Magazines should be investing more effort in developing their online communities because they represent an increasingly important “strategic resource,” according to new research.
The research, “Audience Community as a Strategic Resource in Media Work” by Nando Malmelin and Mikko Villi, identifies two main advantages that publishers gain when working actively with their audience community:
- Firstly, it helps strengthen engagement with, and loyalty to, the media brand
- And secondly it gives journalists a deeper understanding and knowledge of their audience, making them quicker to respond to trends and better at identifying stories they know will interest that audience.
The researchers looked in particular at two successful magazines in Finland: Demi (aimed at 12-19 year old girls) and Lily (aimed at women aged 18-39).
The magazines’ two websites reach 75% and 45% of their respective target audiences, and benefit from highly active communities that actively feed into the editorial process.
As one interviewee puts it:
“If we didn’t have a community producing contents and subjects that they themselves are interested in 24/7, we wouldn’t be able to keep up to speed on what’s important to our target audience.”
4 roles in community collaboration
But collaborating with audience communities requires new kinds of journalistic practices, and the researchers identify 4 different roles that journalists adopt in this respect:
The observer monitors the audience community’s discussions to identify interests, needs and concerns.
The developer helps improve the online platform(s) and service so that users are more likely to contribute.
The facilitator helps start and maintain online discussions and feed those back to the editorial team. The emphasis is on stimulating, rather than driving, as one journalist points out:
“We can’t interfere too much. The biggest mistake we could make would be to decide amongst ourselves what we like at the moment and what other professionals respect and what’s in vogue for our industry, that’s perhaps the pitfall we fall into every now and then.”
Finally, the curator might highlight the best work by members of the community, both online and in print.
You might not have a community yet
Magazines are typically in a better position than newspapers when it comes to developing audience communities, and readers of speciality publications (for example hobby magazines) tend to have a stronger attachment to the brand than generic magazines – but that doesn’t mean that all magazines have a community:
“When audience members have more regular communication amongst themselves, they can be said to form an actual community; otherwise atomized media consumers simply form a crowd.”
The key question for publishers, then, may be to what extent that communication between users exists – and where.
Community management specialists such as Richard Millington tend to warn against the tendency to launch technically impressive platforms without consideration of the cultures of communities themselves. Sometimes it makes more sense to participate in existing communities than try to recreate them (another option, taken by some publishers, is to buy blog networks).Meanwhile Malmelin and Villi settle for recommending that:
“Media organisations should invest increasing effort in creating and managing audience communities … the successful operation of the media industry should in many cases be in fact as much about content production as it is about facilitating the maintenance of social relations among and with its audience.”