‘Everyone’ is not an audience

Audiences are weird things

Awww... here they are still sitting quietly...

Two nights ago I attended, together with my wife, the school play of my daughter. We all got together with the parents of about 200 children in the auditorium of the local high school where all the per-k, 1st and 2nd graders were having their performance.

And, well, as most parents know – going to such a play is a mix of joy and utter frustration. Look, I have been normally politely raised. I still say thank you, hold the door for someone and try to be in a good mood most of the time. It is nothing special, just, normal behavior. Simple. And there we are, showing up in time, finding nice seats and everything is fine until the play starts.

And yes, every Joe with a camera stands up in front of the audience, refuses to listen to anyone who mentions him to sit down, so he can tape his boy or girl. Or the people who start walking through the isles and yelling at their kids.

Look, the quality of such a play usually is doubtful at best, a production value that will buy you maybe a diner for your family in a New York restaurant. And it is fine. It is not about that. It is to see your child ‘shine’ on stage. But in the end, you are not able to see or hear anything of the performance simply because  most of the acting is coming from the audience, and is not happening on stage.

A nice night out, frustrated… still proud of the little one.

But you know what? It actually makes total sense. The only common goal that the whole audience had is to come to the play to see their kid perform in it. It is not because we all wanted to see the play because of the story, or the top-notch acting quality. No. And that is the problem why the audience was not ‘tuned’. We only shared that we all had a kid that at that time was on stage.

When you go to a Broadway play, you all come to see the play. You pay a nice sum of money for it, and you have certain expectations. You sit down, and experience it.

If you go to a football match, you come to see the play, root for the outcome. You know the type of audience will be there. It will not be silent. And it’s fine. That is the football audience.

Tuned audiences. They come all for the same thing.

You notice it immediately on the football field when it is parents who show up to see their kid play. Because then, immediately, it is out of tune again. Because people come again for different things.

Audiences that are out of tune behave in an unpredictable fashion. It can go very fine, but it might get completely out of hand.

And it works exactly the same with audiences online. I am not the right person to talk to if you want to set up an audience. I have the social skills of  a brick. But I do know how to work towards an audience when it is already there. And it is an absolute nightmare if you do not know who your audience is, or what they are coming for.

I ‘love’ it (feel the sarcasm) when a client mentions their audience is basically ‘everyone’. This is a nonsense answer, because you don’t build anything for just ‘everyone’. Having ‘everyone’ as your targeted audience is another way for a client to tell you two things;

1. They haven’t thought about it.

2. They haven’t researched the reach of their potential audience.

The problem with this is, that once you take on the project knowing these two things, the project will be never ending. Because failing to know and understand your audience will result in constant changes once the client does find out what their audience might be.

And that would be not too bad, I hear you say, since the client at least then is finding out what their audience actually is.

Wrong!

Because the project was not targeted correctly, it is not clear if the audience that actually uses the project, is the audience you need. For example, you can launch a car website of which the client’s goal is to sell as many of those cars as possible – but they forgot to target a specific audience. Your website might generate a million visitors – but if none of them is buying the car because the visitors might like you site, but lack the funds – you have failed. You rather have less visitors of which a larger share actually does what you expect them to do… in this case; buying the car.

Audiences are weird things, because they are fluid. In some scenario you don’t want them to do anything, in others to just remember your name (branding), and others to actually make you money. But you have to know WHO your audience is, and WHAT you want them to do.

And once you have helped your client find that out, it is just hoping that they will actually do that.

And believe me… with my daughter’s play…

WHO was the audience? – Every parent from the kids on stage.

WHAT did the school want them to do? – See they child perform.

And now it is HOPING that for once, they would just let them do that.

Sigh…

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About P. Zuidema
Peter Zuidema has been working in the field of digital design and usability since 1993 and worked in the design lead for project for major companies like CMG, Logica, Heineken, NYU, the Rutgers University, broadway musicals, BMW, Tourism Boards, governments, law agencies, marketing firms, media studios and Theme Parks. And besides design and web development, he also owns his own photo and media studio. He lives right now near Philadelphia and New York in Pennsylvania. Peter was nominated by IBM and ComputerWeekly as one of the best new IT-bloggers of 2011.

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