The audience triangle

October 28-29 found Vancouver hosting the Merging+Media conference, a look at cross-media production for several industries. The second day featured keynote speeches and panel discussions about various aspects of transmedia production -- writing, technology, funding, etc. Some of it was stuff that gets discussed a lot in this community, but some good points were raised and there were some good takeaways.

The next few posts here will explore a couple of those major discussion points. (Check out my recent twitter feed for my livetweeting of the event, with the #mergingmedia hashtag.)

Core Audience

One of the biggest points raised over and over was the need to know your core audience. I and others have written about this before, but I think it bears repeating.

To build a successful transmedia project, you have to know who your core audience is and cater directly to them. The core audience is going to be the people who jump into your project first, the people who will delve deepest into it, take part most passionately in the interactive portions, and -- perhaps most importantly -- tell their friends about it and get others involved. Your core audience is your evangelists, so it's vital to find them and convince them of your worth.

First you have to know who they are, and that depends on your project. If you're presenting a story of TRON, then your core audience will be people who know and love the original movie, gamers, and the internet-savvy. But your core audience could be young adults, or -- apparently -- middle-aged women. (According to Michael Gold of Electrotank, middle-aged women provide the majority of revenue from social games.) It all depends on what kind of story you're creating, just like in any mainstream media.

Once you know your core audience, you have to structure your transmedia project accordingly. A TRON audience will respond to puzzles launched at a comic convention, will be drawn in by games and a promise of more story connected to the original property. Average middle-aged women will not. Young kids won't -- or shouldn't -- be on Facebook, so a game aimed at them can't be either, to succeed.

Certain kinds of audience will respond to traditional ARG elements like puzzles that require the tapping of a hivemind to solve, but a more mainstream audience will certainly not. (After posting a link to the No Mimes Media mini-ARG, a friend of mine tried it, and got stuck at the Mime Academy website. She didn't think to phone the number at the site. I walked her through almost the whole thing -- she thought it was neat, but without an understanding of the ARG conventions, every single step of the story could lose her. That's people leaving your project, at every step.)

If you don't tailor your content and structure to your audience, you won't find them, you won't keep them, and the project will probably fail to get off the ground.

But once you have thta audience, you can start to look beyond. Susan Bonds of 42 Entertainment, who provided the final keynote speech at Merging+Media, talked about a triangle of audience involvement (which you can see at the bottom of this site). While the project must find and engage the tip of that triangle most strongly, it can then reach out for the upper levels, the broader audience. Find ways in the project, in the story, in the structure, to reach beyond the core audience and pull in a broader one.

The trick here, at first, is to make them aware of the project. Spread the word as widely as possible. That upper level of the triangle will just follow along the story, rather than actively participating, but it's getting the word out there. Then, the goal becomes to pull them down the triangle. Anything you can do to entice people down the triangle is a good thing, to grow that core, involved, passionate audience.

From a financial point of view, it's those people at the tip that will spend the most money on your project. And they're the people, like I said before, that will evangelize for you.

Know your core audience, find them and cater to them to bring them in. Then find ways to reach a broader audience -- and pull them down to a deeper engagement. Nurture, and grow.

Ideas? Suggestions? Further links? Leave them in the comments, as always!

Next time: use existing technology.