Know your audience: a content lesson from the middle of the woods

Don’t appeal to empty seats—know your audience.

Recently, a minor controversy flared up on a Facebook page for an outdoors magazine. In a web feature on getting fit for hiking, the lede read: “Doughy is a lifestyle choice.” Huh?

On certain fitness blogs or emblazoned on across a “fitspo” meme, such a statement wouldn’t be out of place. But to the readers of this magazine it seemed an odd crack aimed at heavy hikers. Most of the comments below the related Facebook post were some variation of this, from a commenter named Todd: “LoL I am doughy and I out hike lean athletes any day of the week. It’s not all about the cover. Over weight people can have very good fitness.”

If commenters were not taking the magazine to task for shaming bigger hikers, they were confused by the very nature of the article. That is, they didn’t understand why a hiker would need these fitness tips. As commenter Katherine quipped, “I got in shape for hiking by… hiking.”

So what’s going on here (aside from insensitivity)? If we examine this from a writing and public relations angle, it becomes clear the magazine made a basic, yet extremely common mistake: they misjudged their audience.

Under ever-increasing pressure to produce more and more content, companies sometimes forget for whom they are writing. They seek out new formats and approaches to writing quick blog posts and features, often mimicking what works elsewhere on the web. Though this can lead to content that is more interesting to readers, writers and brands have to keep those readers in mind. You can adapt a form or approach to mesh with the information and tone your audience seeks from you.

So let this little hiker dustup serve as a reminder: next time you sit down to write a new blog post, article, white paper or other piece of content, ask, “who is this for and what do the want from me?”

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