Audience development is fast becoming a priority for brand publishers as a host of changes throttle their audience growth and disrupt established audience-building approaches.
Netflix’s Tudum, an editorial site that covers Netflix shows and showrunners, is looking for a growth expert ” to help audiences discover Tudum.com. Now a year old, Tudum is trying to figure out how to grow its reach and develop more regular, loyal readers. The growth team is responsible for figuring out where these would-be readers congregate, introducing them to Tudum.com, and optimizing editorial products such as its newsletters to build engagement.
Elsewhere, JPMorgan Chase-owned The Infatuation is hiring a manager to work on audience development, particularly to lead off-platform audience growth and figure out how to move traffic back to The Infatuation’s properties and grow its newsletters. Focuses include social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as some pitching content to platforms like Apple News.
And supplement brand Naked Nutrition is looking for a manager to launch and grow a forthcoming newsletter that it says will be “like Morning Brew.”
“It’s not surprising to me given that [brand publishers] have probably realized that just hiring someone to create the editorial isn’t enough. You also need someone with a deep strategy background,” said Chandra Turner, career coach and founder of recruiting firm The Talent Fairy.
One financial brand’s head of editorial said that they realized the need for someone to run audience development when it became clear that building an audience would take longer than many in the company expected or understood. This person said they realized that they specifically looked for someone who could understand how the site could grow without simply relying on search. “We’re so reliant on organic search. What other avenues do we have? Especially when Facebook is changing, or we have this existential threat of AI.”
The challenge now is that audience development roles are difficult to fill, because they require a very specific set of skills, which can make them hard to find and expensive. “If you want someone who has a background in creating growth across platforms, it’s tricky because most roles that lead up to this one are siloed in one area. So your social media strategists don’t often have a deep SEO strategy background and vice versa,” said Turner.
Audience development roles also remain relatively nebulous, and can vary in nature largely from one brand publisher to the next depending on the companies they operate within and the outcomes they’re looking to achieve.
They’re also a relatively new concept within brand publishing teams, despite being well-established within ‘traditional’ media companies. That can make hiring more challenging, Turner said.
One editorial director at a health tech startup said they started interviewing audience development leads last year, but put the search on hold when budgets invariably tightened as a result of the economic environment. “The editors absorbed some of what that person would have been in charge of, while other skills were absorbed by marketing. Other things like funnel optimization and partnerships have just languished,” this person said. Now, the company is considering attempting to hire a growth specialist to take charge of audience development who t also knows how to convert readers into paying customers.
Adam Kleinberg, CEO at Traction, said that growth roles can be a bit “unicorny,” and take a mix of skills to do well. “There’s an added nuance today because the concept of growth often implies an iterative test-and-learn approach, but the algorithms on platforms that are best at driving performance—particularly Facebook and Instagram—work best when you don’t make too many changes too fast. There is an art to the science,”
In some cases, these audience-related responsibilities are added onto existing growth roles, said Kleinberg, who has brand clients who have hired new growth VPs who are responsible overall for customer acquisition, including how content is used for that.
“No such thing as a free lunch”
These roles are increasingly becoming critical, however, as companies using content to lower customer acquisition costs increasingly find that simply “having great content” is not enough any more.
Some of this is simply evolutionary: Many brand publishers spent their early years focusing on honing their editorial products and processes. Now, as they mature, they’re realizing they have to be more proactive when it comes to reaching would-be audiences and bringing them to their platforms.
Others are being spurred by the increasing sense that building an audience on rented land isn’t the way. Last week, Twitter responded to the announcement of Substack’s “Notes” product by blocking Substack writers from embedding tweets in newsletters, then later restricted tweets that linked out to Substack content. The dustup is making the risk of building on rented land feel much less theoretical for some.
“We’ve already noticed intermittently that we simply weren’t getting a lot of response to organic tweets that included links to our stories,” said one brand publishing executive who asked to not be named. “We’ve given up really on Twitter as a way to grow an audience and are thinking much more strategically about what our audience plan is.”
It’s not just Twitter. A recent Ogilvy study found that organic reach on Facebook was hovering between 2% and 6%, with expectations that it would soon approach zero.
“For those who follow media news, it is an unpleasant reminder that building audiences on someone else’s platform is a dangerous game. Many brands remember the investments they made on Facebook based on an implied promise that they’ll be able to communicate with audiences for free, until Facebook pulled the plug,” said Kleinberg. “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”