Once upon a time, everyone stood around the water cooler and talked about the same shows. After all, they’d all watched the same shows the night before.
But not anymore.
Now, there is a limitless number of ways you can consume thousands of television shows, movies, and videos. You can watch them when you want, where you want and how you want. Streaming, broadcast, cable, DVR.
Gone is the huge audience watching the same things at the same time. The audience is fragmented. We aren’t all on the same page. The group standing around the water cooler can get pretty quiet and awkward now.
Audience fragmentation is generally heralded as a Bad Thing for traditional media. Is it bad for content marketing, too?
Audience Fragmentation and Content Marketing
Blogging used to be a bit like old television habits. There were a few blogs, and they were broad. There weren’t too many niche blogs. Two things happened in 2003 that changed it all: WordPress and AdSense.
WordPress reduced the barrier to entry for bloggers, and AdSense made it possible to earn an income off of blogging. By 2005, there were 32 million Americans reading blogs, and by 2010, there were 152 million blogs.
There was money to be made in creating content, and this necessarily led to niche blogs.
You can make more money off of a niche blog, with its tightly focused audience, than you can off of a broad one. Niche blogs, like cable networks and streaming video, led to fragmentation in blog readers. Blog readers could focus on their specific interests. Most weren’t reading general or “personality”-based blogs that didn’t at least have an identifiable niche topic.
Audience Fragmentation Is Not Bad
Audience fragmentation has generally been thought of as bad, as a loss of control over the huge audience. Media analyst and blogger David Brennan disagrees. While Brennan acknowledges that there is no longer a few huge groups of people consuming the same media, he argues that fragmentation has allowed people who normally wouldn’t watch television to start watching.
Using two specific examples of people who might not have watched much television before, he concludes that “this particular audience has a passion which fragmentation-era broadcast TV can now satisfy; which has quietly resulted in significantly increased hours of viewing from the most unlikely audiences.”
The big generic audience was gone, replaced by smaller audiences that attracted new media consumers who previously hadn’t been part of any audience at all.
Audience fragmentation actually helped grow media consumers. Why?
Big general audiences tend to exclude those on the fringes. Fragmented audiences allow for broader media and content tastes, attracting those on the edge and giving them a home.
It’s a zero sum game: Instead of one way to reach one audience, there are now many ways to reach many audiences.
How To Write for Two Audiences at Once
Without a singular focus on your true audience, your content marketing will get out of control. It seems as though your choices are simple: you can either market to a fragment (or a niche) or to the whole world.
Most of us can’t cover the whole world, but there are times when we should write for more than one audience. When would you do that?
1. Your audience is fragmented by skill.
Your niche blog might focus on content marketing, and while your audience is all firmly interested in content marketing, they are not the same. Some are new to the field, others are experts.
You could write a blog just for newbies. You could write a blog just for experts. These are valid options.
The thing is, newbies are hungry, enthusiastic, and a great cheerleader for your blog. And experts fill your comments section with seriously relevant conversation. It’d be nice not to alienate either group.
- Be purposeful of your content mix. Write posts that a newbie would find helpful, write complex posts that experts would appreciate.
- Use an email list. With email, you can target two audiences of your blog easily. Your email autoresponder courses should reflect different interests, and should help you build an email list for both audiences. Serve them the content that applies to them directly.
- Try special features that feed the needs of both. What do newbies want? Help and information. What do experts want? To be known for their expertise. Create opportunities for the two to interact. Newbies need what the experts have, and experts need the newbies.
- Stick to a schedule. An editorial calendar really shines when you’re planning content around two different audiences. For example, you can write an expert article on Mondays and something geared for beginners on Thursdays.
Newbies graduate into experts. It’s a shame to see them leave. Make a place for both.
2. Your audience is fragmented by preference.
People don’t consume your content in the same place. They are all interested in your content, they want to consume it in a different place.
The best illustration of this is The Oatmeal, in talking about the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. In this comic, Matthew Inman attempted to show how frustrated fans of Game of Thrones would be trying to locate a place to watch the television show. It wasn’t available on popular streaming services. It wasn’t available for paid download where other popular TV shows were.
At the time, the only way you could get on-demand access to the show was to get HBO in your cable package. The audience for that show was everywhere, and they were willing to pay money to buy and download it. But, if you didn’t have HBO or cable, you had no option. Frustrated fans resorted to illegal downloads even if they’d been willing to pay to download just that series.
They didn’t want HBO, they wanted Game of Thrones.
Do you make your content readily available for everyone who wants it? Exclusive content is meant to entice and build an audience with curiosity and excitement, not to anger, frustrate, and send them looking for illegal ways to get your content. Your content should be:
- Available on all devices. A responsive blog design is a must. Your blog has to look and feel similar on every device. It has to be functional and look good.
- Available on their favored services. What social media networks are your audience using? Be there. Do they prefer email? Send them email. Are they big on RSS? Then don’t send out partial feeds.
- Available offline. Consider creating downloads, ebooks, and so forth. Pick your best blog post(s) and create something your reader can take with them to read later. In our recent Ultimate Guide to CoSchedule, we created a basic PDF version so readers could download and read it whenever they wanted to.
3. Your audience is fragmented by monetary value.
On the Copy Hackers blog, Joanna Wiebe talks about writing copy on a landing page for two audiences. One of her examples used the website TutorSpree (now defunct) as an example. They had an audience made up of tutors and of students in need of tutors. How did they handle two audiences? According to Wiebe:
“Sometimes, you choose one audience and subordinate the other. That’s the easiest approach, from a copywriter’s perspective, and it’s what TutorSpree has opted to do.”
TutorSpree had a business of connecting tutors to students. They chose to focus on their student audience the most, and give tutors a lesser place. Without both students and tutors, there is no business. But tutors who are looking to earn money have a more compelling reason to pursue TutorSpree. So, the site made the decision that they had to convince students to sign up, and that tutors, wanting to earn a living, might not need as much enticement.
Without being too crass, if your blog is supposed to pay your bills, you give more attention to the audience that brings in the money.
If that’s uncomfortable for you, Wiebe then goes on to give great advice for those of us who don’t want to sacrifice the importance of one audience for the other. She suggests creating a Venn diagram to discover the areas where the content overlaps.
Make a list of the content each audience wants. Find the similarities. That’s your focus. That overlap is the content you write. You write on the common ground.
4. Your audience is fragmented by gender (et. al.).
Aha! This is where it can get a bit tricky: in a way, we are all writing for two audiences.
If not men/women, perhaps it is introvert/extrovert, or data junkie/creative process.
We can unconsciously use graphics, writing tone, or examples that appeal to one group more than the other.
One of the easiest ways to write for a wide variety of preferences along this nature is to have writers of those preferences on your team. This is where team blogging really shines.
On the CoSchedule blog, Garrett and I approach writing and topics in a different way. If you were to give us the same headline and ask us to come back with a post, I’m willing to bet Garrett’s would have a lot of charts and data, and mine would be more process and story-oriented. Neither is better; they just appeal to different segments of our audience of CoSchedule users. That’s how we write to two different audiences: we have two different writers.
Fragmentation is not to be feared. It’s an opportunity (wrapped in a bit of research and work) to write to distinct groups on the same blog. And it’s an opportunity to grow your audience instead of alienate it.
A version of this post originally appeared on the CoSchedule blog.