What Sets a Community Apart From an Ordinary Audience Online?

Generally, media companies know that their success is dependent on their audience. The better they can meet the needs of consumers, the more their audience is likely to grow. 

But having a big audience isn’t the same as having a profitable community. 

“It doesn’t matter how many followers you have online if none of them are engaged,” states Stephanie Burns, who runs an online resource for over 100,000 female entrepreneurs. 

Without engaging audience members, a dedicated community that sustains your business’ long-term growth is just out of arm’s reach. Instead, brands must meet and exceed visitor expectations at every step of their journey to convince them to stick around in the long run. 

So ask yourself the question: Is your brand creating a basic audience or a flourishing, profitable community? 


To help you answer the question, here’s everything you need to know to transform your audience into a valuable community.

Defining an Ordinary Audience

When consumers stumble across your content or brand, they typically start as passive audience members — meaning that they will, at most, read your content. There’s no real engagement taking place.

Since passive visitors don’t actively engage with digital properties, they lack long-lasting connections to brands.

With so many competing media companies out there, if you don’t take action to engage and delight your audience with outstanding experiences, they may eventually lose interest altogether in your brand and churn.

An ordinary, unengaged audience holds no long-term loyalty to your brand. This means that an audience can easily break apart as competitors and changes in the world, like the pandemic, come and go. 

A small loyal, engaged audience always holds more power and resilience than a large, passive audience.

The Stirling Woods Group consulting company even reports that the small group of consumers who are the most engaged (approximately 10-15% of readers) generates most of the revenue for media companies. 

For this reason, it’s in your company’s best interest to help turn ordinary audience members into active, revenue-generating community members.

What a Thriving Community Looks Like

A thriving digital community is the main destination for consumers’ content and experiences — not just a quick stop along the way to another platform. 

While an ordinary audience is made up of passive, unengaged content consumers, a digital community is a network of users who actively form meaningful connections with one another. And media companies stand at the center of these relationships.

In other words, a community wants to take part in the experiences and conversations surrounding your company. This sense of connectedness and interest towards a platform is what keeps people coming back and paying for a company’s services.

Yet, profitable communities don’t build themselves. 

“People want more than a transactional relationship with a media outlet that just publishes information at them,” says Sean Dagan Wood, CEO of Positive News. Brands must offer audience members extraordinary experiences to position themselves as trusted resources worth consumer time and money.

How to Turn an Audience into a Loyal Community

Having an unengaged, disconnected audience doesn’t mean that a lucrative community is permanently out of reach. Place your existing audience at the center of exciting experiences and engaging conversations to begin the community-building process. 

This is a particularly useful way to make audience members feel like they’re a valued part of a community.

“As engagement grows, the community gets smarter, faster to respond, more globally available, and generates more value,” reads an article on Harvard Business Review. 

Many companies choose to nurture their communities by offering moderated social spaces on their properties. Others also allow audiences to give feedback and chat directly with content producers to involve them in the content-creation process. 

Another way to improve the user experience is to personalize the visitor experience using first-party data. By understanding what your audience members are interested in and adjusting the experience with your brand to suit their behaviors, they’ll be more likely to engage with your properties. 

Whether you choose to engage your audience through social tools or unique, personalized experiences, you can build up a profitable community by putting your audience at the center of your brand. After all, the time and support you invest in your community will lead to increased attention levels, better on-site engagement, richer user data and long-term loyalty.

Author: Dan Seaman

Dan Seaman is a 15 year digital media professional and enthusiast and has held key product strategy and leadership roles managing consumer products for large media groups like St. Joseph Media, Quebecor, TC Media, and The Globe and Mail.

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