Audience research doesn’t need to be daunting. True, nothing replaces a face-to-face conversation that you’d get with a focus group moderated by a trained professional. But, there are also small, quick-turn research strategies that can reveal crucial insights about your audience.

As a communicator, you know the value of understanding who your audiences are and what the barriers are to engaging with your organization—be that donating, becoming a member, advocating for an issue or buying a product. Research into your audience can tell you about your community’s behavior, attitudes, habits and hang-ups. Knowing this can help you shape your key messages and inform communications strategies that are effective at reaching and moving your audiences.

Not sure where to begin? Consider the budget and resources you have to invest in audience research, and follow this guide to determine how to start.

Small Budget: Er, No Budget — $5,000

If you don’t have many resources to invest into audience research, but still crave audience insights, there are opportunities for low-investment, big-impact research projects. To set yourself up for success, first follow these six simple steps to understanding your audience through research, from our research partner Big Small Brands. Then, consider these low-cost research strategies:

  • Listen on social media: More likely than not, your audiences are talking on social media. Listening to these conversations can yield enormously valuable findings about what they care about and how they’re talking about these issues.
  • Conduct an online scan: Sift through online conversations or timely opportunities when your audiences are engaging. Identify national observances or milestones that may spur conversation among your audience—occasions like Back to School, National School Breakfast Week or National Minority Health Month, to name a few. Create an editorial calendar with these events so you can build campaigns, initiatives or media pushes around times when audiences will already be talking.

All of these research strategies are low-cost and can often be done in collaboration with existing staff resources. For more insight on these options, read my blog post about audience research you can do now to transform your communications strategy.

Medium Budget: $5,000 — $15,000

If you have a little more wiggle room, you can dig deeper into your audiences to understand their perceptions and communications preferences. Consider the following:

  • Tailor and Promote Your Survey: To build on a simple audience survey, a bigger budget allows you to tailor that survey to different segments of your audiences. Doing this will give you audience-specific insights that differentiate the needs of, say, private funder prospects vs. individual donors. A bigger budget can also give you more resources to promote the survey using tools like social media advertising.
  • Conduct Phone Interviews: One-on-one phone interviews will give you firsthand, personal feedback that can oftentimes go beyond what you may receive in written responses. A target list of interviewees, a discussion guide and two sets of listening ears and note-takers will maximize the investment into phone interviews.

Large Budget: $15,000 — $30,000 (and beyond)

An even bigger budget will give you a crystal clear image of your audiences and offer the most informative and specific insights that will make your communications plan exceptionally effective at reaching metrics. Some of the most valuable audience research programs include:

  • Focus Groups: Focus groups go beyond written and verbal-only conversations; they are personal, small-group, longer-format discussions that are most effective at uncovering audience insights. We recommend working with a trained moderator who knows how to facilitate a productive discussion and gets participants comfortable with sharing their perspectives. The number of focus groups you choose depends on your audience segments and budget. But the more focus groups you conduct, the more insight you’ll gain.
  • Audience Personas: One of the best ways to get insights into what your audiences want is to create audience personas. A persona is a composite sketch of an audience segment. In just a few paragraphs, a persona offers a portrait of an audience segment. It includes a name, key demographics like gender, age and income, and a list of important interests and problems they face. Take a look at Prichard’s audience persona, Trish, for an example. Read more from Mac on how to create audience personas to grow your online audience.

Ready to get started? Let’s talk.