You get the audience you deserve

The Friday Writer-ings begins with an apology

Forgive me for missing The Wednesday Audio. Trust me, I did you a favour.

I’ve been away, enjoying a short visit to The Big Cat Sanctuary. I got to see many large cats, but there was a downside: I had to travel to the South of England to the place where everybody has strange accents: Kent.

Let’s get straight into our Friday rant.


Today I want to talk about audience-building, but not in a way where I'm writing content for content's sake (I'd be removed from Thomas J Bevan's secret community for doing so).

I want to talk about a subtlety most won't understand, most won't believe, and most will ignore because it's too difficult to do.

I will be using myself as the case study, as I'm a vicious ego-maniac. I'm also the only person who I truly understand the motivations of, so there you go.

I remember starting my first ever podcast. Not only was it really bad, it was also really boring. The audio quality could be forgiven. My impenetrable accent could be forgiven too, but none of us have an excuse for being boring...unless you are actually boring.

I'd consider myself not boring. You may believe otherwise.

Anyway.

My first podcast was boring because I was trying very hard to "build an audience" and "provide value". I had a very distinct audience in my mind: businesses who needed to understand marketing and wanted to hear from an expert about marketing.

This sentence is so boring that even I struggled to type it just then.

The topic of "businesses" and "marketing" together and you have one of the most boring podcasts that a human could ever manifest.

I mean, listen to this RIVETING debut episode I recorded.

Despite me lacking the audio production skills, the podcast was bad because it was just plain boring. The production skills improved over time but the tedium didn't.

An audience-first approach—where you make content for other people over anything else—leads to a boring-first approach.

You won't change my mind, but I'm going to attempt to change yours.

Audience-first = boring-first

We're told incessantly by marketing wankers like me that we should create things that people want to read, watch or listen to. We're told to create content that engages people because when it is engaged with you'll build an audience, go up in the algorithm etc.

We're told that the primary purpose of anything we create is to create an engagement: ultimately to create something else. Our piece of art—let's call it that—is merely there to create a transaction. It's a means to an end. Thomas J Bevan talks endlessly about this.

So as a result of us creating a means to an end, we focus on creating something that we think our audience would enjoy. We write for them and not for us. In that process we jumble our art through the Valueification Machine and something that should never have been created squeezes out of the other end.

It doesn't always lead to boring work, but it mostly does. The reason it's boring is because really—if we're honest—we don't care about the audience. The process of creation is a selfish one. We make things because we want to make them.

It's for me, not you

Every piece of art I've ever made has been made better when I've made it for me first and not you. I don't really care if you read this. I don't care if you like it, share it, comment on it or reply to me. The thing I care the most about is this moment right here.

This moment where I'm sat typing, listening to Radio 6 playing amazing disco tracks from the 70s. I care about how my mechanical keyboard feels to type on. I care about the cat sat in the corner, just chilling with half an eye on the clickety clacking of my keys.

Am I thinking about whether you'll enjoy what I'm writing right now? No. This process is cathartic and it's all for me and because of that I think you'll either fiercely hate this piece or enjoy it.

At least it's not an article like 7 Reasons To Build an Audience that you'll guiltily save to your Instapaper or Pocket and never read again.

This article is reflection on me, so I'll make it however I please.

Your content is a reflection of you

And that's it isn't it? When we get down to the brassiest of the tacks, the nub of the matter, the crux of the issue, it's all about me and not you.

On some level I obviously care about whether you enjoy reading this or not. After all, I wouldn't be publishing it on my newsletter or spending any time checking the grammar and spelling if I didn't care whether you read it or not.

But there is a point to be made here. It is all for me because it's about my legacy and not yours. That might sound a bit grandiose, maybe a bit too Elon Musk for yet another piece of content about content, but I mean it.

Anything I write is a reflection of me. Just like the clothes I wear, I'm making a statement with the things I choose to publish and become known for.

If I write like a 5 year old and publish online it's the sartorial equivalent of a Mickey Mouse watch and a Minions t-shirt.

If I attempt to say things that mean something and share something that might be able to help somebody...at least that's probably more like wearing a plain white t-shirt and a pair of smart jeans.

You get what you deserve

So now we get to the point I've been leading up to throughout this entire piece. If you choose to dumb yourself down and pander to your audience, you get the dumbed-down audience that expects you to pander to them.

Audience says "jump", and you produce an article about 7 Best Reasons to Jump and How High.

If you choose to make the art that you want to make and enjoy yourself whilst you're doing it you'll get an audience that accepts the things you choose to create.

Don't pander or dumb down.

Make what you want to make.

You'll get what you deserve.