4 Steps to Measure Communications from the Audience Perspective

One major conclusion of the measurati who attended the recent Summit on the Future of Communications Measurement was that the classic communications funnel:

has in recent times been turned on its head. It now looks more like this:

As a result, effective communications and measurement has to start with the audience—not with you the content creator or your activities. Today’s communications world is not about you, your messages, or your brand. It’s about the audience:

  • How they perceive your messages or brands,
  • How what you are saying impacts them, and
  • How they react to what you are doing.

You can buy all the ads full of people of color you want, but if you don’t take a stand on what matters to them (or to the rest of your audience), you will be wasting your time and dollars.

They are sick of listening to you, now you need to listen to them

2021 may go down in capitalists’ and autocrats’ minds as the year that the inmates took over the asylum. Employees are taking charge of their lives, switching careers, and quitting en masse. And if they’re not, they’re joining unions or going out on strike. Whistleblowers, athletes, and even Brittany Spears are ending decades of silence, sharing stories and documents that reveal long histories of abuse.

In the last few years people have stopped whining about “not being heard.” Instead, they’ve raised their voices loud enough for anyone to hear them: they are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. “It” includes corporate hypocrisy, green-washing, woke-washing, and whatever other forms of corporate BS they perceive you doing.

Which means that you are going to have a hard time trying to run a company, or communicate on behalf of one. Because whatever messages you think you need to get across are likely to be drowned out by the messages your workers and customers want and need you to hear.

How to measure communications from the audience perspective

So how do you successfully communicate in this topsy-turvy world? First of all, you need to spend a lot more time, effort, and energy listening than you do talking. And you need to measure—a lot. It’s not about a makeover, it’s about how you have to do measurement in 2022:

Step 1: Ask, don’t tell

First, create a survey

Whether you are communicating to employees or customers or any other group of stakeholders, the first step is to find out what exactly is on their minds. You do this with a survey. One that is short—no more than 5 minutes—and that is designed to find out how they feel. (Not how they feel about your communications.)

What you are trying to discover is:

  • What’s keeping them up at night?
  • Do they feel heard?
  • Are their concerns being addressed?
  • What do they love or hate about your brand, your company, their employer?
  • What, if anything, is stopping them from feeling loyal, engaged, and willing to recommend your organization to family and friends?

We recommend you use some of the statements in our empathy survey.

Next, do some very active listening…

…on every possible forum you can get access to. If you’re communicating with employees, start with your Intranet or Slack channel. You need to understand:

  • What questions are being asked, and
  • What issues are being raised?

If you are communicating with stakeholders, you need to listen to whatever channel or platform they are spending time on, be it Reddit, Instagram, or Twitter.

Hold focus groups, town hall meetings, and whatever form of live or virtual listening session that makes sense for your organization. Raise the same basic questions at each one so you can compare the answers between departments, locations, and levels.

Step 2: Learn who your customers are, then learn from them

At the recent Summit on the Future of Measurement, Eve Stevens told us what happened when Microsoft took a deep dive into their standard target audiences. Using available research from Pew, Reuters and LinkedIn, as well as their own surveys and active social listening, they discovered that their actual audience was very different from the one they’d been targeting for years!

Who are your customers?

If you are a consumer-facing company, then your customers—both your fans and your haters—are talking about you all the time on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and whatever other channels they prefer. You need a system to not only monitor that conversation, but also to dig into who is having those conversations. Is there a difference between the people who just discovered you and the long-term fans from those long ago pre-pandemic times?

Segment your customers. Not just by gender or demographics, but by involvement:

  • When was the last time they interacted with you?
  • When was the last time they purchased from you?
  • When was the last time they had to return something?
  • How did those experiences shape their perceptions?

Also note what they follow, what they share, what they positively comment on. All of these data points are clues that should indicate to you what they prefer to hear.

Where do they stand?

Now find out how they stand on issues that are relevant to your business. Climate change, economic inequality, gender and racial equality, education… What’s important to them?

If you are a B2B company, then you may not find as much conversation in social media about your brand. But at the very least you need to do a survey of how your customers perceive your brand today. If possible, supplement it with virtual focus groups. You want to hear the actual words people use to describe your products and your organization.

If you who work for a non-profit, a government agency, or in academia, then all of this applies to you as well. “Traditional” donors are a dying breed, replaced by ones that are far more likely to want to be actively involved. Just ask the University of North Carolina. The traditional constituents have been replaced with online activists. The kind that can pull together a protest or a mob at a school board meeting in just a few hours. Likewise, the traditional student vanished long ago. A more typical student today probably has a part-time job, a kid, and may or may not live with a parent or two.

Step 3: Change your comms

With what you’ve learned in the two steps above, make changes to your programs and then run your new campaigns. Whatever the demographic of your audience, speak to them using language and words they themselves are using. Not ones you “expect” them to understand.

And this doesn’t mean you hire an actor of color to be in your ads, or you translate them into Spanish. It means that you may need to translate your messages into an entirely new medium—think rap tunes or TikTok videos.

Step 4: Try it… measure… try again

With all these new approaches you of course need a way to measure the success of each novel approach. So, after you’ve rolled out your revised campaigns, repeat that initial survey from back in Step 1. Did the needle move? If it did, great; do more like that. If it didn’t, great; learn from it and change. What data changed between the initial study and the post-campaign study? Where did things go south?

Stop doing the stupid stuff and focus on what works. ∞

Thanks for the photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash.

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.