Cheap and Cheerful Audience Analysis for Nonprofits | Beth's Blog

Cheap and Cheerful Audience Analysis for Nonprofits

Guest Post

Flickr Photo by Matthew Field

Note from Beth: One of the most common questions I get at workshops or webinars is, “Should our organization be on XYZ social or mobile platform?”   My answer is:  “Don’t ask me, ask your audience.”   That to say that you need to know your audience and how they get their information.  Even more importantly, what motivates them.    So, was delighted when Darren Barefoot asked if he share a guest post about how to do audience analysis.

Cheap and Cheerful Audience Analysis for NGOS by Darren Barefoot

Note: This is an excerpt from our free e-book, The Noble Arsonist.

One of the more chilling innovations in marketing over the past few years is called “predictive analytics”. It’s this blend of statistical analysis, data mining and psychology which enabled Target to conclude that a teenage girl was pregnant before her father did.

But not all kinds of audience analysis are evil. It’s an important but often-overlooked practice for any organization. When I ask an NGO “who are you trying to engage with?”, the answer is often simply “everybody” or “you know, the people on our list”. There’s an inclination to think “everybody will obviously be interested in our cause!” In reality, the more you refine who you want to talk to, the easier it is to reach them. Consider these two sample audiences:

“Canadian women” or “18 to 30-year-old women in BC or Alberta who live in cities with more than 100,000 people”

Of course, most NGOs can’t afford to hire the kind of market researchers you’d need to produce a sophisticated work-up of who your core audience is. You can, however, engage in some poor man’s demographic and psychographic research. Here are three ways to get a clearer sense of your audience.

Imagining Supporters with User Stories

Write a short profile of a few of your target audience members. Give them a name, find a photo of them on a stock photography site and flesh out their biographical details. How old are they? Where do they work? How do they spend their spare time? What websites and blogs do they read? What other organizations do they support? Then add information related to your organization: what are their values as it relates to your cause? How did they discover your organization? Have they taken action on your issue in the past?

By identifying and describing these fictional members and potential supporters, you can achieve more clarity around your communications activities. You can also build a consensus among your colleagues about who exactly your target audience is. They may have very different ideas on this topic. These characters can then become common reference points for your team. We sometimes hear our clients reference their user stories in their day-to-day work like “well, this month’s newsletter is more for Josh or Sally than Maurice.”

Facebook Ads as Filters

It may seem odd to bring up online ads before you’ve analyzed your audience, but running experimental Facebook ads can teach us a lot about who we’re trying to reach. Facebook enables you to run hyper-targeted ads, slicing and dicing your audience in all sorts of interesting ways. Just distill the message you want to test down to a Facebook ad, and then run that ad against various groups: married women over 40, students living in Washington and Oregon, Canadian kayakers and so forth. You’ll also want to set up landing pages that reflect this message and offer a kind of simple test of visitors’ support for your cause–a petition, pledge, or something similar.

You can then track which of these groups clicks on your ad most often, and of those clickers, who passes the test or converts most often. You’ll quickly learn which groups your message resonates with, and which it doesn’t. This is an excellent way to test possible messaging around a campaign as well.

Naturally this tactic only works if your audience is on Facebook. You can’t use this tactic in China, for example, where Facebook (and Twitter, among other social media channels) is blocked.

Survey Your Tribe

You don’t need a team of crack market researchers to question your supporters about who they are and what they value. You can use a simple online survey tool like Google Drive or SurveyMonkey to collect information about your audience. You could simply ask one question each month in a poll widget in your monthly email newsletter. At the end of the year, you’ll have twelve new data points about your audience.

You can even use this data to create illustrative content for internal stakeholders or to talk to your supporters. Create a heat-map to show them where they live, or a series of charts to breakdown their values. After all, people love to read about themselves.

No Donuts Required

Facebook ads and surveys are examples of a conviction that effective web communicators hold dear: test your instincts and trust the numbers. Whether you have two or 25 years of experience in your organization, the only way to truly know how best to communicate and who to communicate with is by testing all of your assumptions about your audience. Happily, the web enables you to do this cheaply and effectively, and you don’t have to buy any donuts for focus group members.

Darren Barefoot is the co-founder of Capulet.

3 Responses

  1. James Howe says:

    Good advice! I recently did a similar biographical sketching with a client for an awareness campaign. we looked at who is using their services and those in the desired audience who they weren’t already reaching. Last year, the same client found that Facebook ads proved effective in reaching a target audience they had difficulty reaching and did not know them well. I like your suggestions on how to use Facebook ads to get some feedback about your audience and will use it as we work towards our next campaign.

  2. I really like the idea of the fictional composite audience members, and how keeping those in mind helps with clarity about how to engage with them. It’s an insight I’d never considered, and a very useful one. Thank you, and thanks, Beth, for sharing!

  3. […] some of Beth Kanter’s archives, I found something that struck me almost the same way. She had a guest post about audience research, discussing how nonprofit organizations should think about those to whom they are trying to […]