Audience Building 101: Know Thyself / Know Thy Audience

This is the first in a series of Audience Building articles that were originally posted on Ms in the Biz.

I don’t just want to give you a punch list of how to build a devoted fan base; you can easily google some perfectly fine pointers. I will go into depth on the sticking points, the places where I see people take short cuts but are actually quite vital.

These are all methods on how to find and build new audiences, not just promoting without annoying your family and friends. Everyone has to actively attract and sustain new people in order to grow their audience, whether for your personal career, web series, feature film, blog, play, book, business, jewelry store…..you get the idea.

UPDATED 12/12/2014: I changed a reference from Bill Cosby to Tina Fey, so as not to distract from the topic.

Audience Building 101

Know thyself. (In 160 characters or less.)

One thing I love about Twitter (and there many) is that the profile picture and bio are great examples of how quickly you must explain yourself to someone new. This is a freedom, not a restriction. You shape exactly how people think of you visually and tell them what you do and your personal mission. Go through these Brainstorms for Twitter and it can help you everywhere else, including in-person introductions.

cmj just eyes croppedWhen I change my twitter photo, it is very deliberate. Once, someone with whom I’d had lengthy conversations on twitter but never met in person didn’t recognize me because I wasn’t wearing a green cap (like in my previous profile photo). Last summer, I’d tried in vain to explain where I was in a crowded bar to a playwright, and he found me based on my glasses, front and center in my new one. How do you know the right photo to use?

Brainstorm: What do I want people to know about me? I find 3-5 specific words do the trick. (Using myself as an example:)

1. Curious

2. Nerdy (my freelance business name is Outreach Nerd & I also write about parenting on @ParentingNerd)

3. Focused

4. (optional) Honest

5. (optional)

Brainstorm: How do I want people to feel when they see my photo? Keep these as simple as possible, and be sure they reflect emotions.

1. Intrigued

2. Safe (they can trust me)

How can you possibly describe yourself in 160 characters or less?

1. Find one or two words that brand you in a unique way (based on the above brainstorms)

2. What you DO (Could be job title and/or personal mission)

3. Your associations, projects, related twitter handles and/or hashtags

4. Your current project (also in the website)

For instance, here’s mine at this moment:

Storyteller & @OutreachNerd – I bridge gaps between Audiences and Art. Communications Dir @24thST. New @ParentingNerd.*

Show to a few people and ask them if it sounds like you. Picture wearing your bio plastered on a sandwich board at a conference or an opening gala – are you that comfortable with it? It will be a lot of people’s first impression of you, and you want it right, and you want it current.

I can’t tell you how many times I go to someone’s twitter profile to find information about their new show, and the website listed directs me to an outdated page that has no bearing on the information I want to know right now. You lost my interest. If your current project has a twitter handle and/or hashtag, put it in the bio. Keep it current; keep yourself relevant. Direct people exactly where you want them to look. You have the power. Use it.

Know Thy Audience.

The very first step to this endeavor is narrowing it down. “Everybody who likes comedy/likes to laugh” is not specific enough. Is your comedy akin to Steve Martin, Chelsea Peretti, Louis CK, John Oliver, Sarah Silverman? Is it tweetable, or more long form? (Time-sucker Tangent: see Patton Oswalt if you want a stellar example of using limitations to create comedy that also shows insight into society)

With all of my clients, I place an image of a target and markers in front of them. Be sure to use markers. They make everything more fun.

photo1 8-17-14

Begin in the center of the target: who are the guarantees, the people you know are devoted to you and will share anything just because you ask? People who usually go in the center include the following:

  • Family
  • Close Friends
  • Donors (if you fund-raised)
  • That person who Likes everything you post on Facebook and sometimes it’s a little creepy, but you really think they mean well and aren’t stalkers.

Then begin moving to the outer circles. In the circle just outside the center target, your potential audiences here   may include:

  • Collaborators (They are often considered a given for your main audience, but are not always reliable. Collaborators usually work on multiple projects and their performance or comfort level with promoting in general may contribute to how much they hustle the project. You also have to give them the tools necessary to make it easy, which I’ll cover in a later post)
  • Colleagues/Associates (People who understand that you need help and may ask for it in return.)

Note that you want to consider how close the potential audience is to both your product (people who love the genre of your film, for example) and how close your current real connection is to them. If you want to target Firefly lovers but haven’t been active in any forums, blogs, etc, then move them further away from the center than if you’re a familiar face around the fanbase. It will take time to gain their trust.

Here is how I coach people through completing their target audience list:

  • Don’t think too much about it. This is a brainstorm. Write every thought that comes into your head and don’t edit. You’ll appreciate it later.
  • You can always move people, so don’t obsess over where they go in the target either.
  • Get as general and as specific as comes to you in the moment. “People who like Tina Fey” are different than “People who like 30 Rock”, though they overlap. But if all you can think is “Tina Fey,” write that and go into detail later.
  • Peel apart every part of your product that might attract people: genre, themes, sub themes, locations, hobbies of characters, actors, etc
  • Use a soft focus on the project to see it from a different angle. Ask people not familiar to read/watch and give you a new perspective into their personal hook.

If you take the time to fill in each outer circle with as many details as you can, it will avoid overwhelm later. Imagine you are sitting at home, and you feel like you should do something but you don’t know what. Don’t just post a soulless status update that sounds too sales-y even for your tastes. Sit down and focus on just one of these potential audience groups. Where do they live online? Who influences them? Where do they find their entertainment? It is so much easier to find a specific potential target than just think “I need more people! Say something witty right now”

How do you find them? That is in my next post, Audience Building 102: Starting From Scratch.

Comment with your questions or tweet them to @CindyMarieJ. I’ll answer or address it in a later post.

*Since this post was originally published on September 30, my twitter profile bio changed, according to how my focus shifted.

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