Liberating—and Monetizing—Your Inner Audience

Whether you’re in content marketing or B2B publishing, one of your main goals is to ensure your message is reaching the right people. While the theory is straightforward, the practice is anything but. You may have a clear vision of your target audience, but in the social-media era, that audience may not be your only audience. To maximize the revenue from your content, you should look beyond your target to what might be called your “inner” audience.

What exactly do I mean by inner audience? It is a group of readers you may not intend to address, but which is implied by your content. But how can content “imply” an audience? Let me explain. In a former life as a grad student in English, one of the critics I admired was Wayne Booth.  (Current English majors: this was a long time ago, so if Booth is no longer cool or I don’t get the details right, be gentle.)

One of Booth’s ideas was that of an “implied reader.” A work of literature, he said, always implies a particular type or types of reader, with certain tastes, expectations, or interests. This reader will often be different from the actual reader, or even from the reader the author was consciously writing for.

It doesn’t take a big leap of imagination to apply this idea to your content. You may have a particular type of reader in mind when you write or assign your articles. But your content may well encompass a broader range of readers than you intend.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a blog about industrial valves, and you’re targeting the engineers who specify them. In writing about valves, you might discuss with some frequency issues involving materials or failure analysis. As you go deeper and more critically into these topics, you may find yourself addressing not just your target engineer, but others who are more concerned with those topics than with valves themselves.

In the old-media world, implying types of readers beyond your target didn’t often result in reaching those actual readers. But in new media, the game is different, thanks to Google. If you talk much about materials, you will get the materials people reading your page, even if they don’t care much about valves.

So the question is, what do you do with—and for—these readers? Do you ignore them, or actively cultivate and, if possible, monetize them? Your answer might depend on whether you’re a content marketer or a publisher.  But in either case, you should resist the impulse to immediately reject them just because they are not your target.

Gary Vaynerchuk talks about precisely this situation in his book Crush It! (reviewed elsewhere on this blog). “Someone with ambition and talent decides she’s going to be the Martha Stewart of kid-friendly sandwiches, and then all of a sudden discovers that somewhere along the way she reached a core group of beer-drinking dudes who are religiously watching the show. Instead of embracing that demographic and adapting, she refuses to acknowledge it.”

Big mistake. For Vaynerchuk, ignoring any element of your audience that embraces you is unwise. In the new-media world, where multiple revenue streams are often the key to success, neglecting any of those streams can be a fatal error.

If you’re a content marketer whose ultimate goal is to sell products or services, you may be inclined to disregard unlikely buyers. But once you start marketing content, you’ve entered into a virtual line of business broader than your real-world trade. At the very least, cultivating a nontarget audience can help your message go viral. At best, you can build a new content-based revenue stream from this new audience.

Of course, if you’re a publisher, expanding your types of audience and subject areas is what new media is all about. You’re freed from the old-media restraints of rigid demographics and predetermined job-function and industry breakdowns. If your audience morphs, you can morph right along with it.

So how do you identify your actual, nontarget audience? First, you can be what Vaynerchuk calls a “reactionary.” Find out what unintended visitors you may already have. Analyze your metrics, run polls and surveys, and encourage comments to identify them. Then search the Web, Twitter, and other social networks to find out what kind of people are talking about you or your site. As their identity emerges, consider how you might develop them as an audience.

But if you’re really serious about expanding your revenue streams, you will also take a proactive approach. Like a new-media Wayne Booth, analyze your content for hints about your implied audience. As you identify potential new audience categories, look for evidence that they may be visiting your site already. If they’re not, you may want to actively pursue them, depending on the potential revenue.

So, are you ready to maximize the earning potential of your content? Then it’s time to uncover and embrace your inner audience.