Know thy audience: Using surveys to understand your readers

By Data and Insights Analyst Zahra Khalid

Local news organisations thrive on the connection they have with their community. With consistent changes in the fast evolving media landscape, surveys are a great tool to stay informed on your audience’s preferences and behaviour. 

Below are a few things to keep in mind when sending out surveys. Once you’re ready to get started with creating your own survey, download the survey template in our LINA Members Area for a pool of questions that will help you gather the most valuable information from audience.

Build a relationship with your audience

A genuine relationship goes a long way. Yes, work to get survey responses starts even before the survey is created! If you have a relationship with your audience, they’ll be engaged and more likely to contribute. 

Attend community events, stay engaged and take out time to respond to questions or ideas. Creating a space where you respond to questions or suggestions from your audience can be a great way to build engagement and trust.

Understand your focus 

Don’t just send out a survey for the sake of sending it out. Understand what is it that you would want to know more about your audience? Is it understanding what topics to write on? Understanding what makes them donate? Or feedback on any product or service you aim to launch? Every question in the survey should be helping you make a decision.

Communicate changes 

Once the survey is done, let your audience know the changes you are making based on the feedback you received. This helps build a cycle of trust where your audience knows their feedback was valued, and this can help increase the number of responses in next year’s survey. If you miss this step, it might be a struggle getting feedback next year. 

What does a good survey look like? 

An annual survey should take about 10 to 15 minutes to complete, this will be around 10 to 20 questions. The shorter the better, and more likely people will respond. Limit to three or fewer open ended questions. 

Questions can be based on five categories. 

  1. Identity
    1. Put these at the end. Lead with the hardest, and put easy questions at the end. 
    2. Include an “other” or “prefer not to say” option.
  2. Habits and Actions
    1. Understand people’s routines to see how your news can fit in it. 
    2. Ask about the past, as people are better at recalling the past rather than predicting the future.
    3. Do people already do the habits you want them to do for your organisations such as attend events or donate to a nonprofit?
  3. Content
    1. Understand what topics appeal to them.
    2. Remember lifestyle choices impact how people consume content.
    3. Where else do they get their news from?
  4. News Experience
    1. The feelings people have when getting your news and their bond
    2. Do they talk about your stories in real life conversations?
    3. Do they feel like your news is for them?
  5. Permissions
    1. Ask for permission to use their survey responses.
    2. Ask their email for a follow up such as a focus group or getting a note written by them as an endorsement.

How to get responses?

Make the request from a specific person in the organisation so it seems more personal. Tell them why you are conducting the survey and how their feedback will be used. 

Offering incentives such as a gift card or free merchandise can be helpful (but don’t include incentives in social media apps as that invites bots).

Keep asking! Ask three of four times within a ten day period. Only a small percentage of responses come from the first email so you need to ask consistently. 

How to use the reader survey template? 

To help you get the most out of your audience survey, we have put together a pool of 30 questions that LINA members can use to guide your own survey.

Download the survey template in the LINA Members Area.


  • You don’t need to choose every question, it’s recommended to choose between 10 to 20 questions, with three or less being open ended questions. 
  • You can edit the questions directly in the google form version or you can copy paste the questions from the sheet into a different platform such as SurveyMonkey etc. 
  • We recommend customising the questions to represent your unique voice and customising options based on your needs. For example, add the names of services you provide or specific topics you cover. 
  • XXX means you need to add your news organisation’s name in that question. 

What has been your experience with creating surveys? Is there anything specific you would like help with? Let us know.

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