In the previous post, Audience Building for Web Video: Part One – The Human Factor, I explained two basic theories that describe how audiences interrelate with content. In this article, I’ll look at audience needs.
Over the years (yes, even before the Internet), I’ve developed a simple list of Three Audience Needs to inform my decisions to produce, market and distribute content. Looking at how content is promoted on the web, I think there’s a general tendency to focus on technology and tools. There’s a loud chorus out there on how to SEO your show and use the latest techniques. This focus can overshadow audience needs and can result in a one-size-fits-all tech-centric approach. The failure to consider audience needs explains, in part, why some web shows struggle to build audiences. What works for one show doesn’t necessarily work for another.
To apply my list of Three Audience Needs to the web, I’ve looked at available web tools that invite and engage audiences. Some tools, like those for sharing and feedback, are useful across all needs while other tools are more specific. For example: shows that fulfil the audience’s ‘Need to Know’ have a higher than average sign-on rate for push tools like RSS, email, and subscriptions because people see these as a way to get the information the want or need. Also, shows that fulfil the audience’s ‘Need for Cultural and Personal Identity’ have better success with merchandise because merch helps people feel connected to a show. I’m not suggesting that other shows should not use these approaches. Experimenting is good. However, when faced with limited time and resources, prioritizing the most relevant tools and strategies will reap higher rewards.
These needs are non-hierarchical. In other words, people don’t have to satisfy one need before they will seek to satisfy another. (This isn’t like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Also, audience needs can overlap. Most shows fulfil two needs while the occasional show will fulfil all three (a triple threat!)
Now here are my Three Audience Needs:
1. NEED TO KNOW
People need information to survive and feel safe. They need to know what’s going on in their world and they need to learn. The Need to Know explains why some people are news junkies or fans of do-it-yourself, issue-driven, and other factual shows. People who want information tend to want it straight-up — not watered down. They seldom plough through a lot of irrelevant content to get what they need. If a show fails to deliver the goods, people who Need to Know will go to a more direct source.
SHOWS: The Need to Know is a powerful motivator so it’s no surprise that a lot of content targets this need; (and you thought it was just because info content is cheaper to make). Shows that fill this need include news, how-to, documentaries, talk and interview shows, some dramas that are issue-driven (especially social issues) or portray how to cope with more complex things like relationships.
TOOLS: Think about how people seek information. Topic keyword SEO works well. Also, people want to be the first to know, so tools that push content like RSS, email alerts, and subscriptions are effective. Tools that help people share with friends and give feedback work well. Strategies like affiliate partnerships related to the topic or issue are also effective.
2. NEED FOR PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS/SOCIAL
We need to interact with other people and feel we are part of a community. This is fulfilled by knowing and interacting with other people but it can also be fulfilled by connecting with other fans and the show’s performers and creators. This explains the popularity of celebrity. To take this a step further, people can even form virtual relationships with fictional characters. Character fan bases are huge in the popularity of some genre fiction.
One more thing: When thinking of how to fulfil this need, there is a certain kind of show I call the Super Slam. This is when the show, performer, and the character played by the performer combine into a compelling brand that hits an audience sweet spot. When all these things work together, audience building can generate a powerful fan base.
SHOWS: Shows that fulfil the Need for Personal Relationships and Social include dramas (including soft genres like comedy, romance, children’s, light mysteries), celebrity-driven shows, issue-driven shows that are fiction or factual, talk and interview shows hosted by a personality.
TOOLS: Think about how people want to reach out and connect. Audience feedback tools fulfil this need as do community building tools that let fans connect with one another. Tool for sharing let fans spread the show to like-minded friends who will join them in the show’s community.
3. NEED FOR CULTURAL AND PERSONAL IDENTITY
People need to define themselves within groups and the larger society. They need to be part of a ‘tribe’ and they need to display their membership to their fellows and to outsiders. The range of cultural and personal identity seems endless and provides many opportunities to create content.
SHOWS: Genre fiction, documentaries relevant to a defined group, special interest, issue-driven, celebrity-driven.
TOOLS: Think of what helps people find their tribe. SEO by genre, topic, and issue is effective as is promoting via genre and fan media (blogs, magazines, etc) and groups, special interest media and groups. Think of how to help people be part of their tribe (badges, merchandise, clubs, subscriptions). Tools for feedback and sharing help them connect with the show, with like-minded people, and to advocate to others.
Those are the three basic audience needs and I think understanding them makes it easier to work the choices for audience building. What are the ways you’re building your audiences?