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Users, customers, or audience – what do you call the people that visit your site?

5 second personality test
This is a just-for-fun post on the way that language changes our perspective on design. I've been thinking a lot about these nuances in the way that it creates hidden assumptions on business models, how we treat our partners, our users/customers/audience, and other folks in the industry. As a result, I've come up with a one question personality test ;) Here's the question below:

What do you call the people who are on your site?

  1. Users
  2. Customers
  3. Audience

Have your answer?

Read below for some quick thoughts on what your answer could mean.

Folks that use the word "audience" are likely to have an advertising and monetization perspective. Ultimately, companies with an ad perspective see the audience they are building into an asset to be sold to their "real" customers, the advertisers. And so I hear phrases like X wants to "target this audience" or that they're "aggregating the Y audience" or similar wordings.

As I wrote in Your Web 2.0 startup is actually a B2B in disguise, the process of generating all those millions of pageviews is just step #1, and step #2 is to actually sell them to the advertisers who want to target this audience. That's absolutely a valid perspective.

The view of the people on your site as "customers" has the strong connotation that direct monetization is occurring, and that usually happens on ecommerce properties. I think this implies both the highest value and best treatment of the folks visiting your site.

Interestingly enough, business like social gaming sites would be wise to use this type of terminology when they depend on virtual goods models. Social gaming properties are not much unlike ecommerce sites, and it would be wise to have the same focus on merchandising, having attractive shops, cross-selling and up-selling, as well as treating your customers like they will hand you money.

At the heart of "users" is the idea of using a product, or utility, or other functionality-focused usage. At least in my world, this is the most common terminology I hear. On the plus side, it creates plenty of opportunties for discussion around featuresets and product-oriented business strategies. However, on the downside, it doesn't explicitly acknowledge the nature of the advertising business as "audience" does, nor the imply the treatment that calling them customers would.

For my projects, I am particularly interested in virtual goods models for monetization, and as a result, it seems wise to reserve the word "customer" to refer to the people we attract.

Any other labels I'm missing? Comments and suggestions welcome.

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