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4 Great Reasons Not to Know Your Blog’s Target Audience

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December 15, 2014 by Paula Reed Nancarrow

Adorning the tubes and wires of the Internet you will find many excellent posts on the importance of knowing your blog’s target audience.

Robert Edward Dillon and his sister Georgiana, practicing archery, County Galway, Ireland, 1883. Courtesy Flickr Commons.

Often these are focused on businesses with a product to sell. That’s not to say they have nothing to offer authors (who, after all, clearly have product), or someone blogging for more personal reasons, as I am. Having been a freshman composition teacher in a previous life, I’ve seen plenty of examples of writing in which the audience is either vaguely defined or nonexistent. I will admit it can get ugly.

All the same, as my first year of weekly blogging comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on what this year has taught me. And in the Spirit of Contrariness (for the Ghost of Christmas Past has not seen fit to visit me), I offer you four excellent reasons to forge ahead without knowing who you have in the crosshairs:

1. You just need to get started.

starting line

This is my second blog, and I began it like the first, with no plan for sustained output. Not until this year did I make a promise to myself to blog weekly.

Before that there were several months of trying to plan.

I wanted to do it right this time. So I read up on blogging. The message I kept getting was that the way to provide unique value was to find a niche and a target audience that needed my expertise. The only problem was that none of the things I was interested in writing about were things I considered myself an expert in.

Frankly I had no idea who would want to read what I wrote. I knew some people liked my writing and my storytelling, found it moving, familiar, and occasionally funny. I wanted more readers like that. I knew I needed the discipline of regular, intentional writing. And I knew I didn’t want to hide my work in a drawer.

To begin, begin. – William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth , 1842. Wandering lonely with clouded brow. Bring this man some daffodils.

William Wordsworth , 1842. Wandering lonely with clouded brow. Bring this man some daffodils.

And you thought Yoda said that.  Nope, it was that august Romantic and Poet Laureate whose poem about daffodils you were forced to memorize in middle school.

Don’t hold it against him. He’s right. If you wait until you figure everything out, you will never post anything.

2. You’ll learn about your audience as you go.

In his online course in blogging at the Loft Literary Center, which I was fortunate enough to take in October, Patrick Ross made some connections between traditional essay writing and blogging. Drawing on the work of Phillip Lopate. Patrick reminded me of what I used to know about the meaning of that French word essayer, to try.

Approach a blog post like an essay writer might, as a dialogue with oneself. The very process of letting others into that dialogue teaches you about who is interested in the things you find worth writing about. Engaging in conversations, on your blog and on those of others that share your interest, teaches you about your audience, about what they find enjoyable, useful, or compelling.

3. You risk losing your voice.

At first, when you are trying to find your voice, you do not want to know too much about what others expect of you. It is more important to know clearly what you expect of you: what you are passionate about writing, why it matters to you. We all want recognition for what we do, but if we pay attention too early to what people think of what we say, it is often too easy to produce more of what wins approval. Even with work you’re not getting paid for, it’s possible to sell out.

Or her blog?

Or her blog?

4. The metaphor sucks.

Most of us use the phrase “target audience” without thinking much about it. But I suggest for a moment you do. In the crosshairs? Really?

Personally, I don’t want to fire off my posts as if my blog were a lethal weapon. I want my posts to connect with people, to resonate, to solve a problem, to be useful or meaningful in some way. I’m guessing you do too.

To do this we cannot see our audience as a target at all. We must see them as a community, one in which we earn our place. They are hunting for something, as we are. They are not big game.

35 thoughts on “4 Great Reasons Not to Know Your Blog’s Target Audience

  1. Annecdotist says:

    Lovely post on ploughing the middle ground between writing solely for ourselves and writing for a “market”. I love this bit in particular:
    They are hunting for something, as we are. They are not big game.
    Hard to believe you’ve been blogging for only a year – your posts are so proficient with a lovely balance of personal and professional.
    I’ve been blogging for nearly 2 years and, although it took me a bit longer to settle into my groove, I’m still glad that I started off totally clueless and discovered what my blog might be in the process.
    A lovely celebration of the blogging community!

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  2. Norah says:

    This is great advice Paula, and I wholeheartedly agree. I blog to express my thoughts and love when I connect with others, whether they choose to agree or disagree, the conversations are always good. I really love being a part of my online community. :)

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  3. Terry Tyler says:

    Love it, love it, love it! I get so fed up with hearing about writing for your target audience. The quickest way to formula writing, if you ask me. Some of your posts will resonate with some, some with others more. The only good advice is to write what comes from your heart, as you say here. Um, high fives :)

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  4. Paula, your posts are always thoughtful and thought-provoking! During the April A-Z Blog challenge last year, I found a number of new posters who wrote very different stuff from what I normally read. Some I continue to follow, others went by the wayside. But I think an important take-away for me is that most people are searching for something that shifts their world view just a bit, no matter the topic. You do that regularly for me! Thanks for being a high-interest blogger.

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  5. Good stuff Paula. For a business blog, yeah, a target market is great. But if you’re trying to establish your own voice, and your own writing style, why not build something that’s so unique that people will want to find YOU?

    Your blog is your brand. It should reflect who you are. And if you want to produce a post every week, it better stuff you love to write. And if there is no target market for it, then you’re writing ’cause you love to write. And that’s our blessing and our curse.

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  6. Love this! I write for my own healing and growth, as well as trying to hone my writing skills. Sometimes I get hung up on trying to write for my audience, but I started my blog for me. My best writing is when I write for me — and I think that’s the stuff that my audience connects to the most. Thanks for reminding me to be true to myself!

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  7. jan says:

    Great post and graphics. I don’t think in terms of a niche audience – I’m just happy to come up with a subject to blog about!

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  8. ejfrostuk says:

    “To begin, begin.” Brilliant quote and great advice. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  9. […] 4 Great Reasons Not to Know Your Blog’s Target Audience, paulareednancarrow.com […]

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  12. I agree. If I spent too long worrying about who I should be writing for I would never write anything!

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  13. This is marvelous, and you’ve proved the other advice we hear about blogging: Write what you care about, passionately and well, and your audience will find you. (I’m glad I did!) What you write often enriches my day and my creative experience, and your imagery always enlivens my life. I guess you found your target audience: Me! Keep up the amazing good work, Paula. Great holidays to you, too.

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  14. Great advice, Paula. I think sometimes a reader just wants something that’s thoughtful and well-written, which describes your posts. The topic isn’t always the most important draw.

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  15. […] 4 Great Reasons Not to Know Your Blog’s Target Audience, paulareednancarrow.com […]

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  16. Anita Stout says:

    Congratulations on your 100th post! When I saw the title I cracked up because I’m on 64 with the same dilemma. Recently someone mentioned that they had been told they were a “lifestyle” blogger so I decided to try that on to see how it fits. The truth is I’m just an odd duck floating on the pond doing my own thing and loving every minute of it. Is there a category for that?

    Keep up the wonderful work! Here’s to the next hundred and the hundred after that!

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  17. Lucy says:

    I do enjoy reading your blog Paula, and this post is spot on as ever. It seems that writing a blog is a case of focussing on the process, and letting the audience come to you, albeit with a little gentle generic nudge through social media channels! Well, that’s what I’ve found too, anyway. Best wishes for the New Year!

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    • Thanks so much, Lucy! I’m glad you are enjoying the posts… Now if only I could manage to focus on process more than I focus on the ups and downs of page views. I guess it would be worse if I were trying to market a book. I am glad, on the whole, I do not feel a call to do that. Best wishes, and much circus, to you!

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  18. Captivating and engaging! I like reading your posts and this one in particular resonated with me. “The only problem was that none of the things I was interested in writing about were things I considered myself an expert in.” That summed it up for me. As a novice blogger, I’m having fun (still) finding and fine-tuning my voice. Your post is most encouraging.

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