Conducting audience research

Audience research is a listening process. It uncovers what your audience members and potential audience members want or need. It can reveal both how people engage with your work and what motivates them to do so. 

Without audience research, questions about who the audience is and what it “wants” tend to be answered based on hierarchy or power within your organization, or based on assumptions about who your audience is. That isn’t good enough in an organization that is dependent on audience revenue and participation to survive and fulfill its mission.

Audience research helps you determine whether you’re building something that is desirable. Useful, desirable products build habit and loyalty – and it’s habit and loyalty that will bring your audience members closer to your newsroom and eventually turn some of them into members. Audience research will be your tool to collect feedback, assess member satisfaction, and adapt to changing needs along the way. It can also help prevent you from investing in things that members don’t want. To put it simply, audience research sets you up to stop making guesses about your audience members’ needs, and to start developing informed hypotheses that you can test.

Here’s another way to think about it: volunteering to be a part of audience research is one of the simplest forms of participation you can offer to members. It’s valuable on its own, but it might also be the first step on a path to greater participation. If you’re a member-driven newsroom, you always need people to help you out by taking a survey or sitting for an interview. If someone asks you, “What can I do other than give money?” the easiest answer is usually “Tell us what you think about this” or “Fill out this survey.”

This section will walk you through how to use audience research to gather the information you need to develop your membership strategy, including a breakdown of what different types of audience research a member-driven newsroom might undertake and the questions audience research can help you answer.

The goal of this section is to help you: 

1. Identify what type of audience research will get you the information you need 
2. Conduct that audience research
3. Synthesize your responses into insights
4. Act on those insights

MPP sees “audience research” as synonymous with “user research” and opts to say “audience” instead of “user” because it is important to speak about your fans, readers and members in a term that recognizes their humanity beyond their use of your product.