The holy grail in the television industry right now – or, rather, one of the grails – is how to create, cultivate, nurture and harness an engaged and loyal audience for your content, brand or channel.

This is a daunting challenge. Do it right and you might have pure gold on your hands. Do it wrong – especially in the age of social media – and you might be on the receiving end of the (virtual) hiding of your life. There is no fool-proof way of managing this, whether you are producing a TV series or heading a channel or something else. One good way forward is to look at the ones who actually have managed and learn from their successes and their mistakes. But when you do set out on your own project, here are five keys to engaging the audience.


Give them a reason to interact and the necessary tools to do so. Make sure you are abundantly clear on what you want them to do and why they should do it. And write in big bold letters just how they should go about it. There is a fine line between underestimating or even belittling your audience and helping them on the way just enough. The balance varies from project to project and especially from audience to audience. Generally though, it is better to be less cryptic than more cryptic.


Break what you have. In the television industry we’re very much about controlling most parts of a production. Not only that, there’s often so much to control that we turn into control freaks – everything in order to keep the schedule, keep the budget and keep ourselves sane. Today though, this does not mirror the way the world works, just as the TV schedule in the back of the newspaper no longer reflects how people are accessing content today. An exciting – if daunting – way of mirroring the real world and giving the audience a meaningful part in your content is to intentionally break part of your IP and/or your story. Then let the audience piece it back together in whatever way they see fit and celebrate their efforts and end result. This could be a narrative that is intentionally left unfinished with clear prompts for the audience to fill in as storytellers, a flawed character that needs to be pieced back together, or something else. The key is to step back and trust the audience to take good – if chaotic – care of the story world they’ve grown to love and the narrative strands you’ve left hanging for them.


Storymaking trumps storytelling. Storytelling has been the buzzword to go to for content people, politicians and marketing people alike over the past year or so. Storymaking, however, takes these principles a bit further. Storymaking is about enabling stories amongst your audience, stories that couldn’t have happened without your content’s involvement. It’s about integrating what your content is about with the world and the needs of your audience, and in that way creating a robust connection between the two.
A slightly crude example, not from the world of TV but from the world of soft drinks, is the Coca Cola “To Share a Coke” campaign. By printing names on the labels of bottles of Coke, they enabled small stories happening in communities around the globe, and integrated their brand into the interaction between consumers in a way that made everyone happy.


Give the audience a place in your story. No matter what you want to call the methods – is it the “swiss cheese model” championed by Starlightrunner Entertainment’s Jeff Gomez or a more open solution like the sandbox storytelling method popular in game development, or something else – opening up your narrative and allowing the audience to see themselves in your story and your content is a great way to encourage engagement and foster loyalty. Granted, it can be a bit stressful, but the potential windfall makes it worth the effort. Providing, that is, that your content has been created with interaction in mind from the outset and the interactive possibilities you offer are attractive, engaging and on par with the rest of your content.


Remember empathy among all the tech. We’re fast approaching the world where Internet of Things is a true reality. As you’re reading this, there are over 16 billion people, processes, data and things connected to the Internet, wit the number steadily rising. Virtual reality is making rapid inroads into our everyday life with reliable affordable solutions (and some slightly more experimental), promising us a connected future moldable in any way of our choosing. Among all of these exciting solutions and futures though, the word empathy should be kept first and foremost in any content producer’s mind. No matter how many billions of connected devices there are in the world, and no matter how well designed virtual reality solutions there’ll be, humans are still at the heart of all the connections you can hope to make. So – listen, learn and emphatize, and implement your findings in your next interaction strategy.


Here’s to engaging the audience, and knowing what to do with them once they actually are engaged!


Simon Staffans is a format developer for MediaCity Finland, and a frequent contributor to MIPBlog. Be sure to follow him on Twitter!

Top photo via Shutterstock – JHershPhoto


About Author

Based in Finland, Simon Staffans is a content developer, media strategist, blogger, writer, consultant and speaker, with a special focus on cross-platform storytelling. He is a frequent contributor to MIPBlog, and speaks regularly at MIP Markets.

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