Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 12
Making it happen: section 3

12.3 Affordable audience research

A problem that faces stations of minority appeal is that the smaller their percentage reach, the more costly the survey. If a station is so popular that everybody listens to it, you could survey 100 listeners by contacting 100 people. But if only 1% of people listen, you'd have to contact 10,000 people to interview 100 listeners. What makes the situation worse is that stations with small audiences usually have less money, and can't afford large surveys. This rather unfair fact of life is a reason why stations with small audiences don't do much research.

Some solutions to this problem are:

1. to use response cultivation instead of surveys,
2. to share surveys between stations, and
3. (if a survey is done) to measure reach but not share.
4. Set up a listeners' club, and survey the members.

Comments follow, on each of these solutions....

1. Use response cultivation instead of surveys.

Even if you don't know the audience size, there are indicators that are related to it. You can monitor these indicators, holding other variables constant as far as possible.

Any one indicator may be misleading, so try to use several types of measure. These can include numbers of visitors, phone calls, faxes, emails, music requests, subscribers, advertisers, queries about advertising, active volunteers, published mentions, number and value of donations, visits to web site, page views on the web site ... and so on.

For each indicator you choose, list the factors affecting it - for example, the number of phone calls to the station will be affected by how often the phone number is mentioned on air.

There's also random variation. If you keep a daily graph of the number of audience members who contact you, you'll soon see that the graph line goes up and down from day to day for no clear reason. To minimize random variation, avoid using numbers that average less than 30. For example, this may mean tracking the number of incoming phone calls each week, not each day.

2. Share surveys between stations.

Several stations, or other media, can jointly commission a survey. However, asking about both radio and TV on one questionnaire will usually produce lower radio audiences than if you ask only about radio - asking about TV seems to make some people forget their radio listening late in the day.

3. Measure reach instead of audience share.

Reach is cheaper to measure than share or audience size. The latter need large samples and a diary that records people's listening every quarter-hour for a week - but reach can be measured with a very simple questionnaire. Reach figures always seem more satisfying, too, for stations with small audiences. If your share is 1% (of person-hours spent listening to radio) your reach is probably about 5% (of people who listen at least once a week).

4. Set up a listeners' club.

If you can create a database of your listeners - the more regular ones, at least - you can survey the people on the database, whether by phone, mail, email, or visits. Though the regular listeners won't accurately represent all listeners, and you can't estimate audience size from such a survey, you can still get a lot of useful information that can be used to improve the programs.

It's not enough to do a survey just once. For maximum benefit, a survey should be repeated regularly - at least once a year. By comparing current and previous results, you can keep track of any trends that are occurring with your audience.


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