Getting your audience wrong

We can all agree that before writing anything that you intend to publish, it’s vital to have your audience in mind. Doing so defines the choice of style, language and content. But how can you really know your audience? And what if you get it wrong?

I came across an article recently which provides an example of this exact blunder. Earlier this month, the New York Times published “Housewares the way God intended them”, an article by writer Cintra Wilson. In it, she criticised American department store JCPenny, offending many people as it was widely deemed condescending. Fashion/celebrity/gossip blog Jezebel blogged about the controversy in the article “NYTimes Issues Apology For Cintra Wilson Article” saying:

In the Public Editor column, Clark Hoyt notes that…the entire brouhaha brings up “an issue that The Times and other news organizations sometimes struggle with: What is the difference between edgy and objectionable? “Times Editor Bill Keller attempts to answer this question by noting that “The key, I guess, is to imagine that you are writing for an audience with a broad range of views and experiences, and to write with respect for them.” 

It is a trap, I suppose, that anyone who publishes anything online falls into at times: you think you know your audience, only to find that your audience may extend farther than you’d imagined. For the Times, this seems to be an ongoing theme: the completely tone deaf articles the paper continues to spin out about the plight of millionaires during the recession (“How to I host a dinner party on only $2000?! What will I do with only 8 homes?!”) aren’t doing them any favors.

While the Times learned their lesson with this one, what hope do us lowly bloggers have? How can we know we are reaching our – perhaps imagined – audience? And what if we’re posting stuff that simply doesn’t interest them? If we’re lucky, a reader will leave a comment to that effect, but I reckon most would just leave the site and never come back. So what then? 

On a side note, Seattle now has the coolest vending machine ever – one that sells books! Let’s cross our fingers they install one in Southern Cross Station!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Getting your audience wrong

  1. Bianca Villarosa

    Hey!!
    Valid points and I do agree – who on earth is reading this stuff? but – have some hope – you atleast know the kids in your class are reading it 🙂 I will say though, I do not leave a comment on every blog I read. Sometimes the topic does not interest me or I can’t be bothered to be honest but if it will serve a purpose – then I will make the effort. Sometimes if you do your bit, it is up to your audience to do the rest. This is why I was making the point in class about having a target audience and writing for your target audience. Sure other people may read what you are writing but it will have no significance what-so-ever. If instead you uphold your duty to your audience and they google a topic and your blog comes up and they check it out then you are not writing for imaginary people. Someone has taken a second look. You need to also remember that blogs are increasingly on the rise so someone in the world has checked it out at some point and this will only begin to increase (as we are told in every class). In two other websites I write for they actually have counters at the bottom of the site to count how many people visit the site. This is an option to see how much traffic your site can generate but as you say – if no one leaves a comment , have they even bothered reading anything on it? Sometimes the Internet can be evil but in the long run I am sure it will do more ‘good’ than ‘harm’! At least you know I read your blog post:) lol

  2. I suppose the obvious test of whether content is reaching its audience is if Google eventually brings it up on a search. If the blog is specific and consistent and no real results show after a dedicated period of time perhaps it’s time to reassess the focus or change the linking possibilities. I’ve discovered that several blogs which have numerous comments often attract commenters who self-promote with links to their own blogs. Perhaps it is the intial getting the content read that is the hurdle – modifying and tailoring to accommodate an audience seems to be an easier task. BTW thanks for the vending feed-your-mind machine. I wish we had them here too! Cheers, Symposium – Tanya

    • reneespeak

      Yeah, it’s annoying when you can tell that someone doesn’t have their heart in the comment but just want to get their own blog/site out there. Yeah, I loved the book vending machine. I was passing through the San Fransisco airport last week and saw another cool vending machine selling electronics like digital cameras and even the Kindle!

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