In July, I received an email from an online editor asking me if she could include one of my NYC Instagram photos in a post about “the best Instagram shots of the month.”
“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”
A few days later, I received another email rescinding the offer. The editor politely explained that the full title of the post was “The Best Instagram Shots of the Month Taken by Parents,” and as a non-parent, I was ineligible.
I suppose you expect me to be outraged. Nah. Maybe if this happened a few years ago when I was obsessed about the community of the blogosphere. But now I’m older and wiser, and I just shrug. It was nothing personal. There is no community. Or more accurately, there are many and many communities. It is all about each person connecting with an audience. The editor of this blog, like most network, film, and publishing executives today, understood the importance of reaching a targeted demographic. A parenting blog wants to connect with other parents, in the same way that a Jewish magazine wants Jewish writers to connect with a Jewish audience, or a LGBT website asks a gay novelist to share his experiences with a gay readership.
From the Ladders blog —
The starting point for all communication is becoming aware of the intended audience and approaching them on an appropriate level…
To ensure successful written communication, first think about the people who will read it. By putting yourself in their shoes, you will gain insight into what they want to know and how they want to be addressed. The Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece has an inscription that cautions each person to “know yourself.” Improving communications encourages people to know thy audience.
Knowing your audience is not an easy task.
Earlier this week, I wrote on Facebook:
I seem to have an ongoing struggle with my writing voice in relation to the audience. I write for myself, challenging myself to find some inner truth worth discussing, as if I’m in a therapist’s office. I write for a select group of long-time friends like Veronica and Schmutzie, because our entire friendship is based on our blogging, and it feels as if there is an obligation, almost a duty, to continue our online pen-pal relationship by writing. I write for a general audience of bloggers who might discover me through social media. And sometimes I think about writing for a complete outsider, maybe someone influential, like an editor, who will give me money to do something. And I don’t feel any of these audiences are the same, or expect the same voice. I’m not going to talk to myself, Veronica, the general blogosphere, or some editor in New York exactly the same.
But then, today, after much reading and thinking, I wrote another update —
Aha! It’s suddenly so clear. I was so blind. It isn’t about knowing who you are. We all know who we are. It’s about knowing who you’re talking to.
The audience. You NEED to know your audience. Or else you’re flailing.
Some of you misinterpreted my update.
From Danny Miller —
Yes, but demographics are mostly used to make crazy-ass stupid decisions. “OK, we’ve got to reach 18-24 year-old males, so we’ll make these God-awful shitty movies because that’s what they want.” Sure, being able to “read the room” is a very helpful skill in life, but don’t start changing your message or presentation in any kind of artificial way because of some perceived notion of who your “audience” is. It’ll never work and you’ll end up as clueless as a network executive.
But I think Michele Kosboth said it best, in her comment.
I think you are totally spot on. Knowing who you are talking to makes that feeling of detachment, of talking into the wind go away.
Michele understood that I wasn’t talking about changing myself or my writing style to cater to a demographic. I was looking for a way to escape the loneliness of “talking into the wind.” I wanted to know who I was addressing.
Part of creating community is inclusion AND exclusion. We can’t just talk to everyone. You make the decision to either talk to other writers or established journalists or other celebrities or other parents or other Jews, etc. I assume that if you are reading this right now that you are an upper-middle class, married, 35-55, (probably a woman), liberal-oriented, and a college graduate who understands insider jokes about Twitter, watches HBO, and has a creative streak. While I try to connect with as many people as possible, I also exclude 99% of the world population just with that one statement.
Some of you are under 35 or over 70, or a man, or have never watched Breaking Bad, and that’s OK (I haven’t watched it myself), but at least I know that you — most of my imagined readers — ARE watching it.
Why is this important to me? It all depends on what type of community you want to build. It’s difficult building an audience that completely revolves around your personal life. Why should anyone care? Asking the question, “Who am I?” has never resulted in any concrete answers. Maybe it is time to ask a different question. By discovering you, I will be better able to understand myself.
Of course, no one has one audience. I find that I’m able to connect with a very different audience on Instagram than say, Facebook. On Instagram I am “artistic product.” On Facebook I am “personal.” I know quite a few people who like my photos as creative work on Instagram, but cannot endure my endless kvetching on Facebook about my life. I have blogging friends who never interact with me on Twitter. It’s taken me a long time to figure this out. Each location is a different community with different rules and hierarchies. You cannot be the same person everywhere.
The typical question I get asked by friends of friends is “What is your blog about?” An equally tough question, one that I am asking myself right now, is”Who is this blog for?”