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Ask Your Members the Right Survey Questions

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Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Kent Agramonte

Kent Agramonte, Naylor Association Solutions

Part 2 of our 2017 Association Communications Benchmarking Study series

Recently, we conducted our 2017 Association Communications Benchmarking Study, and in reviewing the results, we learned that 84 percent of respondents believe they are good at creating relevant content. However, only 17 percent of respondents feel they have a good understanding of their reader, member and advertiser needs.

You may be re-reading that last sentence and saying “Wait, what?” but it’s true. Most of our respondents think they create good and relevant content while overwhelmingly feeling that they do not have a good understanding of their reader, member and advertiser needs. Both of these statements cannot be true, but our associations have told us that this is how they feel. So how do association executives correct this? How do we continue to create relevant content while understanding our reader, member and advertiser needs?

Start by asking the right survey questions

In the past we’ve discussed the importance of surveying your members, but now let’s dive a little deeper and ask ourselves “Are we asking the right questions?” When crafting survey questions, start with the end in mind. Your specific ends may vary, but the goal of any survey is to get information to improve your understanding of an issue, and not to prove an already held belief. Make sure you ask questions that will probe far enough that you get new and useful information from your survey.

Identify the key groups you want to survey and craft questions relevant to that group while keeping in mind what information you are looking for. For a survey about the content and information needs of association members and readers, you might ask their thoughts about:

  • What sections of a magazine or newsletter they read the most
  • What sections they value the most/what types of articles they like the most (You might even ask respondents to recall a specific article or section they’ve recently read.)
  • How much time they spend reading an issue or browsing your website
  • How frequently they want to receive your content

These types of questions will not only help you better understand the kind of content your readers want, but will also have value to advertisers as well since you can now identify consistently high traffic articles and sections within your publication.

For gauging advertisers’ attitudes toward your association’s communications and their needs and expectations regarding your communications, we recommend asking questions regarding:

  • Interest in products/offerings they have gotten as a result of an ad
  • The value they perceive in advertising with your association
  • What specific articles or sections they perceive to have the most value
  • What type of new offerings or packages they would be interested in

These questions will help you better understand your advertisers while potentially serving your members and readers with useful, relevant content written by industry experts.

NACAS asks the right survey questions to determine magazine value to members

Recently, we worked with the National Association of College Auxiliary Services (NACAS) to learn more about how their members interact with their magazine website. Our end goal was to find out what articles they read the most and if featured magazine ads were having any impact on members’ purchasing decisions. Beginning with the end in mind, we identified representatives of member institutions as the target of the survey and crafted questions that get to the root of member familiarity with NACAS’s College Services magazine website, specific College Services sections and advertising effectiveness.

Specific survey questions included:

  • How familiar are you with the College Services website?
  • How frequently do you refer to the College Services website?
  • What types of articles are you most interested in reading in College Services?
  • Indicate the actions you have taken on an advertisement featured in one of our print or online products.

Even though there is some risk in asking questions that prove original notions wrong, your association should still ask those questions to ensure your members are getting the membership value you think you’re providing. Perception is not the same as reality. NACAS assumed that members enjoyed the articles they published. They assumed that members were familiar with the College Services website and that they supported the advertisers that invested in College Services. But NACAS didn’t know it. It turns out that content in College Services is relevant to 95 percent of surveyed readers, and that nearly two-thirds take some action when seeing an ad featured in a NACAS print or online communication.

It also taught us that we have to do a better job educating members about the advantages of the College Services website, because many respondents were familiar with it but use it occasionally or not at all. In this case, asking the right questions showed NACAS how to bring more value to members, while also teaching Naylor how we are bringing value to our advertisers.

Want more examples of the right survey questions to ask your members? Join Jill Andreu, Naylor’s vice president of content and strategic partnerships, on December 6 at 2 pm EST for a one-hour webinar about challenges and recommendations from the 2017 Association Communications Benchmarking Survey. Register here – it’s your first step toward more relevant surveying.

Taking action on survey results is important, too

Here’s another scenario we’ve found is more common than not: You’ve queued up your survey tools, you’ve thought long and hard about and what questions you want to ask, you have your lists of desired respondents ready to go and then … you stop.

Sadly, in the 2017 Association Communications Benchmarking Study 28 percent of associations said they don’t have the resources to provide potential survey metrics to advertisers. Another 17 percent say they don’t have the resources to address the issues that advertiser or member might raise.

This is a real shame because it means that not only are associations unsure of their member, reader and advertiser needs, they also feel like they don’t have the resources to do something about their member, reader and advertiser needs. Operating out of fear is no way to operate an association. This is a little like not carrying insurance because you are afraid of the deductible after the house burns down. There is no reason to fear a lack of resources after learning what your audience and advertisers want! The goal here is to adjust your existing content to better serve their needs. Change can be gradual. Most members and advertisers can be patient if they know improvements are being gradually made as time and resources allow, especially if the improvements are for their benefit.

So, don’t be afraid to ask seemingly tough questions. Associations that ignore member and stakeholder needs risk becoming irrelevant.

Remember: Start with the end in mind, ask survey questions that drive good content, and be open to addressing your audience and advertiser needs. With this basic process in place, you can’t go wrong. Because even if you can’t afford the insurance, asking the right questions at least gives you a way to begin extinguishing the fire.

Kent Agramonte is the senior manager for marketing and research at Naylor Association Solutions.

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