The humans in your audience; they aren't mere eyeballs

I came across this post from Brian Solis about audiences. I found that it really helps to demystify why social networking platforms have made such an important impact on society. I don’t think most people really realize the impact; they simply see social networking as either a hobby, a waste of time or a free way to self promote. Or they say this type of networking has always existed, it has just moved online. I don’t agree. I think what is happening now is a complete shift in how we communicate and with whom we communicate. It isn’t just the tools available to us, but the creative and exciting ways we use them to reach people and assemble those people into spheres of influence.

“The cultural impact of new media is profound as it weaves a new fabric for how we connect and communicate with one another. As a digital society, we are ushering in an era where everyday people form a global network of self-empowered social intermediaries that accelerate and proliferate the reach and effect of information and experiences.”-Brian Solis

In Solis’ post, he references the words of Jay Rosen from 2006 where he addressed the people of the media from the perspective of the people formerly known as “audience.” While some see audience as the faceless mass waiting to be entertained or reduced to eyeballs needing to be captured, Rosen points out that audiences now have the means and ability to make their own work. Hence, the glut of content now available and the multiple distractions competing for everyone’s time. This could be perceived as a bad thing or as a good thing.

A bad thing because all of the content being produced isn’t what some would call “professional” or worthy of attention. It also makes it that much more difficult to wade through the crap to get to the gold bits(from the consumer perspective) ¬†and that much harder to raise your gold to the level of consciousness in order to make an impact and a living (from the creator perspective).

A good thing because more people will have a newfound respect for those with talent (it isn’t easy to create content worthy of an audience) and a network of creators can be harnessed to spread work much further than an expensive ad campaign can do. When everyone can speak, you are no longer dependent on the words of the few with access to broadcast (or the means to buy media space) for recommendation. By making connections with those most interested and inspired by your work, you are creating a web of interconnected communication that helps to spread the work faster and further and more cheaply. They speak for you, with you and amongst each other, but ONLY if you have made those connections. How do you make the connections? They are made by 1)using the networking tools to communicate (dialog, not monologue) and 2)knowing who you are trying to reach. Really knowing them, not having a vague idea of them.

You must stop creating work without thinking about the audience. Those faceless people, those eyeballs, must become real. You must think about the human with whom you are trying to communicate. After you devise the story you want to tell (NOT after you make it, but while you are creating it!), I want the next thought in your head to be “who is going to love this?” and be able to visualize that person in detail. I hope you can see someone similar to yourself. The key to knowing that audience is being a part of it yourself and everyone who works on it also must be part of it in some way. You cannot hope to build an audience for your work if you cannot say who they are, exactly, and how you are going to tell them about your work.

Also, it isn’t enough to hire the most talented person or the person who will work the cheapest. The people you hire (or collaborate with) should also have a voice that can be used to help spread the word of your project. Really take that last sentence to heart, both as an employer and as an employee. Your worth as a craftsperson is no longer only judged on your abilities, it is also being judged on how big of a network you personally bring to a project. I can hear the balking already, but just think about this. What is the value a film star brings to a project? It isn’t just acting ability and how good looking they are on screen. It is how well recognized and how big their personal audience is that determines their worth. Studios know this, distributors know this, that is why star vehicle films are MUCH more attractive buys than non star driven films. A celebrity’s personal audience is worth a lot financially to them and so it should be to you and so it should be to the person employing you. Those personal networks didn’t spring up overnight, they were carefully cultivated over time and it is something you too should be doing every day. Personal networks should no longer be prerequisites only for those on screen, they should be considered for everyone and everyone should believe enough in the projects they are working on and want them to succeed that they are willing to evangelize them to their personal networks. Lots of little networks on a project grow into bigger ones so it is beneficial for you as a creator to cultivate a team around you who all have little networks that are similar to your own and to the audience you are trying to reach.

The power of building audience lies in the aggregation of little networks and genuinely knowing the humans behind the networks.

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