the article, as it provides you all the basics for these five steps. The end result is understanding and two-way communication with your audience. As Rollo May said, communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy, and mutual valuing.

The concepts are basic and the points are simple. Yet for publishers to move forward and compete in the new technology-laden space that is “the content consumer audience,” they’ve got to stop thinking the solution is another special section or managing the decline in print. They need to think about audience and the community that will bring mutual value.

Audience is so much more than eyeballs. It’s enthusiasm. It’s communication. It’s understanding. It’s the future.

About Maria Terrell

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