Your Audience is a Lie

There are certain people out there that seem to be five steps ahead of the rest of us. They don’t just see what’s going on out on the field,they see the rationale behind the plays. They see what’s coming from a mile away and never need to react, instead they prepare and are already in motion when the right time strikes.

This post by Geoff Livingston is the perfect example of being ahead of the game. Of questioning the very foundations of the work that we do prior to it crumbling apart like so much clay.

You, as a communicator, do not have audiences anymore. Audiences are a figment of your imagination, constructed and maintained by the conservatism (read: I didn’t say laziness) of our field. Any attempt to segment, chop up, target, otherwise focus your audience only serves to minimize the effectiveness of your message.

The perspective of messaging towards audiences offers a self centered attitude. It’s also a bad strategy. Audience assumes a position of authority over customers, and that a brand has captive attention just waiting for a performance.

No one wakes up and wants to be marketed to by tons companies and nonprofits throughout their day. It’s something most people endure.

People are audiences when they pay to attend an event, when they volunteer to receive a performance.

Think about who you target your messages to. Do they volunteer to receive your messages? Or do you scrape and cajole to get five seconds in their ear and, regrettably, usually fail?

How did this happen? Communication 101, social marketing 101, hell, half of my blog posts and presentations, start with audiences. So, what changed? Well, the Internet changed it all. Think of it this way: I used to be part of someone’s audience, then I got a blog and a Twitter account, and then I became a broadcaster, part of the media.

Geoff says:

We have a relationship here, and you can talk back. Further, I realize that I am just one of you, all members of the same community.

What does this mean for your messages moving forward?

UPDATE: The wonderful and amazing Patrice Cloutier shared this video of Clay Shirky talking about JUST THIS POINT. Thanks so much, Patrice!