How we know what audiences want to read
Producing written content is much like sitting down at a dinner party: no matter how charismatic you are (and you are), you’re not going to wow everyone with the same topic, and you’re not going to keep everyone engaged if you hold court in the same tone of voice all night.
To get a message across you have to know your audience: if you wanted to get your dining companions riled up about the scandal of food waste you would have to change it up when talking to the sustainability consultant across from you or the host’s 16-year- old son, half-listening while checking Twitter on his phone.
It’s the same when creating an online message. Luckily though, unlike the crucible of an evening round the table, there are plenty of tools at your disposal to plan ahead and get that message just right.
The first thing to do is to know your audience – who are you trying to speak to? This could be a conscious decision (say you are producing a website specifically to educate school-aged children on an issue) or it could be an organic result of a particular demographic relating with your existing content. Having knowledge of the interests, needs and behaviours of the audience you’re going for is essential, and can be built up with desk research, knowledge of your sector and just asking them what they want to know and how you can help them achieve their goals.
Once you have built up a solid persona for your target reader, you can identify the best platform to use to reach them (a website, two-minute YouTube videos, social media, maybe even a magazine), the specific topics that they are interested in, and what they would be looking to take away from a piece of content... on that topic, from you.
To use the food waste example, last year, the Real Junk Food Project opened the UK’s first ‘pay-as- you-feel’ food waste supermarket in Leeds. The store takes surplus food from supermarkets and other retailers and offers it to the public for free, for a donation or in exchange for volunteering time. At a time when the Trussell Trust is giving out more than 1.1 million emergency food packs a year (compared to 25,000 in 2008/09), this social solution to a social problem can speak to anyone.
But there are other sides to food waste. Changes to packaging and labelling could save around £1 billion-worth of food; a measly 32 per cent of English councils provide a separate food waste collection to residents; and a national voluntary agreement is aiming to reduce food and drink waste across the grocery and hospitality industry by 20 per cent in the next 10 years.
None of these approaches, perhaps, would resonate as widely with the public, but each has a specific audience – the packaging industry, local authorities, retailers – that cares deeply about its content and its ramifications. Respectively, they could inform future business decisions and opportunities, explain how a reader’s supply chains might change in the future or simply let them know what’s going on in their sector. I know, right? Could you pass the mashed potato?
Alongside building up deep but anecdotal editorial knowledge, you can also use analytics tools to see what content is already being engaged with, and what trends can be gleaned from popular stories and features. Programmes like Google Analytics enable you to see when, and how, readers have arrived at each bit of editorial content, and by knowing what types of content get hits most consistently, you can use your own resources efficiently and cater to what you know your audience likes (the dinner party equivalent is, I suppose, looking someone up on the internet the night before).
For new pieces of content, tactical tools like Alexa or Buzzsumo enable you to work out how to frame and structure content to make it both discoverable and shareable. These brilliant services can determine what keywords will get your content in front of your target audience’s eyeballs and identify gaps in the market – things your readers are searching for but just not finding.
Once you know what your audience wants and how to give it to them, all that’s left is to plate up your message with clear points and clean copy. But that’s for another blog…