The Hierarchy of Audiences in Content Marketing

I used to be bothered by the fact that the number of followers I have on social media and the number of subscribers I have to my email list weren’t the same.

Now it doesn’t bother me at all, because I’ve realized they’re two entirely different audiences, engaging with me at two entirely different levels.

Last week on the New Rainmaker podcast, Brian Clark was talking about “Circles of Belief;” he said that the metaphor of a sales funnel is no longer really apt to new media producers and content marketers, and that he’s started thinking more in terms of concentric circles of belief.

At the very center is you, your business.  And from there, your audience can be defined by a hierarchy of ever widening circles that determine how much those people believe in you and what you have to say (and sell).

I thought this was an INCREDIBLY powerful way of thinking of your audience—what I’ve defined as the Who (in my 5 Ws) of your blogging strategy.

Check it out:



It starts with the people who trust you the most, those who are literally in your “inner circle” because they have already demonstrated that they believe in you by making a purchase or more than one purchase. From there, the circles get wider and wider—and the belief gets more and more dilute. The outermost circle is those people who have only passively liked you or followed you on various social media channels. (And outside that are people who don’t know or engage with you at all.)

It seemed to me that visualizing your audience in this way might be terribly valuable when deciding who you are blogging to (and ensuring that you’re blogging to the right audience.)

For example:

  • When announcing a new product, you wouldn’t have the same message for people who have already purchased something from you as for those people who have never even signed up for your email list.
  • Likewise, you might not necessarily be sharing the same information on your Facebook page as in your email newsletter, as those two audiences have demonstrated two different levels of engagement.

I’ve talked before about the idea that your ideal blog reader might not be exactly the same as your ideal customer—and that you need to identify the differences if you can to make your blogging more effective.

This theory of the circles of belief takes that even deeper, showing quite convincingly that the people who only like you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter are not the people (most of the time) who are going to jump down and suddenly buy all your stuff.

So spending massive amounts of time creating content for social media when you need sales is… Well, not your brightest move.

Where should you be concentrating your efforts?

  • If you’re looking for immediate sales, write to those people who are on one of your email sub-lists (they’ve opted in to learn more about a particular product or given you more info about themselves) of leads, and those who have purchased from you at least once before; those are always your hottest leads.
  • If you’re looking to grow that list of leads, then you want to concentrate on getting your general email and RSS subscribers to give you more information about themselves: answer a survey, opt into a sub list, etc.
  • You concentrate on the outer rings to grow your inner circles. It’s much less effective to send a direct sales pitch to those groups, and much easier to entice them to subscribe to a general email list with great content.

Each ring helps build the ring inside it. So when you know what your goal is, you know exactly which segment of your audience to talk to and how to address them to make that happen.

Major hat tip and thanks to Brian Clark at New Rainmaker for this awesome concept and to Dani Renwick of Charmellow Design for the infographic.

Like this concept? Share this infographic with your audiences by grabbing the embed code below. And thanks!

16 thoughts on “The Hierarchy of Audiences in Content Marketing

  1. Awesome! Everything makes so much sense now Lacy. I knew there was a difference between my subscribers and my social media followers but know I actually understand that difference. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. What an important topic, and something that I’m really trying to understand. I don’t have a website at this moment, so I’ve focused on creating an audience through my Facebook page. So far I have posted on the page as if I were posting on a blog, which I plan to transition out of, which leads me to wonder how I would post on my Facebook page. It is something that puzzles me as I feel like it takes great strategizing to really gain any traction through Facebook and other social media…

    1. Hi Carolina! I would definitely recommend you get an email list going, even when you’ve just got a Facebook page. Collect those email addresses ASAP! Because you don’t own anything (like your list of followers) on FB! 🙂

  3. Infographs are awesome! They attract people so easily. Great tips, too. I agree about growing your inner circle. That group can be the most powerful.

  4. Great advice, it makes so much sense. I am building my social media followers very slowly, which is fine, but I find it takes so much time and effort for social media and I haven’t seen much reward. Lately I have decided to focus on building my mail list instead and I hope to see better results.

    1. Yes! I think this is such a good way to visualize the relative importance of our marketing activities and prioritize.

  5. Wow Lacy, this is great! We’ve tried to visualize this in the past, but I love the concept you’ve come up with. Thanks, and I’m glad the circles concept is working for you.

  6. Loved this breakdown of the “Circles of Belief” and the awesome infographic! Stellar post, girl.

    I think that social media, like a website, gives people a sense of who you are as a business, and what is important to you and your audience. I agree it’s not a great place to sell — but it IS a great place to show off your personality. Too many businesses ignore it completely because it’s not really a sales channel, and I think they’re missing out on a valuable communication channel.

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