How to Find the Audience You Want (When They're Not Necessarily Coming Your Way)

Welcome signDuring our Website Redesign webinar, one attendee asked a great question:

"You talk about doing research about who your current audience is, but what about identifying and catering towards your target audience (the people who you want to be visiting the website, but aren't necessarily yet)?"

There are a few ways to go about attracting new visitors to your website (and of course if we had a sure-fire way of getting 100% of those people to your website 100% of the time, we'd be incredibly famous!). Your question includes two key verbs: identifying and catering - so let's start with those two (though I'm going to expand catering to include attracting & serving).

Identifying New Audiences

If you have the sense you're preaching to the proverbial choir, and could stand to expand your horizons a little, you may need to step back and consider who else might be interested in the issues you're tackling. How to do that? Here are some ideas:

  • Consider related issues: What other interests might people passionate about your cause share?
  • What do your supporters do for fun? Hobbies can bring people together who might not otherwise share much common ground.
  • Are there specific business or government groups that might be interested in the work you're doing?
  • What groups do you look to as allies, supporters and/or inspiration? You might try reaching out to them (and in turn, their supporters) to extend your network.

For example, if you're an environmental group focused on marine ecosystems, you might expand your field of vision to include:

  • People interested in other environmental issues
  • Recreational boating enthusiasts, scuba divers, and surfers
  • Commercial fishers & fisheries
  • Public aquariums, groups promoting sustainable seafood consumption, university departments doing marine research, and global charities focused on water & marine issues.

Attracting and Serving New Groups

Once you've figured out who you want to get on board, it's time to reach out to them. How do you do that? Again, there are many tactics you can experiment with - but here are a few places to start:

  • Listen in: Visit the blogs, news sites, and other online hangouts where they're congregating. Participate in those communities, and you'll build up a name for yourself and your organization in the process. Comment on articles, share your knowledge, and you will naturally attract people to want to know more about you. So long as you consistently connect your profile to your organization's website, you'll begin driving traffic to it. (It should go without saying that we're not advocating spamming blog comments with embedded links to your website - not only will that guarantee your comments get deleted, but you can also get yourself blacklisted.)
  • Get out and meet people face to face: If you're trying to connect with place-specific groups - such as the above-mentioned hobbyists - nothing beats face-to-face for building strong connections. Reach out to event organizers (Meetup.com is a great place to start) and ask if they're looking for speakers; and even if they're not, it's well worth attending an event or two and getting to know some of the local community members. What's particularly great about this tactic is that you're likely to meet the social butterflies of the group, who are often the best at getting word out to the rest - these are the influencers who you most want to reach.
  • Remember the golden rule: The bottom line in attracting people to your cause is to give them something that's of value to them; that will earn you more attention and loyalty than a thousand banner ads. Ask yourself what you can do for them that's unique, and focus there first - once you've done that it will be much easier to invite them to reciprocate in some way.
  • Consider advertising and sponsorships: If your intended audience has a strong overlap with that of a noncompeting group, look for opportunities to connect with their supporters. For example, you might be able to sponsor an email newsletter that goes out to their list, or buy an ad on their blog. Facebook and Google ads also provide cost-effective opportunities that allow you to target very specific audiences - for example, Facebook allows you to display your ads to specific demographic groups, or perhaps more interestingly, to people who have listed a particular interest on their profile, while Google allows you to show ads based on location and search keywords - so you can choose to show your ads when people search for your competitors. Always use caution when allocating ad budgets - paid marketing is never as effective as earned media in terms of creating trust relationships - but there are definitely low-risk ways to experiment with it & measure success along the way.

Of course, all of this comes with a caveat: You never want to alienate your core supporters for the sake of attracting new people to the cause. You can afford to lose one or two people, but not dozens - so keep an eye on your database to make sure you aren't losing any ground overall.