Commentary

The Future Of Fan Audiences

Much has been said about the “state of digital audiences” today, and even more around the ways to grow and engage these loyal consumers across social channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. Promises of overnight brand scaling, more authentic audience relationships and infinitely deeper behavioral data have lured everyone to the fray.

Reducing audience acquisition costs, while simultaneously increasing the returns they generate remains an elusive balancing act. There appear to be three main market principles driving the audience lifetime value ratio:

Contests are not a substitute for content.

An audience is simply a group comprised of individuals that share a common affinity. To understand that audience we must understand the individual. Contests and coupons are excellent quick win mechanisms for building an audience, however, deeper, sustained loyalty operates at the more visceral community layer. This layer is best served with rich content experiences that present opportunities to contribute to others’ experience.

This shift from transactional to contextual incentives not only increases the quality of individuals brought to the audience, but also reinforces the shared sense of “buy in” required to direct the audience’s attention in a sustainable way over time.

You can’t effectively monetize audiences you don’t own.

On Facebook, digital marketers not only compete with each other for audience attention but also with Facebook, which controls the environment and thrives on increasingly cross-pollinating its user base. Plus, when Facebook sells ads around a brand’s content and experiences, that advertising revenue stays with Facebook. This false sense of audience ownership manifests itself when communicating with one’s audience via in-built channels, or when trying to extract data.

These audiences still live in environments outside of a marketer’s control. Hence, email remains the gold standard of audience ownership in digital; a Message Systems survey claims it continues to drive significantly greater ROI when compared to social media.


Once opened, email is an entirely owned experience.

Even the email addresses are a material asset, as they can be brought to any other social environment. Look back at every social network in its early days, and there is always some “import email addresses” function, how often do you see an “export” function.

Looking forward, social media will increasingly be seen as an on-ramp to the much larger opportunity of the owned environment super highway — where backend data supports cross-channel optimization.
Audience lifetime value is a fluid wave not a static particle.

Looking back, are you a fan of the same shows, celebrities, brands etc. that you were two years ago? How about looking forward? In some cases you will, others you won’t. Your natural tendency — and by proxy your natural lifetime value as a fan of each of these properties — will be to expand and contract your level of engagement with various media.

The future fan experience must be determined dynamically, in real-time. As time goes on, the historic data driving these experiences will grow deeper, factoring in past affinity and actions taken months, years, even decades ago. The deeper the data value-exchange, the more three-dimensional a fan experience can be.

The science behind managing audiences in the Internet age is still young. Social audiences remain hard for marketers to effectively mine for value. Data shows these benefits can ultimately be distributed to wholly owned environments where content can be contextualized across channels and dynamic calibrations can be made to optimize returns. It is here, marketers will leverage these principles and close the loop on reducing customer acquisition costs without sacrificing returns.

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