Audience Building: Meeting Fans on Their Own Terms
Digital media veterans Catherine Warren and Moyra Rodger share five ways to build a loyal audience.
From one-way to two-way communications
Catherine Warren, the president of FanTrust that was established more than 15 years ago, has been at the forefront of this shift toward a digital and interactive model. “[Today] you have so many choices, you don’t even know where to begin in terms of audience engagement,” says Warren. “Whereas 15 years ago, it was like: ‘Tell me about interactive audiences’. We’re in a very different landscape now.”
Audiences are more sophisticated when it comes to finding content and interacting with it, while producers and creators are more knowledgeable about fan engagement. Nevertheless, there’s room for improvement. “The theory and rationale is there, but [in terms of] the use case or the operationalization of that, there’s still a long way to go.”
Meeting fans on their own terms requires a complete mind shift, moving from one-way to two-way communications.
Establishing trust with your fans and within your company
Putting the audience at the centre of your operations also means respecting your fans. “It’s important to treat fans as you would treat a member of your extended team,” believes Catherine Warren. She has observed a lot of improvement in this respect, but nevertheless points out that the TV industry has been slow to engage in a dialogue with audiences. When fans first asked why they couldn’t see a season of their favourite show on a specific channel or in Canada, they were often ignored or given a trivial response like “It’s not available in this territory.”
As a result, the dialogue shifted from professionals to consumers, as fans started to discuss among themselves and learn about the ins and outs of rights and distribution. “They’re just really knowledgeable about the way media are deployed on [different] platforms and they want to engage in those kinds of conversations. They want to be respected and brought into the loop,” says Warren.
“Audiences set the bar high. If you and your brand don’t meet their expectations, they will get that information somewhere else or they will go elsewhere,” she warns.
To establish trust with your audience, you also need to trust your own team. Warren explains that a common mistake is not giving enough autonomy to community managers. When the latter have to go through multiple levels of approval, their initiatives can lose momentum and become irrelevant.
“By the time a community manager is allowed to put out an asset that only exists for social audiences, those fans have gone out, they’ve sourced their own imagery, they’ve created their own fan art and no one cares anymore,” says Warren. Indeed, businesses need to respond quickly to their audiences if they want to keep them focused on their brand.
Focusing on the basics
It can be very easy to focus on the latest technology (like virtual and augmented reality) and forget about the ‘meat and potatoes’ of fan building like efficient and timely communications. Catherine Warren points to the fact that many TV everywhere apps are still hard to navigate and often don’t provide the information that viewers are looking for.
“It’s basic things that I would say are fan alienating rather than fan building,” says Warren. “[What] you would like to know as a consumer (e.g., when the next episode or season will air), you can’t even figure that out.”
As a result, consumers leave the app and the opportunity to turn them into loyal fans is gone. “You’ve already got them hooked, they’re in there. You could be up selling their cable package, you could be cross-selling them to other shows, you could be serving them more monetizable units. Instead consumers are so frustrated that they go to YouTube or they Torrent something because they can’t figure out how to find [what they’re looking for].”
Another obstacle to effective fan engagement is how television sets, as devices, have become increasingly difficult to use. “Just try turning on someone else’s TV and finding the show you want to watch,” says Warren. “[They] are more complicated than the super computers in our phones that are replacing TVs!”
“That doesn’t help discoverability and it does not build fan engagement. If you’re a studio, a distributor or a rights holder and you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on your property or your slate and someone can’t even see it on their super expensive flat screen TV so they’re forced to watch it on a tiny phone screen, the experience you’ve created is not flowing through to the eyeballs and fans that you want to reach.” She suggests that broadcasters and producers should engage in more active conversations with TV manufacturers.
Stepping in your audience’s shoes
In the end, the best way to understand and reach your audience is to step into their shoes. A company, from the intern to the CEO, should engage with the content it produces on all devices and from the fans’ perspective. “That’s what leads to excellence,” believes Warren.
This way, building online audiences becomes a goal the whole company strives toward. Backed by loyal fans, your content is then more likely to attract the attention of potential partners, whether they be broadcasters or brands.
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