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Five trends to keep developing your audience

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As with the rest of b-to-b publishing, the rise of digital continues to be the ongoing story for audience development. With the proliferation of new screens for consuming content, audience developers have to stay flexible and be open to new ideas. Here are five trends audience developers say are key this year:
  • Social media and apps
    More than 1 billion people now use Facebook and other social media platforms. Audience developers are striving to leverage these platforms, but the process can be frustrating. One of the problems is many audience developers see social media simply as another form of direct marketing. "It's a tough habit to break," said John Rockwell, VP-digital audience marketing at Sandow Media. "We need to see social media as part of the conversation with people new to the "community.' " How deeply to delve into social media should be determined by the nature of the community. "You have to tailor your strategy," said Denise Robbins, VP-corporate director of NewBay Media. "For instance, our education, broadcasting and consumer electronics audiences are highly engaged with newer technologies, like mobile and tablets, while systems contractors and radio engineers [are] less so." NewBay has moved ahead based on the premise that native apps and HTML5 will be the primary means through which people will consume media personally and professionally. That has led the company to release apps for all its publications through iTunes. While the drumbeat is steady that every publication needs a social media presence, Tony Napoleone, director-audience development at Bobit Business Media, said audience developers need to be sure there's a good reason for their investment. "Think about how you'll use the analytics to measure your success, and make sure you have the correct staff in place that understands and embraces social media and the applicable technology," he said.
  • Mobile
    Just as social media is becoming ubiquitous, mobile is another quickly rising area that audience developers can use to their advantage. A key step in this process will be the development of standard language to be used when referencing mobile traffic, Napoleone said. "Since audience development typically delivers much of the data and analytics, it is important that everyone is referencing the data in the same manner to avoid any confusion," he said. "Mobile requires a tight partnership with Web development to help ensure priorities are aligned and opportunities aren't missed." Jo Ann Binz, an audience development specialist at Quality Circulation Services, said one important consideration with mobile is enlisting total company buy-in. "Management needs to be behind the strategy and be willing to allocate the resources needed," she said. "There are specific technical adjustments that need to be made to graphics and artwork so that it appears correctly on all devices; be part of the team and be sure it all works together.
  • Audit changes
    As digital becomes more pervasive, audit agencies have broadened the scope of what they measure, posing increased challenges to audience developers in the process. Napoleone stressed the need for audience developers to have an open line of communication with publishers and sales departments so they can keep them apprised of changes in audit rules as well as any opportunities that may arise. "The sales teams shouldn't ever be caught off guard in a competitive situation," he said. Binz suggested that audience developers take the time to attend audit bureau webinars and request additional training if needed. Robbins said BPA Worldwide has come a long way in the past three years in terms of adapting to the changing digital landscape. "In 2010, when we launched our first apps for the iPad, it was a battle trying to get standards of measurement from them; but they've definitely become more nimble in their approach to auditing across multiple platforms," she said. NewBay now has several titles that receive across-the-board brand statements from BPA rather than the traditional publisher's statement. One change Emelda Barea, VP-circulation and distribution at Jobson Healthcare Information, likes from BPA is that it allows previous subscriber demographics to be downloaded to new forms, which has helped shorten interview times.
  • Departmental changes
    Just as the term "circulation" has morphed into "audience development," the makeup of staffs has shifted toward people who are comfortable in the digital space and able to crunch data in new ways. Or, as Rockwell put it, "Old "circulation' dinosaurs are on the way out." Robbins said she looks for people who are comfortable with technology. "The new metrics for data analysis are easier to master if you understand the technology," she said. "Most of the analytics we use now are far more straightforward than those gigantic greenbar reports you got from the fulfillment houses. So it isn't as if the current metrics are more difficult to understand, just newer and more rapidly evolving." Robbins added that experience isn't as important as having a flexible, analytical mind. Napoleone agreed: "Creativity and analytic savvy outweigh traditional experience that can be taught further down the line," he said. The one piece of advice that Brad Mitchell, director of e-media at Babcox Media, offers fellow audience developers is to hire digital natives: "Digital natives help balance out a traditional circulation department staff, since they see audience development from a 24/7, digital-first perspective," he said. "They grasp the importance of the overall user experience and mobile platforms intuitively, and [they] have a constant eye on the "next big thing.' "
  • Ever-tightening budgets
    In almost every area of publishing, just when it feels as if nothing more can be slashed, more cuts are sought even as demands increase. Napoleone said audience developers should collaborate with other departments in the company to take advantage of any potential efficiencies. "Cross-promote where possible, and communicate your roadmap with other departments so they can line up with overall corporate objectives and eliminate duplicate work," he said. Robbins said she's never seen expanding budgets in her career, so this is just business as usual. "We're fortunate that because of advances in technology, many of our costs have come down year over year," she said. And the shift to digital is bringing new opportunities, such as an ability to reach international markets, that were previously unreachable, she said.
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