Take a minute and think about what the term ‘audience’ means to you.
The formal definition in the dictionary describes the audience as:
The people who watch or listen to a television or radio program; the readership of a book, magazine or newspaper; the people giving or likely to give attention to something.
Now apply this definition to today’s media landscape. If you run into the same problem I did–this definition doesn’t seem to apply anymore. What used to be more of a “one direction” process has transformed into a continuous conversation. The distinction between the source and the audience continues to blur as the power shifts from the hands of Big Media and into the audience. Bloggers, podcasters, video producers– anyone with something to share–have the power to do so and the means to be heard.
Jay Rosen describes this momentous shift of control in his blog post “The people formerly known as the audience.”
We graduate from wanting media when we want it, to wanting it without the filler, to wanting media to be way better than it is, to publishing and broadcasting ourselves when it meets a need or sounds like fun.
The members of an audience can be characterized as active engagers and contributors–not passive bystanders, or ‘spectators’ as this dated definition of the audience seems to imply. Consuming media—reading, watching, listening–is only a small part of the role the audience plays in todays landscape.
I would argue that a much better term to use instead of the “audience” is “participants.”
In their study, Mark Deuze, Axel Bruns, and Christoph Neuberger explain the constant evolution of journalism and how the entrance of participants causes a new dilemma between open access and quality. He advises:
Participants must bring and/or build an understanding of how to operate in a news “produsage” environment just as much as journalists must develop a sense of how to reinvent themselves as co-creators of culture.
There is a certain role creators and participants must understand and abide by to ensure the quality of content does not decrease while access to contribution in the public space increases.
While this new participation opens doors for creators and participants to engage together, there are always downsides. When freedom of speech is extended beyond news outlets and company representatives, participators can speak what is on their mind, however negative or positive that may be.
In his book Unmarketing, Scott Stratten details two different Twitter conversations regarding customer service: one where the company professionally acknowledges a student’s complaint and apologizes as well as one where a coffee shop fails to demonstrate understanding and expresses zero concern about the user’s issue. He says:
You need to take advantage of the potential for great public customer service that social media can allow, but you also need to know what can go wrong.
Customer service is just another type of conversation between creators and participators. This open communication leads to different roles that journalists, media companies, and brands must take on. They are “co-creators of culture,” as mentioned before, and with that everyone involved in the media landscape must understand the impact changes have on them and be ready to respond to anything that comes their way.