Audience Development

The power of audience and community in digital publishing

audience and community
Via Unsplash

Writing recently on her blog, former LA Times audience engagement editor Adrianna Lacy highlights two of the central concepts in effective digital publishing strategy. She says, whether you are a publisher looking to expand revenue through increased reach or deeper engagement, finding the right balance between audience and community is a key consideration.

  • Digital audiences have traditionally consumed content passively. For publishers, audience reach is an essential aspect of their efforts to develop the web traffic needed to support digital advertising. However, with the rise of reader revenue models, publisher focus has been concentrated on building active communities.
  • Online communities involve a deeper level of engagement and interaction. In a community, members not only consume content but also actively participate in its creation and the ongoing discourse around it, sharing ideas, giving feedback,and participating in discussions.
  • For publishers looking to build reader relationships that will ultimately convert to digital subscriptions, nurturing a community can bring real benefits. A robust community delivers user:
    • Loyalty
    • Engagement
    • Habit
Different metrics
  • Strategically, publishers focused on audience need content that attracts views and social shares. Traffic metrics like page views and unique visitors are everything.
  • Publishers focused on community building need content that ‘sparks conversation’ and fosters a sense of belonging. Community metrics look at engagement, repeat visits, and growth.
  • Lacy says understanding the difference between audience and community is crucial. Where audiences deliver larger reach and faster financial returns, communities bring sustainability, loyalty, and deeper engagement.
Different strategies
  • She explains that the distinction between audience and community impacts how publishers interact with their followers:

With an audience, publishers broadcast their content. With a community, they engage in dialogue, listen to feedback, and adapt their content based on the community’s input.

  • Developing a community can be an important differentiator in a publishing landscape where content is ‘abundant and attention is scarce’. Lacy says communities foster loyalty and trust, improving retention rates and customer lifetime value.

She points out, however, that building a community requires different strategies involving unique skills and a long-term commitment. She says:

It requires consistent engagement, an open dialogue, and the ability to listen and adapt based on community feedback. It’s about fostering relationships, not just broadcasting messages.

Mixing audience and community

Lacy believes that the ‘optimal approach’ for publishers is not a choice between audience and community, but striking a balance between both. Publishers adopting a mixed approach will benefit from the scale necessary for financial viability, and the engagement and loyalty needed for long-term sustainability.

She recommends starting out with content that appeals to a broad audience, but encouraging the interaction that will cultivate a community.

Use the audience as a source of traffic and visibility, while nurturing a community for deeper engagement and loyalty.

For Lacy, the right balance lies in creating a sense of belonging by recognizing and appreciating the contribution made by individual members of the audience. She says, gradually, segments of the audience will transform into an engaged community, offering the best of both worlds.

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