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Reader, Oh Reader ó Why Donít You Love Me More? - 7/5/2016 -

Reader, Oh Reader ó Why Donít You Love Me More?

Association publishers who use hard data to craft effective strategies can also take the guesswork out of reader engagement.

By Marlene L. Hendrickson

The much reviled yet much beloved reader survey: Sometimes itís part of an associationís more comprehensive audit, which may also look at marketing emails and other non-periodical communications. Or sometimes the advertising team is footing the bill for the survey, so the questions posed to readers are designed with future sales strategies in mind.

Whatever the specifics or parameters of the survey might be, writers, editors, and publishers alike take to the results like kids to an ice cream truck. We desperately want to know what our readers love best, what they donít love so much, and why ó oh, why ó donít you love us more?

Itís admirable to love the publications your association produces and to want your readers to love them, too. But when you have the opportunity to dig deep into reader preferences and glean information about what indeed will make them love you more, itís time to be strategic ó so that you can make the survey results work for you.

Figure out the answers before you ask the questions. Sounds a little backward, but how many people out there have asked someone to marry them without already being pretty sure of the response? In other words, an associationís publishing team ó and anyone else with a stake in the reader research ó should first decide which specific answers they need and expect, and then make certain they are asking questions correctly to prevent bias or misinterpretation. There are also some basic reader data you should never do without, such as perspectives on publication frequency of use, what specifically is used, overall value, and any actions taken as a result of receiving the publication, says Cynthia Poole, director of research for the American Staffing Association.

Donít wait until thereís a problem to query readers. Reader research can be expensive ó but so is failing your readers. In todayís world of instant, all-the-time, mobile, and social content, association publishers must work harder than ever to deliver timely, valuable, and credible information. The good thing is associations still have a lot of clout, especially if the organizationís members are engaged contributors of industry content. When members ó better known in our circles as readers ó are involved in content planning and creating, the value of your publications increase.

"I find that too many clients do not conduct research unless there is a problem or they are planning a major overhaul,Ē says Josephine Rossi, founder and president of Content Communicators, a publishing and media consulting group that specializes in associations. Donít wait until itís too late, she says. Conduct reader research at least every three years ó every two years if you can swing it ó for optimal results.

And remember, itís not just about your readers being in love with your publications. Good research is good for the entire association and can help effect the bottom line.

Use the data to craft strategic, actionable tactics. Whether the results show you are doing a great job or a terrible job of serving and engaging your readers, the fact remains that the data can only help ó especially if you did your homework on the survey questions. For example, if the research shows that readers are increasingly engaging with your publications online, then your strategies must address how to enrich the online experience (i.e., podcasts and videos).

Maximize the results in creative ways. If your readers resemble most content consumers, then itís likely they prefer to read in-depth articles in print and short news articles online or via email. However, use research results toward making each of those content platforms ó print vs. digital ó an even better experience for your readers. Or as Janelle Welch of 2 Hounds Media says: "Donít forget your designer!Ē More deeply analyzing the data, even if design-related questions were not part of the survey, can help make designers hone content presentation.

"Usability and editorial design are as important as the publicationís content itself,Ē Welch says. And if you can, Welch suggests: "Sneak a question or two into your reader survey to make seemingly smaller adjustments that can go a long way toward engaging readers. For instance, does your TOC do a good job of selling your feature articles? Ask readers about its usability and readability.Ē

So many details can come out of conducting a reader survey. But among the most important post-survey results are the strategies association publishers commit to executing. Often these strategies are developed by the research firm, but make those your own, tweak them as needed, and then regularly check in on your progress.

"Itís valuable to have one or two people assigned to monitoring progress toward post-survey goals,Ē Poole adds. "It also helps toward maximizing the next reader survey you conduct because youíll be better equipped for the next big challenge that hasnít even surfaced yet.Ē

Marlene L. Hendrickson is director of publishing and marketing for the American Staffing Association and a member of Association Media & Publishingís Content Creation Committee. Look for further reader survey ideas and insights in her feature article on this topic in the September/October 2016 issue of Signature magazine.


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