You Don’t Need an Audience

“Building an audience” is one of the most common—and problematic—phrases in content marketing.Instead of thinking about building an audience, you should create content that addresses users’ needs as those needs are discovered.

In previous posts, we’ve hashed out the difference between publications and libraries, but it’s worth reiterating briefly. When blogs act like publications, they…

  • Rely too heavily on editorial calendars,
  • Publish more content than they need,
  • Focus on winning this week instead of focusing on long-term growth, and
  • Fail to build strategies that directly address customer acquisition and retention.

Perhaps most important is that publications tend to be a collection of individual articles as opposed to a cohesive library of information. This point is directly related to the problematic use of the word “audience.”

To grow an audience, you need to continually add new people and retain old ones. It’s a singular group that’s always growing. It’s useful if you can pull it off, but it assumes that readers have an ongoing interest in what you have to say. If that’s the case, great. But content marketing works best when it solves problems for people when they have a problem.

The core problem with audience growth is that content creators need to please old readers while bringing in new readers. By definition, this requires more content. And as we’ve discussed before, content overproduction creates all kinds of problems.

In the visualization above, continually adding content (the input) results in a larger audience (the output) and the audience is made up of layers of new and old readers. To be clear, this is not a bad strategy—it’s just not the most efficient one. As you write and establish a presence, you’ll almost certainly gain some loyal followers. Still, we challenge you to think about content marketing in a different context.

The Audience Alternative

I checked my browser history and found that I search Google between 40 and 70 times per day. Each time I have a problem, I search for an answer. With a few exceptions, there are very few blogs I read regularly. I’m a true audience member for about five sites, but I access hundreds of sites each day.

Your readers are likely not part of a growing audience, but rather a continuous stream of people with a problem to solve. At the moment they need an answer, they search Google and find you. Your “audience” is actually a different group of people each day. In email marketing, these groups are called dynamic segments.

When you let go of the idea of an “audience,” you realize that you need far less content to be successful. Even a handful of pieces, strategically placed and well-written, can serve readers over and over again. This is how you get leverage from content and why SEO is still the most reliable distribution channel.

Instead of “growing an audience,” we encourage you to think about “increasing the opportunities to be discovered.” The truth is that readers are unreliable, but there are plenty of people with problems to be solved.

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