What "being where your audience is" really means

How to get in and move with the herd
(so you‘re less likely to get pushed out.)

April 30th 2015
Robert Stjärnström


Denna artikel publicerades ursprungligen på medium.com 30 april, 2015.

At South-by-Southwest in March 2014, Dan Pfeiffer — Senior Advisor to The President for Strategy and Communication — told us,

“The key thing is to understand your audience and to go to where the conversation is happening.”

The campaign to elect Obama was the first political campaign (and subsequent Presidential administration) to really get social media. And it has helped them win two elections.

To know that social media is a thing by now is hardly remarkable. What is remarkable is understanding that each social network has its own cultural nuance and overarching behavioral psychology; different kinds of people (and oftentimes the same people) use them for different reasons with different expectations. The Obama administration understands these nuances and their social media presence reflects it.

A prime example of this is The Official Whitehouse Tumblr. (EDIT: This tumblr has since been shut down by the Trump administration.)

Tumblr is a social network in many ways similar to Facebook and Twitter, but notably different as well. “Tumblr is blogs”, it says on their website.


“Turns out that when you make it easy to create interesting things, that’s exactly what people do.”

This isn’t just marketing; Tumblr’s design actually does this. The very functions that allow people to post on Tumblr are designed to promote more individual creativity, more derivative culture and more variation than what Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all do combined.

But it also makes it a bit more niche, and a bit less interesting for those who only care about sharing photos of their kids and their food (which is one form of content that is surprisingly lacking on Tumblr).

The language of Tumblr

One contemporary phenomenon that can be credited to the 420 million strong population of Tumblr is the use of “gif sets”. These are a series of very short captioned animated images where the animation itself does little more than bring the scene alive. Yet, this is enormously effective.


This type of content effectively captures a moment in time, a quote, a joke or any form of message; the brief burst of body language and facial movements flavors the message and acts as a sublime catalyst to draw us in.

The main thing to understand here is that,

“The Whitehouse isn’t doing this because it is cool, or because they aim to be. They are doing this because this is the language of Tumblr.”

It is what Tumblr users expect and enjoy. And it is what tumblr users will share (or “casually reblog” as they might say) with their followers and friends.


The Whitehouse alternates between humor and serious information in a well-balanced way. After all, who wants to hang out with someone who just preaches and wants to talk politics all the time?


But being by the people, for the people, isn’t just about getting your message out. It’s about listening to what the people have to say. In this capacity The Whitehouse uses Tumblr just like Tumblr users use Tumblr; they answer real questions from real people submitted via the built-in “Ask” system. Here — again —The Obama administration shows us that they understand what “being where your audience is” means. Don’t make them go somewhere else to engage with you!

But this isn’t just about social media

Being where your audience is and understanding why they are there is applicable anywhere, in any context.

“If we have content that speaks to a certain format and the people there, that medium; if you understand the audience there, you will know how to reach them.”
   — Dan Pfeiffer

President Obama has been on both Jimmy Kimmel and appeared on a video short (“Things everybody does but doesn’t talk about”) for BuzzFeed; both of which contain a lot of humor mixed with just a little, but well-timed and important information.

Instead of trying to do too much and overwhelm, they give the audience of BuzzFeed and Jimmy Kimmel exactly what they expect from that context. This also establishes their credibility as opposed to ruining it by only being interested in their own agenda.

They give a lot and ask very little, but what they get in return is still substantially more than those who do nothing but ask.

The State of The Union on Medium.com

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that The Whitehouse also has a Medium channel. But like Tumblr, Medium users also have their own expectations and cultural nuances. For one, you can pretty much assume that people on Medium are more okay with longform content than your average Tumblr user.

But what kind of content would you post on Medium? Hey, how about The State of The Union speech?

Used to be a little before the address, the White House sent out an embargoed copy of the President’s speech to the press (embargoed, as in the press can see the speech, but they can’t report on it until a designated time). The reporters then started sending it around town to folks on Capitol Hill to get their reaction, then those people would send it to all their friends, and eventually everyone in Washington could read along. But the public remained in the dark.

2015 that changed. The White house made the speech available to all citizens, online. You could follow along with the speech as you watched, view charts and infographics on key areas, tweet favorite lines, and leave notes. By making the text available to the public in advance, the White House gave people a wider range of ways to consume it, thus increasing its overall reach.

Don’t say it all in one place

“It increasingly doesn’t matter where you content lives. A lot of companies get scared of that, but we think it makes us stronger.”
  — Jonah Peretti, CEO & Founder of BuzzFeed

It’s hard to talk about any communicative effort without coming back to social media. A lot of companies want to control the message, and they believe this can be achieved by keeping their message and content restricted to channels they control (i.e., their website, their advertising output and their meetings).

In the new age, trying to own your message by keeping it walled in is nothing but an expensive way of making sure that no one else sees it.

People’s attention is what you are competing for. They have no reason — no incentive — to come to you. You have to go where the conversation is happening. You have to show the people there that you understand them, that you speak their language. You have to show them that you care about what they care about.

Only then can you credibly ask them to buy what you are selling.


—Robert Stjärnström, COO