5 Questions to Save Your Readership Survey

This article is reprinted from Associationmediaandpublishing.org. It is a summary of a presentation Sabatier made in Washington, DC in early 2017.
AM&P’s December Lunch & Learn session covered ins and outs of audience research

By Rebecca Stauffer, PDA
“Most research projects fall down in the thinking and planning stages,” says Lou Ann Sabatier, principal for Sabatier Consulting. During AM&P’s December Lunch & Learn session, “Reader Surveys: Finding Out What Your Audience Wants,” Sabatier recommended asking a series of questions throughout the survey process to ensure success. Based on her firm’s work with associations and survey research, Sabatier says preparation on the front end can save publishing teams from failed research projects.

1. What information do you want?

The first step in developing an effective readership survey begins with spelling out the objectives. Is the survey for marketing-advertising purposes? To analyze the audience? To determine brand perception? Knowing precisely what information you want will help you craft more precise, more meaningful questions.

An effective survey should have clear directions with questions in a logical order. The first questions should also hook the reader. One good strategy is to start with easy questions before moving on to harder ones.

2. Who is the information for?

Is it for the editorial team, marketing-advertising, accounting, or executives? Different groups will have different needs. Knowing the group will help you make the end product more understandable and more useful for the group.

All findings from your research should be presented clearly and accurately. Provide a complete summary of all the results and then present your conclusions and interpretations. Sabatier recommends presenting the summary and conclusions live or via a webcast, followed by sending out a PDF report with more details to all involved parties.

3. Who is providing the information?

Will the survey be aimed at existing members? Prior members? Members in a certain geographical area? An effective survey is aimed at a targeted group. Avoid the wide-net approach when you have specific fish in mind.
Remember to go where your readers are. If you want responses from groups that tend to be digital savvy, work in that medium. Use your analytics to target the survey with the most efficiency.

Also, the design of the survey can impact response rates. Tailor the survey to your audience. What’s the best time of day to send it? How long are they likely to spend with it? What type of questions are they most likely to answer?

The privacy of your respondents should be assured and a statement to this effect clearly seen on the survey. When presenting the data, keep responses anonymous.

4. What’s the best research approach or methodology?

Knowing the answers to the preceding questions is vital to deciding which methodology is best. Sabatier says she worked with a cancer association that had significant success with focus groups via their Facebook page instead of a traditional questionnaire.

If you settle on a questionnaire, Sabatier says she’s found surveys sent by mail tend to generate twice as many responses as online surveys. To ensure the survey is effective, pretest it with at least 12 individuals who have not been part of the planning process. Ask them if the questions are clear and if the length of time needed for completion is appropriate.

At every stage of the process, ensure that the proper sample is selected and that information is recorded and analyzed correctly. Sabatier recommends treating the data as if your job is on the line. Check. Check again. And then check again.

To ensure you can accurately report on the methodology — which is important to prove the veracity of the results — keep records of every step. Keep records of all information pertinent to the survey, such as sponsors, everyone conducting it, the purpose, the actual questionnaire, sample design, sample data collection, special scoring, etc.

5. What is your budget and time frame?

Map out your survey plan and methodology early to ensure you can allocate proper resources. The typical survey takes two to three months; make sure you won’t have to cut corners or cut your timeline later on.

While considering expenses, determine if you’ll use incentives. Sabatier finds that incentives can help increase survey responses, however, she recommends avoiding awards like iPads or $100 gift cards. Instead, she’s seen success with offering free conference registrations and similar job- or profession-related prizes.

Rebecca Stauffer is managing editor of the Parenteral Drug Association’s membership magazine, the PDA Letter. Association Media & Publishing thanks Rebecca for graciously volunteering to cover this Lunch & Learn for our members who were unable to attend.