Broken: Rule 1 - Focus on audiences, not platforms

Our five-part mini-series on how to succeed in the next era of content discovery

Welcome to the first of our five-part mini-series on how to succeed in the next era of content discovery. Our first rule sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people forget it.

Rule 1 - Focus on audiences, not platforms

This sounds simple, but it’s almost the opposite of what a lot of people have been doing in the last few decades. Have you, or anyone in your organisation, ever said ‘what’s our TikTok strategy?’ If so, that means you’re thinking about the platforms more than your audience, their behaviours and their needs. At Storythings, we try to zoom out from the individual platforms, and look at a wider picture of how digital experiences fit into the rest of our audience’s lives.

After all, even if you’re looking at a screen, you’re somewhere in the real world, with real people, at a specific moment in time, with other things jostling for your attention. Despite Zuckerberg’s best efforts, we’re not all living in the metaverse yet. So take the effort to think about your audiences as people, not platforms or devices.

A good tool:

We’re obsessed with understanding audience attention at Storythings, and we use frameworks that fold platforms into wider social and cultural contexts - an example is our Attention Pattern Spectrum (below) that we use to understand the overall landscape of how digital has changed our attention in the last 25 years.

We started thinking about this to counter the assumption that digital has caused our attention patterns to get shorter. In fact, something far more interesting has happened. If you were creating mass media in the era of analogue broadcasting and distribution, the economics and logistics of that distribution meant that your formats were aimed at an attention pattern of around 30-120 minutes. TV and radio organised attention in this way through the schedule, and cinema through the physical limits of reels of film. If you made content in formats that were extremely short or long, you’d struggle to get mass distribution for them.

After 2007, with the launch of the iPhone, we saw a huge explosion of platforms that could distribute - and crucially, monetise - much smaller patterns of attention, down to just a few seconds. But this wasn’t the whole story. We think the spectrum of possible attention patterns has got longer as well as shorter, as video games, podcasts and streaming video services have made it possible to build complex, immersive story worlds that we can lose ourselves in for hours at a time.

So as storytellers, we’ve got to think about where our stories will fit on this spectrum, and what the different affordances are of reaching your audiences in streams, schedules or series.

If you want to know more about our Attention Pattern Spectrum research and how to use it, we’d love to show you.

A good example:

Earlier this year the V&A Museum in London launched Mused, a new ‘Gen Alpha’ platform that takes the formats and aesthetics of social media, but makes them work for their core website. This is a great example of thinking audience first, not platform first. The V&A built an insight panel with their target audience, commissioned research and user tested the project throughout development. The end result is something that really feels like it knows its audience, and understands what they want from the V&A, without being tied to an external platform.

Go deeper:

Our Scroll Stoppers research from last year looked at how attention patterns have shifted as hybrid working became more common.

To better understand how platforms manage our attention now, it’s worth understanding the history of media and attention. Back in 2017, I wrote a five-part series for Medium on the history of attention metrics, from applause to the like button.

Our favourite book on audience research tools is Just Enough Research by Erika Hall. It’s a great guide helping you find practical ways to get curious about your audience, and discover insights that will make your stories or products way more effective.

We’re big fans of The Content Technologist, and are currently working together with Deborah on a few client projects. If you’re interested in tools that help you understand and build better content strategies, subscribe to her newsletter and buy her courses. They’re all gold.

The Cultural Participation Monitor from The Audience Agency is a long-running study looking at how UK cultural participation behaviours changed during and after the pandemic. It’s particularly strong on how audiences with a disability responded positively to remote and digital-first initiatives during lockdown.

Catch up on Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 of this series on how content discovery is broken, and the intro to this week’s 5-part mini-series.

There’s more from us in the and !

See you tomorrow for our rule number 2: Focus on value propositions, not your brand. Got your attention, haven’t we?! More tomorrow.