Building something great? Build your audience, too

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
A few thoughts after last night's inspiring "Open Government Chicago(-land)" Meetup, bringing together journalists, programmers and government leaders:

City of Chicago Director of Analytics Tom Schenk Jr.
In my decades working at the intersection of journalism and technology, I've never been more excited about the future than I am now. (Who wouldn't be thrilled to learn the City of Chicago is working on a "Project Batman" to visualize things like crime data in a 3-D virtual reality "cave"?)

But as I sat among the great minds assembled at
 the Chicago Community Trustone concern nagged at me.

I've seen a lot of impressive civic and journalistic projects -- driven by data or driven by narrative -- founder for lack of attention. The audience they were designed to help didn't know they were there, didn't perceive their usefulness, didn't know how to use them, didn't get excited at their availability.

That's because of a shortcoming common among those in government, journalism and programming: The inability or reluctance to go that last mile and promote a project in a sharable way to the people formerly known as the audience.

A lot of journalists, civil servants and programmers have been trained to think promoting their work is the job of a (now vanishing) promotions or marketing department; as a consequence, the business of engagement often just gets bolted on after the work's done instead of while it's being created.

So, as all these wonderful ideas blossom into promising new reality, I hope the great talents involved keep essential content strategy in mind -- while things are being built, not after.

* Don't take your audience's attention for granted. People need to be reminded continually that you have something they can use. Keep an eye on the news and look for opportunities to ride your project back into the headlines when it's relevant -- through Facebook, Twitter or, most essentially, email.

* Pay attention to your constituents' interests. They're revealing those every time you send an email. (You are gathering your fans' email addresses, right?) Watch the open rates. Every time they open your email, they're telling you, "Yes, that subject line worked for me. Those words are relevant to me.") So ...

* Experiment with subject lines. Those words that drive high open rates deserve a place of honor in your user interface.

* Once people open your email, see what they click and what they don't. Look for things that break a pattern -- either items that get heavily clicked amid things that are largely ignored, or things ignored amid more popular items. Your followers are telling you what works for them and what doesn't.

* Monitor traffic to your website (with Google Analytics or other tools). Watch what people use and what they don't. Are they ignoring something you consider important? Spotlight it with those words your fans have identified as resonant.

These are all strategies I've used to help a growing number of organizations connect more deeply and more frequently with their constituency.

It's my passion to connect great content with growing audiences -- online, on air, in print. If I can help you, say the word.

Contact me here

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