You can have the greatest content online, but if no one is watching, it won’t matter. To find out how to successfully build an audience, we went to an expert. Craig Duff is the multimedia director for Time Magazine. While he’s now preparing for his panel discussion at Streaming Media East on how video news has been transformed by the Web, we were able to grab a few minutes to talk about a topic that’s crucial for him: building an online audience.
Know the Playing Field
While you might not care what your competition is doing, Duff says your first step should be to explore what’s out there. Look to your competitors and see what you like about their videos and what you don’t like. Allow that to guide your decision-making. Duff, for example, monitors the videos put out by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Newsweek, L.A. Times, and other news sites. He even looks to different areas of online video for inspiration: watching an online music award show recently gave him tips on structuring an online experience so that the audience can understand and enjoy it.
Know the Trends
If you want to attract eyeballs, you’ve got to know the hot topics of the moment. While you can’t respond to them on an hourly basis, the way a text site can, you can look at the larger trends and use them to create stories that you know will pull in a large audience. As you’re doing those trend-inspired videos, use them to balance the meatier topics that you want to cover, but that you know won’t get a sizable audience. At Time, Duff often needs to cover celebrity topics that he knows will get solid traffic.
Pay Attention to SEO
Today’s Web surfers are more likely to turn to a search engine to find interesting content than to dig for stories on favorite sites. If search is going to give you a lot of your traffic, you’ve got to know how to deliver information to those engines. Make sure your headlines are search engine-friendly. Rather than writing the kind of clever, provocative headlines that work in print magazines, make your titles more direct and obvious. “As much as we like to be clever in our headlines, we have to serve the server,” Duff says.
Deliver the Goods Quickly
“The attention span on the Web is a gnat’s life,” says Duff. If you want your audience to stick around, you’ve got to hook them quickly with engaging material. Get to that moment immediately; you can build up the story after you’ve got your viewers’ interest.
Pay Attention to Social Networks
Facebook and Twitter need to be included in your audience-building strategy, as those are the top social networks people use to recommend stories to friends. Monitor your social network activity and track real numbers about how many Likes or tweets you’re getting. You need to be able to measure what you’re getting in order to see what works the best.
Don’t be too rigid, however, despite these rules. It’s still a new area and you need to discover what works for your site.
“The bottom line is know what’s been done already, follow your creative instincts, and have fun,” says Duff.