Let’s Talk About Audience Surveys

Get to know your people. We asked our team for audience survey best practices and expert tips for success.
Woman sitting on the floor of a living room working on a laptop. Audience survey.
Photo by www.thoughtcatalog.com on Unsplash.

Surveying readers is more than simply sending out a short questionnaire. When asking readers for five more minutes of their time, it’s important to make every second count. 

We asked our team of expert strategists why an audience survey is necessary for your publication, and how to make the most of it. Keep reading for a step-by-step walk through of the process, plus hear from an Indiegraf partner publisher on their recent experience. 

Why should I even do an audience survey? 

How else can you serve your audience better if you don’t know who they are or what they want to know about? Surveys can help better serve your audience’s information needs and understand what your audience needs to support you in return, says Pearl Leung, Indiegraf audience strategist. This is also an opportunity to test assumptions about the product: Is the product something the audience wants or needs?

What questions should I ask? 

“Checkbox questions are helpful,” says Rachel Chen, Indiegraf’s senior manager of audience strategy. “Give readers some pre-set options, and include an “Other” option for your biggest fans—they’ll let you know if you’re missing anything.” For example, if you wanted to ask, “What would motivate you to support our publication?” then include options such as, “Seeing the impact of stories” or “Being part of an online community.”  When asking, “What types of stories do you want to read?,” list out the publication’s main coverage areas. 

But readers hate surveys! Do you have any advice for engagement? 

Email audiences tend to be older than social media audiences. “If you want to reach different demographics, it can be really handy to have two versions of the survey and share them on different platforms to get a deeper segmentation on how readers who engage on different platforms respond,” says Rachel. A relatively low-cost incentive like merch or a gift card can motivate audiences to give their time. “You don’t have to give a prize to every respondent—it can be a giveaway,” says Pearl. 

Okay, but what do I do with all this data? 

Depending on how many responses you get, the feedback can be a bit overwhelming! Segment responses by demographics or willingness to support for a clearer overview of the information. 

Demographic data can also be used to build out “customer personas,” says Allison Mcllmoyl, Indiegraf’s senior manager of development and sponsorship. This is a way to identify the audience using certain characteristics that appeal to advertisers. “The customer personas can include data like core age range, gender, location, income, employment status, etc.,” she says. “Having good demographic data is essential to finding sponsors whose ideal customer matches with the publication’s audience.”

For example, one of our partner publications learned through a survey that its audience is almost entirely made up of people who are 55+ and retired, and the audience skews female, but not by much. Based on this, reaching out to sponsors who sell products geared to 18-25 year old males working full-time likely wouldn’t be effective. But products and services geared towards retirees would likely perform quite well.

The survey’s over! Is there anything else I can do with this information? 

“If you included a question asking for testimonials, use that in a future revenue campaign,” says Pearl. Surveys are a great way to prime readers for future financial contributions. You may also choose to make changes in public by sharing findings with your audience. Let them know that you hear them loud and clear, such as, “You told us you wanted ___, so we’re doing ___.” 

That’s precisely what founder and publisher of The San Diego Sun Ron Donoho did with his first audience survey. He turned the findings into an honest, reflective story to share with his readers. “As a journalist doing a survey, I’m more than happy to say, ‘Hey, the truth is I didn’t feel like I got a great turnout,’ but here’s the information that I got and here’s what I’m going to do about it,” he says. “I wanted to do a story to reflect what I had done for the survey and I wanted to be authentic about it—both with my voice and with the data that we had.”

While Ron was hesitant to conduct a survey, he notes that there were a few silver linings to the experience. “It’s worthwhile to do one in the beginning to give you a baseline of who it is that is currently reading your publication, because that can inform who you go after for lead generation.” In addition, he was able to extract positive testimonials from the survey that can be used in the future for promotional campaigns. “In the long run, it’s wise to defer to the people that have more expertise in this and that’s what I did,” says Ron. “Know what your limitations are, and find people who can help you while you excel with your strengths.”

If you want to know more about your readers but are unsure of where to start, get in touch! Our audience team has all the know-how to help make the most of audience research.

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