All emerging Web businesses start out with a great idea but with little (or close to no) understanding of their audience. We have dealt with many customers with great, innovative products/services, but who failed because they lacked a very important quality, that little something that makes any smart entrepreneur listen to their PR consultants when they say: THIS IS WHERE YOUR AUDIENCE IS!
We started the B2B category in the hope that those who employed us in the past and ignored our advice back when they needed it the most, giving us replies like “we are music people, we do not need the tech community” (as if tech people do not listen to music), will now learn and never repeat their mistakes. As a web-based startup, not knowing your audience is probably at the top of the “fatal” mistakes list.
All sites are built for an audience – even those “personal” sites, where the authors write something for “themselves.” When you put something online, anything, you can expect people from all over the world to see and access the information (unless you protect it with a password).
There are no borders online. The audience represents any person who will access the information you publish. The forms of accessing and interacting vary, from site to site, from business to business. However, sometimes, those who access online information are not those who we expect. Targeting an audience is an art – developing a sense of understanding the audience can be the difference between success and failure.
“Audience” is a general term – most sites have “audiences” identified as groups of users each with different interests, goals and motivations. Knowing your audience is being able to categorize your users, based on interests, geo location, and etc. The best way to do this is to classify users on THEIR characteristics and NOT on your own expectations. So, do not expect your “music startup” to attract only “music celebrities” – anyone who likes music might end up using your site, and not respecting this “unexpected” audience might damage your reputation and cause you a great loss (even financial). The whys of this are difficult to elaborate in a simple blog post, however, consider this:
- A site that does not satisfy its audience might get negative user reviews
- Some users may have highly influential voices that will attract similar reactions from their followers. (For example, if Scoble doesn’t like a product, you can expect a flock of fans and followers to feel the same. These will publish their “agreement” with the VIP on their blogs, social networks and etc. Once the negative reviews go viral, it is hard to come out with a clean face, no matter what you try: do not expect Scoble to publish an apology or an erratum.)
- Negative press and negative social media responses might convince less savvy users to avoid your company.
- All of the above might discourage VCs from investing in your company.
- Without funding, and with too many negative mentions, your startup will soon be forgotten. Can you think of something worse?
- Even if you do manage to address all negative issues, these negatives will follow you till the end of time, to some degree!
There are a few things young entrepreneurs fail to understand:
- There is no mercy online: nobody cares that your idea is great, useful and “it might change the world.” Users care about the “what’s in it for me” and VCs care about ROI (return of investment).
- It is naïve to believe that VCs will ever invest into a startup without a clear (bullet proof) monetization model. Twitter, for example, got a lot of VC funding pumped in. The company never sold to Facebook, Google, Apple or other interested parties. Can you guess why? Twitter never revealed to the public its monetization model, but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Twitter got funding when Jaiku (its past main competitor) was stronger (why else would Google buy a microblogging platform other than Twitter? Google doesn’t make such mistakes!).
- There is no press coverage without a story: there is no way to make news where nothing happens.
- VCs, other investors, the media and the casual users, are all “audiences” and each has to be addressed differently.
- Starting a business without a business plan is almost always a doomed deal.
Most Engaged Social Networking Audiences Worldwide
What many startups do wrong is that they only target the English-speaking community, ignoring some other Web users, who are more engaged in the use of the Web 2.0.
For example, according to a recent comScore study, Russia has world’s most engaged social networking audience “with visitors spending 6.6 hours and viewing 1,307 pages per visitor per month.”
“Of the 1.1 billion people age 15 and older worldwide who accessed the Internet from a home or work location in May 2009, 734.2 million visited at least one social networking site during the month, representing a penetration of 65 percent of the worldwide Internet audience. The Russian social networking audience had the highest engagement among the 40 individual countries reported by comScore, with an average of 6.6 hours and 1,307 pages consumed per visitor. Brazil ranked close behind at 6.3 hours, followed by Canada (5.6 hours), Puerto Rico (5.3 hours) and Spain (5.3 hours).”
Sure, these statistics mostly represent LOCAL sites visited by the users from each individual country. However, if a startup buys a country specific domain (and creates a language specific site on this domain) to target users from other countries, the numbers presented to VCs would look much better than, let’s say, those presented by a startup that only targets the English-speaking community via a “.com” site.
We will discuss more about targeting and categorizing users in a future B2B tips article. However, anyone considering starting an online venture simply must adhere to certain principles. So many times startups are led by individuals how have a fantastic understanding of their “core” competencies; for instance – programming.
But, aside the small likelihood that someone on their team just happens to be an SEO, PR or Social Media expert, the chances of them being expert in these crucial areas is non-existent. The point here is, hire or engage expert help where it is needed, and then trust those experts to help you make the right decisions.
So many times, CEO’s and other startup management hire professionals to supplement their own knowledge, and then fail to follow their good advice. There are so many aspects to online business, and no one, repeat no one knows everything about everything.