The art of finding an audience

Almost to the day a year ago I wrote a post on audience engagement, talking about five points I believe are essential when it comes to reaching the point of meaningful interaction with an engaged audience, and the harnessing of that power in the long run.

I still stand by my points from that post, nothing has changed in that regard. But this post has come about as a direct result of a number of workshops and consultations I’ve done over past year or so, which have led me to the conclusion that we need to realize some very crucial things about our audience to begin with.

I’ve talked with and consulted on a number of projects and programs, where the audience has been a part of the equation. But unfortunately, many times the audience has been a fairly theoretical part of the equation. It has become apparent that many who start out creating content, producing a campaign or a project or looking to distribute what they’ve created, have a skewed notion of who their audience is, leading to misfiring attempts to gain traction and , in the end, wasted time and resources.

This has been the case for fiction franchises I’ve evaluated, innovative apps I’ve consulted on, even long-running TV properties.

To be able to consult these and future clients better, I’ve started looking into different ways of actually finding out who your audience is and who you should target initially as well as in the long run. One solution I am in the process of evaluating is taken from the world of User Centered Design and marketing – the building of personas and the most adequate way of using these for a storytelling-based property.

There is an abundance of litterature and web sites dedicated to the building of personas – i.e. ” fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way” – which has become a cornerstone in User Centered Design processes. I feel it is a method well worth looking into for anyone starting out creating content, no matter what kind of content it is .

The first step would be to carefully construct your personas. Who will be interested in your franchise? What kind of people are they? What are their goals, their needs, their hopes, their wishes? How technologically advanced are they? What will make them interact, what will turn them away from your content? As I said, there are many sites online ready to assist you in creating the right personas for your specific project. What you need to do is think beyond the marketing needs of most persona-building advice and tweak them to suit your long-term storytelling needs.

My advice would then be to take this all a bit further. When you know what your different personas are like – what they are likely to engage themselves in, what they are likely to share on social media and so on – the next step is to conduct some research. Where are these personas IRL? Where can you find people that are the most like your personas? Where do they live, what do they do? How much alike are they to your personas, and in what ways do they differ? And what impact do these differences potentially have? Which of them have a following online already and could have the potential to become beacons for your narrative?

As a natural follow-up to this – find who these people interact with, why and how. This will give you valuable information as to how you could frame and voice your own campaign and your own content. Let this knowledge and these conclusions influence how you approach your intended audience – basically, mimic their behaviour and output, tweaked to suit your own content and narrative, observe what happens and draw your conclusions – how could the output be tweaked? What kind of reactions did you get? How did people engage, and did you reach the intended target groups?

This is the approach I will be taking with a couple of the projects I’m involved in at the moment. I’ll post any future findings regarding the use of personas on this blog, but I would dearly like to hear your thoughts on the matter. Have you tried using personas in the way described above, or a similar way? How did it work out for you? What were the pitfalls and the key aspects?

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