Editor’s Note: Cedric F. Brown is presenting Gathering Meaningful Insights on a Tight Budget: Tips and Case Studies on Segmenting Diverse Publics at the PRSA 2015 International Conference on Monday, Nov. 9, 5–6 p.m. The following is a guest post previewing his session.* A version of this article was previously published on the author’s personal blog, cedricfbrown.com.
Whether you’ve read up on reviews to help make your next car purchase, or simply asked around about gift ideas for your loved ones, on a personal level you are a constantly subconscious researcher. At the professional level, you likely conduct research to determine your stakeholders’ attitudes towards your organizations’ potential moves. The same holds true for public relations professionals, who need to have an understanding of their audiences’ attitudes and beliefs before developing messages tailored to their tastes. Gaining this understanding usually involves more research, which admittedly sounds like a tedious and expensive process at times. However, there are many tools out there that professionals can use to create a measuring stick of how their target audience feels about something.
Here are three ways to conduct research even when you’re trying to pinch pennies:
1. Free online survey tools – When done properly, surveys are a great way to identify characteristics about your audience, and there are many great websites which allow you to create them for free. Some of these sites even include features like skip logic, which allows survey takers to skip certain questions based on their answers, while others let you customize your site with your organization’s colors. Although the two most popular tools are SurveyMonkey and Google Forms, there are many others out there that could better suit your organization’s needs.
2. Focus groups – If you work in a professional team environment, chances are that you’ve had a brainstorming session where you bounce around various ideas. If you have, then you’d also understand the benefits of a focus group and how great they are for gathering a few people to get a general consensus of your target audience’s attitudes. However, conducting focus groups usually come with a minimal financial cost as you may have to give potential participants some sort of incentive to convince them to participate, such as free food or gift cards.
3. Social media-based analytics dashboards – Social networks have come to recognize the importance of proving their worth to businesses and their bottom line. Digital analytics helps professionals by providing data to demonstrate how their efforts contribute to the organization’s goals. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Facebook and Twitter have built-in analytics tools for users who are interested in their posts performance. LinkedIn also comes with an analytics dashboard for managing company pages. Even websites can be tracked for effectiveness with the use of free analytics tools from Google.
What’s one of the best ways to find out how your audience feels about something? Ask them! On the surface, utilizing these tools may seem to be overwhelming and complicated. Luckily, Dr. Ford and I will demonstrate how easy these tools really are to use at the 2015 PRSA International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, November 9. We’ll also provide real-world examples of organizations and businesses who’ve used successfully used these tools even while having little-to-no budget to work with. Simply put: it’ll be a way to get in touch with your inner-grassroots communications self.