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Surveying Your Online Readers

Posted on Monday, July 30, 2012 at 8:42 PM

How are other magazine editors surveying their readers?

By Denise Gable

Surveys can be used as an effective research tool to get feedback from readers, and to find out what interests them. How many editors regularly survey their subscribers? Their online readers? If they do survey, are they finding the surveys to be helpful or a waste of time? This month editors talk about when, if, and how they survey their online readers.

EXHIBITOR, Exhibitor Media Group
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Magazine for trade show and corporate event marketers.

Lena Valenty, managing editor, "We don't survey online readers, specifically. We do issue a readership survey but have found most of our readers prefer the print publication."

Senior Market Advisor, Summit Business Media
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Magazine for insurance, annuity, and LTCI sales and marketing information.

Daniel Williams, editor, "We average 4–6 per year. In our surveys, we're sending out to our readership, who are financial advisors. We're looking to find out what trends they're seeing in the market, find out about their biggest challenges, and learn how their communication with clients is going.

"We find out what we were looking for and are then able to shape our editorial to fit the information we've gathered.

"We have numerous surveys: 1) an advisors survey where we look for the information I described above, 2) a technology survey where we learn what kind of gadgets they're using and how tech is helping/hindering their practice, 3) a sales survey where we get the best sales or marketing ideas from respondents, and 4) a client survey where we go directly to the end user and find out how their advisors are helping or not helping them.

"We have a print publication but I don't know that responses are different. We use survey monkey and all of the answers are posted there."

Printwear, NBM, Inc.
Frequency: 13 issues/year
Description: Apparel decorating business magazine.

Emily Kay Thompson, editor in chief, "Printwear does not segregate surveys per online/print readers. Printwear does survey its readership periodically (6 to 10 times a year). Mostly, these surveys are used in a publisher's capacity. NBM publications also offer surveys as a service to our sponsors; asking questions on their behalf.

"I don't feel we get sufficient response to report the information in an editorial context. I mostly help my publisher design the surveys to elicit responses we can use for marketing purposes. I'll occasionally throw in some questions to confirm some of my perceptions of trends and such, but I don't find it to be a totally reliable practice to establish industry trends. I am also suspicious of our industry associations and competitors publishing findings from surveys in any official capacity.

"On a related note, we did have a poll feature on printwearmag.com, but we recently disabled it. This unofficial survey strategy did not get a lot of response, generate much interest or elicit a big enough sample to provide accurate representations. Whether it was a content or a traffic problem isn't very clear, but we felt it wasn't a very responsible way to inform our readers."

ACC Docket, Association of Corporate Counsel
Frequency: 10 issues/year
Description: Professional journal for in-house counsel.

Kim Howard, editor in chief, "We survey our readers every three years. We want to gauge whether the content we deliver is still applicable to their profession. We also ask them about reading habits in print and digital so we can gauge when, if ever, we will go all digital. Because we do not have a separate readership for our digital publication, we simply survey the member who receives both print and digital.

"Here's what the official report says about why we did this survey: The readership study examined reader characteristics such as demographics, employment area, reading habits, purchasing behavior, length of engagement, affinity for publication, editorial preferences, consumer habits, and other areas of interest to ACC Docket's staff."

Frequency: Weekly newsletter, monthly letter from the editor
Description: Newsletter and blog for vocalists, singers, vocal artists, and backing vocalists.

Gregory A. Barker, PhD, commissioning editor, "We are surveying online readers (twice in the past year). We learned reactions and attitudes toward the name of our publication and the content.

a. We asked many similar questions around feelings about the name of the publication.
b. How readers access our content (via email links, Facebook etc.).
c. Which content categories are most important.
d. Detailed demographic questions, as we wanted to "drill down" into this data and introduce some content initiatives for younger readers

WE Magazine for Women
Frequency: Quarterly
Description: Magazine for professional women.

Heidi Richards, publisher and editor in chief, "We are surveying our members right now. Here is a link to the online survey so you can see the type of questions we are asking: http://wecai.org/take-the-women-in-ecommerce-web-presence-use-survey. We just launched the survey recently and were gathering responses until July 31st.

"We hope to gain insight as to what they need in terms of training online such as internet marketing, social media and more. We also want to be able to identify the members who are experts in certain fields so we can tap into that expertise and cross promote. This is our first survey this year."

Michigan Township News
Frequency: 11 issues/year
Description: Premiere magazine for Michigan's township officials.

Jenn Fiedler, managing editor, "We haven't surveyed online readers in the past five to six years, but are planning to do so in the upcoming year."

Automation World, Summit Media Group, Inc.
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Magazine for the automation market. Gary Mintchell, co-founder and editor-in-chief, "We are both print and online. We only do online surveys. We got up to monthly and then started getting pushback from some readers complaining it was too often. We use survey monkey and look for trends and ideas (we do lots of open-ended questions). Responses are usually good enough to write an article around them."

School Planning & Management/College Planning & Management, Peter Li Education Group
Frequency: Both magazines monthly
Description: Education industry magazines for construction, facilities, business, and technology news.

Deb Moore, president and publisher, "We do one survey per year that covers both print and online. Questions asked include:

1) demographic info about the reader and their business
2) involvement in purchasing decisions by product type
3) purchasing calendar
4) reading habits
5) actions taken after reading an article
6) level of interest in reading articles about...
7) use of websites and other e-media
8) quality and usefulness of magazine/website
9) competitive
10) changes, improvements, suggestions
"The survey is an online survey. We get good response and use it to help develop our next year's editorial calendar and media kit offerings."

Denise Gable is managing editor of Editors Only.

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