Audience Development Roles Broaden Further ”Nieman Journalism Lab

Over the past decade, “audience development” has grown from a little-known marketing term to a familiar newsroom role. Now, audience development experts, audience engagement managers, and growth publishers are tasked with delivering stories to more readers.

In the past, the skills needed were an understanding of SEO and social levers. Later, the role expanded to audience development experts who leaned into newsletters, delivering podcasts, and attracting viewers of short and long videos across multiple platforms. Audience development has shifted from a newsroom role to a business gateway role; it has moved from audience data to setting objectives to ensure revenue. What may have started as a ladder game has grown into a need for loyalty and habituation. In the old days, the goal was to get audiences to show them advertising, which quickly turned into subscriptions and commercial revenue. And audience development managers have moved from working primarily with publishers to working cross-functional between product teams and beyond.

Here’s a brief history of audience development – along with some ideas on what 2022 will bring:


The New York Times Innovation Report details “audience development efforts” and “increasing editorial interest” in the topic. Unwrapping the leaked internal report, Digiday said the “most recent person” in the newsroom was the “Audience Development Czar,” saying the report “underscored the need for development scholars. audience to deliver The Times’ content to more readers ”.


Julia Haslanger has written about “Growth Editors” and their efforts to “shape stories – and especially headlines – to resonate with readers.” She said the role included “assigning and shaping stories on trending topics” and “Analytics.” Analytic. Analytic.”


The Online News Association hosted a one-day conference in London on public engagement, with delegates invited to “find out how the public finds and interacts with news”.

I attended and took notes, concluding: “Audience development is about taking the overall goals of the news organization, whether it’s advertising revenue and / or number growth.” of paying subscribers, and working back and forth to develop a news strategy to help the organization achieve those goals.

Renee Kaplan of the Financial Times and Mary Hamilton, then at the Guardian, presented a double keynote.

For the Guardian, audience development was about “encouraging three types of behavior: reach and optimization, loyalty and habit, participation.” The Guardian was moving towards a membership model and Hamilton said his team’s mission was to find out “what is the loyal behavior that will inspire people to become members?” “

There’s nothing new about releasing content to the public, Kaplan said, but noted that the idea of ​​a news agency-reader relationship is new – and measured by metrics and charts. real-time dashboards that had popped up in newsrooms.


Three years after the New York Times Innovation Report, Digiday said the role of audience development has broadened and is now a goal for both the newsroom and the business side of the newspaper. ‘business.

“Once a role primarily focused on SEO, audience development has become more complicated due to the explosion in the means by which publishers can find and distribute content, from their own platforms such as newsletters and apps. to external ones such as social media and bots.

“At the most basic level, businesses and publishers want to reach new and existing audiences. But from there, the interests can diverge. While the newsroom wants to maximize the reach and impact of its journalism, the business side is rewarded for growing ad revenue, which might cause it to favor certain audience segments over others. And then there’s the generation of subscriptions and the marketing of other products like events and commerce. “


The year began with Facebook announcing an algorithm change, confirming that it would reduce the readership supply that had fueled the growth of so many news sites. Audience development experts have taken action to find new, more reliable audiences. As we all got serious about newsletters, a new wave of audiences emerged in the form of Google Discover, announced in September, but hidden from us because our analytics platforms didn’t tell us people were coming from. the Discover aggregator, tagging the source as “direct” or “search.”


The increase in Google Discover replaced the reduction in social audiences – with Discover overtaking search as a source of readers for international editions of Vogue by the fall (as I told Digiday). At that time, US sites Condé Nast were getting 20% ​​of readers through this booming Google aggregator.

Along with Discover, as the audience development person, I also focused on the “hot moments” of our readers, a term taken from the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019.


The pandemic has brought dramatic changes in the lives of readers – and in the newsrooms that have provided both vital information and a means of escape. Audience development teams have responded to declines and then to increases in podcast listening, growth in email newsletter consumption, and search changes. In the early days of the pandemic, I worried about the Vogue audience as people shifted from searching for heels on Google to pajamas, and the social audience sharing stories of selflessness.


As audience development people, we have responded to new changes in audience behavior and the evolving role. This year, the Condé Nast Audience Development, Social & Analytics leadership team, led by Ainul Huda, hosted an offsite meeting and proposed a new definition of audience development to Condé Nast. It indicates that:

“Audience development maximizes value for the consumer by providing content and services that meet audience needs on platforms based on strategic analysis. We grow, engage and retain multichannel audiences through inform content, product and company strategy and maximize distribution opportunities to generate holistic income globally.


The field of audience development will expand further. We will mitigate the risks of our often difficult relationships with Facebook, Google and Apple by further doubling our efforts to diversify our audience sources and cultivate direct relationships with readers. We’ll be looking for new ways to develop, engage and retain readers and viewers – and we hope to enjoy in-person audience engagement as well.

Sarah Marshal is the global senior director of audience development, social media and analytics for Vogue.

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