Look at these 6 clues to determine if your readers are a community

By Olivia Collette


Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Not two months ago, I wrote about how to reconnect with your crisis-fatigued audience. The crisis I was referring to was the pandemic, which has dominated news cycles for more than two years. I didn’t expect Russia was about to wage war on Ukraine.

This conflict has touched a collective nerve in many Western countries, and a lot of opinions about it are making the rounds. This particular article won’t offer any, but I feel it’s an opportune time to offer this reminder: During periods of heavy strife, people seek connection and community.

More specifically, they seek connection with a community. So, the question is: Are media organisations equipped to host and participate in these communities? Here’s how to tell.

1. People feel comfortable expressing themselves

Whether it’s in your comments section, via a live chat, or your presence on other platforms, if your community spaces are safe because you’ve found a way to uphold and maintain civil guidelines, your audience will feel free to express themselves. And they’ll also be respectful toward one another.

If the content they’re discussing is politically charged, they might expect different opinions to emerge from the conversation. But they’ll draw the line if other commenters are allowed to attack them.

Do you have a sufficient amount of control over how these discussions unfold? Because if your audience knows there’s a layer of protection in the form of either human or automated moderation, our data shows it can result in a 35% increase in comments per user.

2. People stick around

Commenters aren’t the only engagement measure that counts. There are many people in your audience who are faithful readers but have no interest in commenting. For instance, our data team found that, in August 2021, nearly 20% of registered users and more than 4% of anonymous users spent their on-site time reading comments.

The same team also conducted a survey of five of our clients, which revealed that over the course of three months, people spent an average of more than 1.6 million minutes in the comments section.

Finally, when we analysed the behaviour of some of our users, we found that anonymous people who read comments generate 3.4 more pageviews than unengaged anonymous visitors.

So those who passively read and watch your content are not negligible because they have staying power. And when your audience sticks around, it means your content is striking the right chord with them — and they trust you enough to insert you into their routine.

3. People show up for your community-driven events

Are you hosting live events that your community can participate in? These could be live streams of sporting events or Q&A/ask-me-anything sessions with experts and public figures, for example. If you are, are you satisfied with your attendance numbers? And when people participate, are they staying on topic?

If you feel your live events haven’t found their audience, it could be because you’re not tapped into the things they care about. When your community is built on a balanced exchange with your audience, you’re able to gauge their preferences and interests more easily.

Maybe a live Q&A with a foreign correspondent about the situation in Ukraine is pertinent right now, and it will likely generate a lot of interest while the conflict is ongoing. But what are the perennial topics your audience tends to flock to? Because whatever those topics may be, when you find ways to centere the experience around their involvement, they have an incentive to take part.

Line enough of these topics up, and you won’t have to wait for a major crisis to occur to engage your audience.

4. People encourage others to join the community

What do sci-fi fans, inline skaters, and amateur bakers have in common? They all know how to find each other.

In the social era, people congregate around shared interests, then invite others they know to join their “congregation.”

In media, there are many opportunities to form communities around niche verticals, such as the arts, which are often surprisingly overlooked given how passionately people tend to feel about them. When audiences are satisfied with the quality of their exchanges in a given community space, they can quickly become ambassadors.

It’s up to you to establish the parameters of your community space. When your audience starts recruiting more eyeballs, it means you’ve done a good job of making that space an indispensable part of their fanhood.

5. People occasionally reach out to the newsroom

Let’s forget for a moment that social media normalised the notion of a dialogue between editorial staff and news audiences. If members of your audience take the time to reach out to you with story ideas or opinions on your content, it means your media brand is more than just a news outlet to them. They consider your content valuable and impactful enough to contact you directly about it.

An audience-first strategy

Building a community means thinking about what your audience needs most of the time out of general interest and also during specific moments when they might be experiencing confusion or alarm. Media is predicated on providing answers and clarity. For many audiences, that’s a perfectly good place to start.

About Olivia Collette

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