Audience Research really CAN be fun! Innovative Ways to Learn What Your Audience Wants (and Will Buy!)

audience researchThe idea that you need to have an engaged audience isn’t anything new at this point.

We know. We get it.

We’re doing it, already!

We know that people buy things from people they like, and the key to getting blog visitors to liking you is engaging with them until you’re not just a name on a screen – but a real person.

Once you do this you can look forward to unlimited business success because now that your readers are engaged, you know exactly what they want!

Wait a second – I think we missed a step there.

All the engagement in the world isn’t going to do you a lick of good unless you can leverage that into information about what your audience wants and needs from you.

And that’s not quite as easy as replying to your blog comments…

The Gap Between Engagement and Information

The reason people have so much trouble getting from engagement to usable information is that there aren’t really any hard and fast rules for how to do solid audience research without seriously depleting your bank of social capital.

You see, asking a question that could lead to the development of the product or service that you want to provide is a commitment you need your audience to make and for which they will expect a reward – or plenty of time consuming your regular content before you ask for anything else (like a sale!)

This will not do for a busy blog owner, so you need to make providing that information the reward in and of itself. Here are a few ways to do that:

Surveys Can Delight and Fascinate

This is an oldie, but a goodie. A well-constructed survey that applies a few gamification principles will have you up to your ears in useful data.

The principles that you want to keep in mind are hope, surprise and reward. Respondents need to hope that their answer is the most popular – the winner. You can do this by having the results appear atomically after voting occurs. They want to be surprised by the results, and fascinated by their implications, which means that it should be very clear to them why they’re providing this information and what to expect as a result of doing so. Finally, they need reward and recognition, or a more straight-up prize to make them feel as if their investment of time was worthwhile. This changes the situation from a favor that they’re doing, into an opportunity that you’re giving them.

Twitter Chats Make it Real

Twitter has myriad uses, but one of the newer and more interesting ones is live twitter chats with an expert, blogger or other person of interest leading a real-time discussion with many audience members. This is a potential information goldmine!

The first thing you want to do is choose your topic. This can be related to the specific information you want, or the general topic of your blog. Select a hashtag for the chat -the shorter the better, and it should be pretty obvious what it stands for. You’ll also want to choose a time for the chat, and let your followers know! Making a note on your blog header, or in your emails will remind people of these vital details.

Next, you need to decide on how you want the chat to be formatted. Question and answer? Series of questions, open answering? Blocks of time for each question? Free for all? More structure tends to be easier for people just getting into twitter chats.

Make sure that whatever format you choose – you design a question or two that will give you the kind of information you’re really looking for, as well as those that will captivate the interest of participants.

Reward Engaged Readers with Comment Competitions

If a thriving email list is the heart of a good blog, then the comments sections is the lifeblood. Comments are the best way for audience members to interact with each other. You want to encourage this behavior, and incentivize readers to go ever further.

You can do this with comment ranking – allowing readers to up and down vote each other’s responses, or you can reward regular, high-quality commenters with badges, titles and comment counts. These are awards that people appreciate and make them more inclined to live up to.

It can also be fun to give a random (or regular!) prize or giveaway to people who make really excellent, insightful comments – and do it publicly  so that everyone else knows what you think makes a comment valuable. (This is where you get into rewarding the behavior – like providing information about problems and wants – that is the most useful to you.)

Likewise – recognizing a commenter of the month for their contributions could become a well-enjoyed feature that your readers – many of whom will likely have blogs themselves, will be thrilled to receive.

Facebook Pages and Groups Are Places for Community

People interact differently with Facebook than they do with other social media platforms – it’s more personal. This means you can use your Facebook page to get highly involved in your reader’s life.

While Twitter is for updates, Facebook can be for feelings, and if it’s a viable part of your business plan, you can get much closer to your followers on Facebook than you can elsewhere.

You can find out what their days are like- what their interests outside of your blog are – and you can use that to ask them questions about themselves that normally, wouldn’t be possible or appropriate. Too often, blogs’ or companies’ Facebook pages are all about promotion when they could and should be all about community. People share in a community what they won’t with a brand, so you can research many aspects of your visitors just by engaging with them naturally.

Our students at Firepole Marketing get a great deal of benefit out of the Facebook Groups we create for them to meet, network with and pick the brains of each other. You can use a similar set-up to spend more time talking with your audience casually, and the closer you become with them as individuals, the more you’re going to learn about their wants and needs.

Launch Yourself to Dinner Party Discussion Through Games

When you’re ready to really become a topic of conversation for your audience – you want to get them to play with you. Contests and Competitions are brilliant in terms of increasing engagement, loyalty, and you can create specific tasks and challenges that will require them to answer the questions you need the most.

How exactly your format any contest or competition will depend on your audience, and how they feel about that type of engagement, but commenting, guest posting and social media sharing are all good places to start. You can make it more interactive as well – create teams and forums for ease of communication, get people to produce and share multi-media… there are very few limits here. Any type of engagement can be hugely effective.

Make sure to include criteria about getting that info you want.

Prizes and Rewards are important to consider here. While the sharing of insights is great motivation for many – some will be more likely to pony up the info for a chance at a cash prize. Hey – didn’t we mention something about surveys…

Take It Up To 11

When it comes time to start making decisions about what to offer your customers for sale – having the right audience research at your disposal is absolutely priceless, but that doesn’t mean it needs to come at the cost at wearing out your good will with your community!

When you can add elements of fun to your information gathering, you’re achieving several major goals at the same time.

You’re engaging and building strong relationships with your readers.

You’re getting the information you need to create products and services that they’ll be anxious to purchase from you.

And you’re making yourself not just a source of information, but a source of fun, interest and stories to talk about with all of their extended networks. And that’s just for starters. You can read Tea’s Awesome Engagement Strategies contest entry for even more gamification examples that you can start applying to increase your engagement, and build your relationships today. :-)

Megan Dougherty
Megan Dougherty
Megan Dougherty is the Director of Education at Firepole Marketing, and loves developing new training content, working with students to achieve their goals, and talking about online education of any kind. You can drop her a line on Twitter or Google+.


  1. D Hayes says:

    Hi Megan,
    A very in-depth article with a lot of great advice to think over.

    The one thing that I have especially learned from Firepole Marketing is to start being a bit more personal. With that aspect in mind, I have to say, it is starting to make a difference.

    Being more personal and doing it with positive energy with the visitors on a business’s site or on social media will reap a business many more visitors and potential customers than hard sell tactics.

    Engagement is key in today’s society whether it be local or online, but learning to engage in a positive manner at all times, seems to be an issue for some people.

    Firepole Marketing goes above and beyond with these principals and you are definitely proving that with the Scavenger Hunt. You are creating a positive atmosphere for people and businesses to compete in a friendly manner, all the while learning something new.

    I look forward to the challenge.

  2. I have a question:
    I recently invited a recent commenter to guest post. She seemed happy and agreed readily. Then dropped off, neither commenting on my site, nor posting on her own, very unusual for her.
    I wonder the best way to ask her if she’s ever going to do the guest post. I thought of mentioning I miss her regular posts, and wonder if she’s okay. Would that imply I’m more concerned about HER than the guest post? Or should I mention that, too? And should I relieve her of any pressure to post in a timely manner?
    I think this would be hard for you to answer, since a lot depends on the dynamics of our relationship, but could you give me some clues? Thanks!

    • Ruth says:

      If there is one underlying theme that I found following FPM is regarding your audience, customers, as human beings, as *real* people.

      I would think that this would mean that you should approach her and also how…

  3. Rob Leonardo says:

    I’m trying to engage my readers with all your examples but it doesn’t seem to click (YET).

    One time I made a contest in my old blog and one person even commented, “that’s a difficult question!”. I thought “what the f! You wasted your time commenting on that instead of answering a question with multiple choice- you would have had the chance to win!”

    Does this have to do with the saying “Readers are hard to please”?

    Regarding the survey- any platform recommendation?

    • Vero4travel says:

      This is true, sometimes happend to me.
      It’s sucks when you upload a post every two days, its impossible (in my travel blog) to get more than 2 or 3 comments.

      And being honest I consider that comments are the best in the blogs, I don’t care about traffic in this moment, I want to see what my audience think about my post, this is the lifeblood of posting.

      I did everything in this post but still my audience don’t answer me, well Im not going to lose the energy.

      Jesús Martínez Reneo

  4. Jevon says:

    So how do you give someone a reward publicly? And wouldn’t giving a reward publicly make another person feel as if their comment was not valuable enough?

  5. Cecilia Harry says:

    Spinal Tap reference noted and appreciated!

  6. Great post (as usual) and have joined the Scavenger Hunt. Looking forward to getting involved.

    What I love about this post is the concept of getting the readers to engage with one another, both in terms of ranking each others comments and also in contests and sparking ideas off each other. That’s one of the things that’s great about this site, the comments are often as informative and dynamic as the article!

    Thanks Megan and Danny.

  7. Ketan Gaikwad says:

    Great post. I can see that a lot of detail has gone into it. Any platform recommendation for the survey ?

  8. Shannon Lagasse says:

    I love this. I got so many great ideas!

    Going to host a Twitter chat sometime soon, probably at the end of the month, so that I have enough time to figure out how to do it and promote it! :]

    I have started brainstorming ideas for a contest. Fortunately, I don’t have TOO many followers at this point that it would be really difficult to keep track of all the participants. That’s likely to change in the near future, though. ;]

    I love the idea of a giveaway. It really got me thinking. I’ve seen monthly giveaways to a random subscriber, to people who fill out surveys, for comments on a blog about a giveaway, for whoever posts the most comments on blogs, for whoever shares the most posts on social media, etc. I’m definitely going to be doing this. I’m a big fan of rewarding people for awesomeness. :]

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