How can audience research help us understand member motivations?

Your audience is not a monolith, especially when it comes to their motivations for participating in and supporting your work. If you want to have a true two-way relationship with your members – in other words, if you want to have memberful routines and/or a thick membership program – you’ll need to understand the different motivations.

Understanding what motivates your audience members to participate allows you to segment your audience members so that you can identify and offer desirable participation pathways. Participation opportunities and membership benefits that aren’t grounded in audience member motivations are unlikely to  be utilized – a missed opportunity. The MPP team calls this type of questioning a “motivations assessment.” 

For example, from analysis of audience research with hundreds of supporters of news organizations, the Membership Puzzle Project found six key motivations for participation.

Illustration by Momkai

Curiosity and learning: Audience members who are motivated by their curiosity will participate in order to learn something new, whether that’s new knowledge or a new skill. 

Show a superpower: Audience members who are motivated by the opportunity to contribute their expertise have a useful skill that they see an opportunity to employ to make your work better. 

Voice: Audience members who are motivated by the opportunity to have a say have an opinion, experience, or question that they feel needs to be part of the conversation. 

Transparency: Audience members who are motivated by the opportunity to get the inside scoop want to understand how and why journalism is produced.

Passion: Audience members who are motivated by the chance to show some love for your mission are proud of their affinity with your organization and want people to know about it. 

Community: Audience members who are motivated by the chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves want to see and feel the community around your work. 

This list captures the six most common motivations MPP heard, not the full range of responses, and your audience members’ motivations might vary from these. Here are some questions from MPP’s library of survey questions that you can ask either in a survey format or in interviews or a focus group to assess motivations and capacity to participate. These are offered as a suggestion and should be adapted to fit your audience. This type of assessment is typically conducted among existing members.

  • How are you involved with [newsroom] as a member? Please select all that apply. (MPP recommends listing all the ways you invite audience members to participate.)
    • I read
    • I comment
    • I share stories
    • I attend events
    • I’ve been a source
    • I’ve contributed sources
    • I’ve contributed proofreading
    • I’ve contributed other research help (please describe in the next question)
    • I’ve contributed tips or story ideas
    • I offer financial support
    • I volunteer (please describe in next question)
    • Other
  • Please elaborate on how you’ve contributed and any other ways you are involved with [your newsroom].
  • For the ways you’ve participated or most often participate, what prompts you to participate?
  • In 200 words or less, why are you a member of [newsroom]?
  • Are there any other news organizations that you participate in? (By participation, we mean ways you are involved beyond making financial contributions.)
  • Is there anything you would change about the experience of being a member?

Read about how MPP conducted a similar assessment with De Correspondent’s members.

For an excellent example of a motivations assessment, see how Mozilla conducted audience research to better understand what motivates their participants to contribute code and other value-adds to their community of open source technologists.

Specifically, they conducted interviews with their participants about how each person discovered the open source community, what worked and what didn’t during the onboarding and engagement process, and the good and bad parts of the community. 

Based on their process and sessions, they were able to identify a set of key reasons people contribute to the Mozilla community, including a self-motivated desire to learn and to feel a part of a like minded community.