A cardinal rule of writing and communicating is to know your audience and customise your message and style to suit them. You need to hone your tone for each distinct and not so distinct group within your overall audience.
But it’s a fallacy to think we can ever know our audience. We measure engagement by taking anonymous surveys and counting web hits. We reduce our audience to stats and numbers. How does that help us ‘know’ anyone?
That’s the crux; to know an audience you have to know a great many individuals, and to know individuals takes too much time and effort for the mass-communicator.
So let’s stop pretending that we know our audience and start being honest with just how much and how little we can ever know.
I know you (maybe)
I know some readers of this website; I’m lucky enough to have run into them within the comments section beneath my posts, on Facebook and, frequently, on Twitter. I value each and every ‘touch’ I get from my readers, however fleeting. It helps me remember that I’m writing for a diverse non-group of people. I know in my heart that these light ‘touches’ from people only form the most superficial of relationships, but that’s a start and I value the interest and engagement demonstrated.
The web without people would be stale
On Twitter, the other evening, I mentioned that I was writing my heart out. Maybe it was a plea. I name dropped – terrible I know, but I did mention C Briogan* because his writing influences my approach to social media. I’m a communicator, I write, but I also know that networking and being available to people is really important, and that supersedes any traditional ‘feedback mechanisms’ built into our usual communications.
Anyway, I Twittered and Mr. Brogan was kind enough to Twitter about me and my site here at kilobox communiqué – Brogan has a lot of Twitter followers. Over 30 people decided to follow my Twitterings too as a direct result of Chris B’s 140 character tweet.
I can’t claim to have a relationship with Brogan, and we’re worlds apart in our fields (he’s in the New World, promoting networking events and better use of social media technology, I’m in the Old World, in HR and Internal Communications) but we both care about good writing and we both care about engaging with people.
Your audience is made up of individuals
As my website becomes more popular, I must ensure that I continue to provide information and ideas that are relevant, interesting, actionable and on-theme.
I must remember that I don’t know my audience, but I can try to develop relationships and grow my readership organically. If you’re a writer or communicator I suggest you stop thinking of your audience as some undifferentiated mass and start talking to people, not hit stats.
How should we talk about our audience then, at work and online? I use the word ‘constituents’ quite a lot, as this includes not only the audience but also the stakeholders who I serve (like my boss, my management committee / board, the shareholders etc.) but it’s a very formal term.
If we want to dump the generic word ‘audience’ how can we talk about the people who read our work and engage with our companies and departments and websites?
I guess the word ‘people‘ is a good start – any further ideas? Please leave your comments about audiences and people below.
*I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning Mr. Brogan’s full name in a sentence – if I do his custom Google searches will be sure to pick up on it (see, he listens to what people are saying across the web) and then I’ll have ‘touched’ him yet again, and I’m reckoning the poor man needs some peace from me!