It’s one of the hottest topics in content marketing – a quick Google search throws up thousands of results professing to help you do it, but why is building an audience so important? Throughout March, we’re examining a few of the key topics related to this mysterious, but extremely important, part of content marketing. So far we’ve covered the basic concepts and the importance of ‘editorial regulars’ in your content mix – now, we’ll examine the idea that there are ready-made audiences out there waiting for your content by answering some key questions every content marketer should ask.
Do ready-made audiences really exist?
A ready-made audience sounds like the perfect way of avoiding all the painstaking work required to build a following from scratch. As we already know, content marketing is heavily dependent on having an audience – otherwise you’re just shouting into the void – but that doesn’t mean you can just crash into a community or purchase a bunch of followers and get the same results as you would by building organically. When we talk about a ready-made audience what we actually mean is an existing community that is enthusiastic and engaged with a certain subject. This could be focused around a specific interest area (like the London Fixed Gear Single Speed forum – a phenomenally popular online community devoted to cycling in the city) or a more general group with a single shared characteristic or background (like massive parenting forum Mumsnet). These communities don’t always have to be online either – there are plenty of real life clubs, groups and societies that might be the perfect audience for your content. Getting your content shared in these communities gives it the best possible chance to reach an audience that is not only relevant, but enthusiastic about the subject you want to talk about.
But what if they don’t like me?
Many marketers are hesitant to get involved with closed communities like forums for fear that their overtures might be rejected or ignored. This is why forums are largely brand-free zones. Some larger forums do allow brands to buy advertising space on their sites, which is sprinkled in among ‘real’ user posts, but posting ‘as a brand’ is virtually unheard of. Of course it’s important to make sure you’re looking for the right type of audiences – there’s no sense in expending energy and resource trying to create content for a community that has no relevance to your brand. If you’re a financial institution, creating content for an audience of keen surfers is likely to seem inauthentic and fall on deaf ears. The hugely successful example above saw Innocent – the super-scrummy, oh-so-yummy maker of smooshed up fruit in a bottle – partner up with Mumsnet on a list of healthy eating recipes for families to cook together. It’s valuable content for parents, while clearly linking up with Innocent’s own values.
How do I stay credible?
To avoid annoying or alienating your target audience look at the types of content that gets shared already and pick out some common threads or characteristics. Do the people you want to target prefer funny, irreverent takes on their field of interest, or highly informational videos that will help them pursue their passion? Understanding what is likely to be shared is half the battle. Being seen to offer something genuinely useful is vitally important when dealing with ready-made communities.
If you’re deemed to be cynical in your intentions the backlash can be huge. Reddit is one of the most vociferous online communities (or, more accurately, group of communities) and guards its independence fiercely – that’s why when the site thought it caught Warner Brothers trying to game Reddit’s up/down-voting system to promote its own content owners of the site were quick to call the studio out. You can read Reddit General Manger, Erik Martin’s post publicly naming and shaming the studio here. In actual fact WB was not behind the spamming, but the speed and strength of the Reddit community’s reaction should act as a warning sign for any other brand marketers thinking about sneaking their content up the rankings disingenuously. It also helps if you can leverage your brand advocates and loyal followers by getting them to share content for you in their own circles. If you don’t have any loyal fans for your content brand revisit our post on editorial regulars and start building that expectation and appreciation!
Isn’t this just classic interruption?
Trying to reach consumers in ‘closed’ communities might feel a lot like the advertising or ‘interruption’ model, with brands impinging on spaces that are decidedly and deliberately unbranded, but done right content marketing offers a way of connecting with consumers in a new way valuable to both sides. The great thing about content is that it allows the lines of communication to be more open. Real dialogues can be created between brands and consumers – something not present or possible in traditional advertising.
Ready-made audiences: three things to remember
1. A ready-made audience is not a myth: ready-made audiences do exist, but they’re not the short-cut or easy fix that some marketers would like to think. Closed communities can be very protective (as well as enthusiastic) so getting your content seen within one is not only a massive challenge, but also offers big rewards.
2. Be genuine: trying to game the system or sneak in branded content unnoticed is a good first step to getting your brand ignored, or even barred from closed communities.
3. Don’t interrupt: the surest way to ensure you’re not following an old ‘interruption’ model is make sure the content you produce is of high quality and relevance to the people you’re talking to.
Keep watching the blog for more on building an audience, in the meantime check out some of our other great content:
Editorial regulars: the first step to always on
Stop shouting into the void: the basics of building an audience
More from Tom Owen
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