Audience Czars, Gurus, Specialists, Managers…
Call them what you will, but audience development professionals are all the rage in the industry right now, and with good reason. As Jake Batsell writes in Engaged Journalism: Connecting With Digitally Empowered News Audiences,
But what does that mean and why is it so important?
Because today’s audiences are so digitally dialled in, they want to be actively involved in the news conversation, rather than just having information presented to them. This means journalists and publishers need to find unique ways of interacting with their readers, which is where Audience Czars come in. Audience Czars are responsible for bridging the gap between writer and reader and, as Alison Gow of the Daily Post puts it, “fighting for the audience and what they want at every point in the newsgathering process.”
This can be through encouraging audience-driven content and writer interaction, advocating for changes in the community policies, or even ensuring that marketing meets audience needs. Whatever the avenue, audience czars are tasked with making sure that a publication represents the perspectives of its readership.
Sometimes, this means deciding what a newsroom will not do, as the Daily Post did for the birth of the Prince George in July 2013. For the event, the Post decided not to run a live blog as most other British media were doing, instead focusing on a local headline which appealed more to their readers.
According to Digital First’s Steve Buttry, Audience Czars help digital publishers decide “what to do less of, what to stop doing, what to do to a lower standard.”
While these development gurus help publishers understand where not to direct their focus, they can also show them what to do more of. For example, a large number of readers come online to find community. These online communities are invariably benefited by journalist engagement which makes for more civil and insightful discourse. Katy Day, Director of Digital Content at the Telegraph encourages this involvement by creating a newsroom environment that rewards interactivity. By highlighting best practices and small victories (such as an article on the most-shared list) publicly, Day says writers are more driven to participate.
By researching and mining data to understand what content your audience wants and informing the entire publishing process, these specialists can make your content work for your business. While they may not be writing or marketing stories, audience czars can tell you what story to write, what medium is most suitable, what angle will appeal to your audience and what marketing strategies will work best for your audience. This information is vital to a newsroom’s success in today’s multi-platform and multi-channel world. By staying on top of trends, technology, culture and reader sentiment, audience specialists keep the newsroom moving forward.
Publishers are increasingly coming to recognize the importance of having an Audience Czar on board to meet their business KPIs. Just last year, The New York Times compiled a detailed internal report outlining, among other things, the need for a cohesive digital strategy and audience development specialists.
This integration of audience development into strategy is something that digital-only brands such as Vox Media and BuzzFeed have excelled at, and The New York Times recognized the need for quick change. As a result of these findings, Alexandra MacCallum (founding editor of The Huffington Post) was brought on as Assistant Managing Editor for Outreach to grow the Times’ audience development team. Other publications such as Business Insider and the Washington Post are also realizing the importance of an audience development guru to to develop innovative and actionable for growth.
The main idea behind audience development is that “it isn’t about chasing clicks,” as MacCallum says. Page views is an outdated and vanity metric of success — audience development is about engagement. It’s about building loyalty to the brand and the storytellers, and creating a long lasting relationship with the reader by showing them that you’re listening. How you do this is the knowledge that Audience Development Specialists bring to the table. Though creating quality content is important for building your audience, it is no longer enough, as The New York Times discovered in its report. Whether a team or a single specialist, having someone on board who can connect the dots between audience, editorial and business will help you capitalize on trends before the competition.