Part One: What is audience engagement?


Audience Engagement vs. Community Engagement

Part One: What is audience engagement?

When Rick Lester started off his blog with “What the heck is “audience engagement”?” I felt that was a bad sign. However, he went on to explain his experience with managers of audience engagement. Though he found a concrete definition hard to discern from these experts he did seem to isolate a disconnect between varying definitions of audience engagement.

It seems to [Rick Lester] that two separate meanings and means of measuring success are intertwined in the use of the term:

    • One meaning addresses an organizational need to sell more tickets, as measured by sales volume and earned revenues.
    • The other is code for addressing organizational or community dissatisfaction with the composition of the audience already in attendance. (Lester, 2013).

To further simplify Rick Lester’s definitions, perhaps running the risk of oversimplifying, would be to dilute audience engagement into (1) growing audience and (2) increasing involvement (read: satisfaction) in the existing audience. Rick Lester argues that these goals, and thereby measures of success, cannot co-exist, but what is wrong with wanting to reach new people and satisfy the people already within the existing reach? A question qualified by adding that the focus of individual audience engagement plans (whether the desire is to grow or stabilize audience) depends on the status of an audience and the goals at hand.

Starting or amplifying the interaction in an existing audience sounds a lot like community engagement. Growing audience base has a popular commercial flair to it. “I want more customers, more revenue, more, more, more,” declares the cynical corporation type. This caricature may inquire about the importance of increasing the involvement of the existing audience. “We already have them in our audience, let’s recruit more customers. Let’s increase our market share.”

It could seem presumptuous to omit the obvious need to keep customers, for a happy customer is a loyal customer as the cliché goes. There are some things a customer can only purchase once and after that the usefulness of the customer to the industry grows null. But wait!

Buzzwords of the day like brand ambassadors, referrals, and unofficial spokespeople all contribute to audience-driven success (or customer-driven success). It is shocking news to no one that Tom Cruise is a member of the Church of Scientology (unless you don’t have a TV and have never passed through the vortex of celebrity gossip otherwise known as as tabloids and magazines while waiting in the check out at the grocery store). He is one person. They already have him as a member of their church. He isn’t going to spilt in two and someday become a second member. Why would they want to keep him engaged, involved, and encourage development of him within the church? The unambitious answer would be to keep him. The ambitious answer, and what has come to fruition, is to make him a recruiter for the Church of Scientology. Because he is passionately engaged he voluntary helps grow their reach.


Figure 1: Effects of Audience Engagement Activities on Audience Base and Audience Quality (The Unofficial Tom Cruise Model of Audience Engagement)

As Figure 1 illustrates, audience development activities increase the audience in numbers and quality. This is the unofficial Tom Cruise Model of audience engagement. The Church of Scientology example is extreme because not to say that all members of any given audience have the persuasive pull of Tom Cruise but everyone, especially in the highly connected social media world, have a range of influence. By increasing the involvement of the audience it can translate into growth. Any single member of an audience has the ability to become an interactive billboard when properly engaged.


Figure 2: Increasing Audience Engagement

In Robert Pratten’s article on Workbook Project he discusses increasing audience engagement as per Figure 1, featured above, through three processes: (1) discovery, (2) experience, and (3) exploration. This supposes that in the beginning the audience has not yet discovered and thus not yet been part of the audience. This insinuates that audience engagement isn’t about Rick Lester’s latter definition of addressing the existing audience, rather audience engagement hinges on growth.

The discovery process, on the other hand, could be part of a new experience once already included in the audience. As the audience is engaged there may be new things to engage with and thus the discovery process occurs anew. Thus, it is fair to say that audience engagement is the growth and development of an audience. To clarify, growth refers to the extension of an audience to encompass new members and development refers to encouraging new experience (and thereby increased satisfaction) within the existing audience.

Pratten has a follow-up figure that builds on Figure 2: Increasing Audience Engagement (see Figure 3 below).


Figure 3: Stages of Engagement

For each stage of increasing audience engagement Pratten has a corresponding content group. (The content groups are not fully delved into in this examination of audience engagement but further reading on Pratten’s content groups are available on Workbook Project.) Each stage has one or two related content groups.

Discovery: Teaser; Trailer

Experience: Target

Exploration: Participation, Collaboration

These stages apply to growing the audience and can be re-applied to increase engagement in the existing audience. In the final stage of increasing audience engagement, exploration, one of the parallel content groups includes collaboration. Collaboration is part of the audience engagement process as more of a tool than a purpose. It is a means to engage the audience and contribute to the goals of audience engagement, which have been established as (1) growth and (2) increased involvement.

Collaboration seems a great place to begin to explore community engagement.

Part Two: What is community engagement?


Lester, Rick. (June 27 2013). Audience Engagement’s No Man’s Land. TRG Arts. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from

Pratten, R. (August 5 2013). A Content Strategy for Audience Engagement. Workbook Project. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from


Figure 1: The Unofficial Tom Cruise Model of Audience Engagement

Rideout, S. (August 30, 2013). The Unofficial Tom Cruise Model of Audience Engagement. Audience Engagement. Retrieved September 9, 2013, from

Figure 2: Increasing Audience Engagement

Pratten, R. (August 5 2013). Increasing Audience Engagement. Workbook Project. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from

Figure 3: Stages of Engagement

Pratten, R. (August 5 2013). Stages of Engagement. Workbook Project. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from


3 thoughts on “Part One: What is audience engagement?

  1. For someone like myself who knows little about this subject, explain to me in concrete terms how Pepsi (for instance) engages their audience. And, is an “audience” the same as a “consumer” or customer?

      1. Oh, and in regard to the definition of audience: it can be a customer/consumer but it doesn’t have to be. A lot of the published material on audience engagement is created by the arts community (namely theatre) so in that regard the audience they refer to is a more conventional audience and not just a consumer of a big brand (i.e. a Pepsi drinker — to use your example).

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