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Media and audience fragmentation has been a source of worry for television and traditional media.
There was a time when everyone in the nation sat down to watch the same shows at the same time. But now, instead of a few television networks with a handful of programs that large swaths of the country would be watching together, there are now hundreds and hundreds of television channels and programs. And let’s not forget that streaming services like Hulu or Netflix.
The audience is now fragmented. We’re not all on the same page, consuming the same content, understanding the same references. There’s more choice, and sub-groups are created based on their preferred choices.
Audience fragmentation is generally heralded as a Bad Thing for traditional media. Is it bad for content marketing, too?
When blogging started back in the mid-1990’s, it was a bit like early television.
There were a few blogs, and most tended to cover broad “this is my life” topics. There weren’t too many niche blogs (though there were a few). WordPress arrived on the scene in 2003, along with something else that changed the direction of blogging: AdSense.
With the arrival of AdSense came the opportunity to make money through blogging instead of just using it to share an online journal. By 2005, there were 32 million Americans reading blogs, meta blogs (blogs that talked about blogging) were exploding in popularity, and people began to focus more keenly on how to make money blogging. By 2010, there were 152 million blogs.
The ability to make money off of a blog necessarily led to niche blogs.
After all, you could make more money through a tightly focused audience than a broad, general one with waxing and waning interest. Niche blogs, like cable networks and streaming video, led to fragmentation in blog readers. Blog readers learned they could look for specific content that they had an interest in. Most weren’t reading general or “personality”-based blogs that didn’t at least have an identifiable niche topic.
Media analyst and blogger David Brennan has a less negative take on audience fragmentation for traditional media. While Brennan acknowledges that there is no longer a few huge audience groups consuming the same media, he argues that fragmentation has allowed people who normally wouldn’t watch television to start watching.
Using two specific examples of people who might not have watched much television before, he concludes that “this particular audience has a passion which fragmentation-era broadcast TV can now satisfy; which has quietly resulted in significantly increased hours of viewing from the most unlikely audiences.”
In other words, audience fragmentation shattered the big generic audiences, but also brought in new media consumers who weren’t part of any audience at all. It helped grow media consumers. Big general audiences tend to exclude the fringe audiences. Once fragmented, those fragments found each other, and the fringe audiences had a place to go.
Instead of one way to reach one audience, there are now many ways to reach many audiences. If you wanted to, you could look at it as a sum zero game.
Without a singular focus on your true audience, your content marketing budget and efforts could get quite large. It seems as your choices are simple: you can either market to a fragment (or a niche), or to the whole world.
Most of us can’t cover the whole world. We shouldn’t even try. But there are times that we can cover parts of the world and write for more than one audience. When would you do that?
Your niche might be talking about content marketing, and while your audience is all firmly interested in content marketing, they are on different levels. Some are new to the field, others have been doing it for a while.
You could address this by going even further into your niche, where your blog is targeted only to newbies, or only to experts.
Thing is, newbies are hungry, enthusiastic, and a great cheerleader for your blog. And experts fill your comments section with seriously relevant conversation. It’d be nice to not alienate either group.
Newbies graduate into experts. Wouldn’t it be nice to keep them on your blog instead of seeing them leave?
This is the classic fragmentation that has television nervous: people don’t consume your content in the same place. It’s the same audience ideologically (they are all interested in your content), but geographically they are different (they don’t want to read it in the same place).
The best illustration of this is The Oatmeal, in talking about the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. In his comic, Matthew Inman attempted to show how frustrated fans of Game of Thrones would be trying to locate a place to watch the television show. It wasn’t available on popular streaming services. It wasn’t available for paid download where other popular TV shows were. In fact, at the time the only way you could get on-demand access to the show was to get HBO in your cable package. The audience for that show was everywhere, and they were willing to pay money to buy and download it. But, if you didn’t have HBO or cable…frustrated fans resorted to illegal downloads even if they’d been willing to pay to download just that series. They didn’t want HBO, they wanted Game of Thrones.
Do you make your content readily available for everyone who wants it? Exclusive content has its place, but it’s meant to entice and build an audience with curiosity and excitement, not to anger, frustrate, and send them looking for illegal ways to get your content.
On the Copy Hackers blog, Joanna Wiebe talks about writing copy on a landing page for two audiences. One of her examples caught my attention, the web site TutorSpree (now defunct). They had an audience made up of tutors and of students in need of tutors. How did they handle two audiences? According to Wiebe:
Sometimes, you choose one audience and subordinate the other. That’s the easiest approach, from a copywriter’s perspective, and it’s what TutorSpree has opted to do.
TutorSpree had a business on connecting tutors to students. They chose to focus on their student audience the most, and give tutors a lesser place. Without both students and tutors, there is no business. But tutors who are looking to earn money might be more likely to forgive not being the focus. TutorSpree made the decision that they had to convince students to sign up, and that tutors, wanting to earn a living, might not need as much enticement.
Is your audience your customer? Other businesses? Two different but connected groups (like TutorSpree)? Without being too crass…if your blog is supposed to pay your bills, you give more focus to the audience that brings in the money.
Wiebe then goes on to give great advice on for those of us who don’t want to sacrifice the importance of one audience for the other. She suggests creating a Venn diagram to discover the areas where the content overlaps.
Make a list of the content each audience wants. Find the similarities. That’s your focus.
That overlap is the content you write. You write on the common ground.
Aha! This is where it can get a bit tricky: in a way, we all are writing to two audiences.
If not men/women, perhaps it is introvert/extrovert, or data junkie/creative process.
We can unconsciously create content that appeals more to one group than the other through the graphics, the colors, or the visual presentation. We can also adopt a tone or approach that appeals more to one than the other. Though there are always exceptions, one of the easiest ways to write for a wide variety of preferences along this nature is to have writers of those preferences on your team. This is where team blogging really shines.
On the CoSchedule blog, Garrett and I approach writing and topics in a different way. If you were to give us the same headline and ask us to come back with a post, I’m willing to bet Garrett’s would have lots of charts and data, and mine would be more process and story-oriented. Neither is better; they just appeal to different segments of our audience of CoSchedule users. That’s how we write to two different audiences: we have two different writers.
How do you deal with a blog that has attracted two distinct audiences? Do you bemoan the fragmentation and keep on doing the same thing you’ve always done, or are you ready to create content for both audiences?
If the latter isn’t your preference, then the route to go is creating multiple blogs, one for each audience. Otherwise, though more than one audience is a challenge, it can be done with careful planning, an editorial calendar, and fixed focus on meeting the needs of your audiences.
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