Oh Reader ó Why Donít You Love Me More?
publishers who use hard data to craft effective strategies can also take the
guesswork out of reader engagement.
Marlene L. Hendrickson
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.