Audience development has become core to how publishers scale and make money. But now the question facing publishers is how to ensure it serves all sides of the business, whose interests often conflict.

Once a role that mainly focused on SEO, audience development has become more complicated because of the explosion of ways publishers can find and distribute content, from their own platforms such as newsletters and apps to external ones such as social media outlets and bots.

At the most fundamental level, both the business and edit sides want to reach new and existing audiences. But from there the interests can diverge. Whereas the newsroom wants to maximize the reach and impact of its journalism, the sales side is rewarded for growing ad revenue, which could lead it to prioritize certain audience segments over others. And then there is driving subscriptions and marketing other products like events and commerce.

CNN’s finance vertical, CNNMoney, for example, commands higher ad rates than the parent site does because of its upscale audience, which could justify spending more to drive audience to that property, for example, said Chris Herbert, CNN’s svp of digital operations and strategy.

“[Journalists] want to get an important message out to as many people as possible,” Herbert said. “When you think about sales, scale is important, but we also recognize that we need to chase the right audience.”

It can go the other way, with the business side chasing growth that conflicts with editorial’s goals. Amy O’Leary, chief storyteller at viral site Upworthy, recalled one day back in the fall when fighting in Syria was getting worse.

“If we just had a strict growth strategy, maybe you’d do counter-programming — pull something positive from the archives,” she said. “But as the editor, I know that story has a ton of attention, and people care about what you can do to help. So we created an article about how to help, and it went viral because we know the work that resonates the most is what’s mission-driven.”

The case for editorial
Publishers are addressing these varying audience development needs in different ways. At many traditional and new media organizations alike, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Upworthy, audience development still resides on the editorial side.

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O’Leary makes the case that with social media often being the first place where people encounter a story, audience development should be as close to the editorial creation as possible. Once a week, her growth team provides editorial with reams of data on every story. That feedback informs editorial about what people are reading and sharing, and helps build muscle memory so it can deliver content that resonates again and again.

O’Leary said this doesn’t mean editorial is operating in a vacuum, ignorant of business concerns, though. For instance, the growth team knows long articles might make more sense to post on Facebook as Instant Articles, the platform’s fast-loading mobile articles feature,…