Six Digital Audience Development and Growth Tips for Publishers

Recent psychological studies have found that humans spend 47 seconds on any one computer screen before switching to another task, down from two and a half minutes in 2004. Between work assignments, emails, social media, and other online browsing, there’s a lot of competition for people’s attention. As a digital media publisher, are you confident in your ability to attract and engage audiences whose attention spans are shrinking? If you could use a few pointers, you’re not alone. 

Digital audience development is a framework you can use to engage and convert unique visitors to loyal viewers and subscribers. Read on to learn about digital audience development and get our tips for employing this strategy as a video streaming media publisher.


What Is Digital Audience Development?


Digital audience development involves identifying, attracting, and engaging your publication’s target digital audience. It is a long-term strategy for increasing the number and diversity of engaged readers and viewers of your content.


Audience Development vs. Marketing

It sounds a lot like marketing, but digital audience development goes beyond that. The focus is on increasing overall brand awareness and interest among the different groups of people you want to engage with your publication’s content. Audience development strategies build relationships with and loyalty among your target audience.

On the other hand, marketing is directly tied to sales — usually of online subscriptions — and is built around specific campaigns to that end. Marketing may be a part or extension of audience development, but it’s not the whole picture.

The goal of marketing is more sales; the goal of audience development is more attention.


Analytics and Your Digital Audience

Numbers play a key role in digital audience growth and retention. To begin building your audience development strategy, you’ll need data about your current audience and their experience with your publication. With this data, you can determine benchmarks for key metrics and set realistic goals.

Where can you find this data? Most of the software businesses use every day provides some kind of analytics or audience insights, but a few places to start your search include:

  • Google Analytics and other website analytics tools
  • Social media platforms where you have brand accounts 
  • Audience and engagement data from video streaming platforms

Note: If you don’t have access to accurate historical data to get started, consider conducting surveys. You can embed questions into your videos and articles, email them to readers, or promote them via pop-ups on your website. While direct user data is ideal, surveys are the next best thing.

Not sure which metrics to track? Here’s some of the data you’ll want to know to help inform your audience growth strategies:

  • Number of repeat visitors
  • Time on page (for online articles) or average time watched (for videos)
  • Video completion rate
  • Geographic and demographic data
  • Most popular platforms/channels for your content

Creating an Audience Development Plan

Once you have your baseline data and set some initial goals, how do you make progress? A basic audience development strategy for publishers involves the following steps:

Determine your current audience. What are their ages, races, and gender identities? Where do they live? What is their income? What do they do for work? As we mentioned above, you’ll want to dive into analytics data to answer these questions.

Decide whether your current audience matches your target audience. Publishers may find that, even without a dedicated audience development plan, they have already attracted the readers and subscribers they hoped for. In that case, the main goal is simply to reach more of that same group and cultivate brand loyalty. Other times, brands discover that their content is most popular with a group they had no intention of engaging with. When reviewing audience analysis data, consider your brand identity and whether your audience matches it.

Create a plan for audience growth. You might actually need multiple plans, depending on your goals — one for attracting more of your core audience and another for reaching a new group that has different interests and characteristics.

Don’t forget about retention. Digital audience development isn’t just about growth; it’s also about creating a positive experience with your existing audience to keep them coming back. Remember, it’s easier to retain a current customer than to gain a brand-new one, so make sure your content strategy doesn’t leave out your most loyal fans.


Tips for Digital Audience Development

In general, use data to understand your current audience, then focus your content strategy on each segment. Here are some specific tips to get you started.


Retention Tips

1. Identify successful content, and produce more of it.

Use the analytics tools we discussed above to figure out what your current audience is responding to. You might notice patterns in format (written vs. video), platform (TikTok vs. Instagram), topic (hard news vs. lifestyle tips), or any other differentiating factor. By creating and distributing more of this content, you ensure your most loyal followers continue to find value and interest in your publication.

In addition to creating new content that is likely to be successful based on the factors you’ve identified, consider resurfacing old content that has been successful in the past. If the information is still relevant, there’s no reason not to promote it. The longer the lifespan of a single story or video, the higher the ROI.


2. Focus on user experience and resolve any issues you find.

Performance issues on your website or video streaming platform can turn your biggest fans into your worst enemies fast. Work with your IT and digital marketing teams to monitor website issues (404 errors, slow page load time, etc.) and video play issues. For videos specifically, make sure you’re monitoring the following:

  • Rebuffering ratio 
  • Average video bitrate 
  • Playback stalling 
  • Playback failures


Growth Tips

3. Pair your content strategy with marketing campaigns to help attract subscribers. 

Good content won’t get seen without proper distribution. Involve all relevant teams — digital marketing, social media, content, editorial, creative, and brand — in your audience development strategy. This will help the entire organization work toward the same goals.

Measure your success by identifying benchmarks and monitoring changes in audience metrics over time. You might even consider sharing responsibility for some quarterly or annual KPIs among the content and marketing teams to ensure internal alignment.


4. Partner with creators and influencers trusted by your target audience. 

This strategy will work better for some publications than others — a hard news organization may shy away from sponsored or lifestyle content. But creating content with or about people your target audience already admires can help your brand gain visibility and trust with that group. You can involve influencers in articles or videos, or ask them to help distribute relevant content (note: this would likely require the help of your advertising department to come up with a mutually beneficial arrangement).

Using analytics and a little research, you can understand your audience deeply and identify the right partners for your publication.


Engagement Tips

5. Target different segments of your audience strategically. 

Your audience is made up of many different individuals with unique characteristics and interests. So, while it may be beneficial to know that the majority of your subscribers are Gen X females who make over $75,000 per year, there are likely other pockets of your audience whose needs differ from theirs.

Initially, you might not know exactly what will resonate with each group. Test different tactics to continue optimizing your strategy over time. Review analytics data regularly to zero in on what’s working for each segment.


6. Diversify your content formats for maximum engagement. 

Breaking down a topic or story in different formats on multiple platforms can help you reach and engage more people. In addition to written articles, video is a key part of audience development for publishers, with different types of videos (short form, long form, etc.) appealing to diverse audiences.

Use video analytics to determine which video types and topics appeal most to your audience. Don’t assume that popular written stories will also perform well in video form — let the numbers speak for themselves.

Reach your audience with the most popular form of web traffic: video.


Is Your Video Streaming Platform Helping You Develop Your Digital Audience?

As video continues to gain popularity as an online content format, publishers need to think more strategically about their video streaming platform. Beyond delivering exceptional performance, your streaming platform should provide useful insights that help you perfect your digital audience development strategy. These video analytics can tell you how many people are viewing your content, for how long, where they’re located, and what content they respond to. 

Learn more about video analytics and what to look for in the right platform.



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About Becca Starkes

Becca is a B2B content writer and copy editor based in North Carolina. When she's not writing about software, you can find her reading a book at a local coffee shop, snuggling with her pets on the couch, or birdwatching with her husband.