So you just launched a new product, blog post, or website.
The logical next step is visiting Google Analytics to check on traffic or your monitoring tool to review how consumers and media outlets are discussing your brand.
Measurement provides the verified evidence of how your communications efforts are faring and how they’re contributing to business objectives.
PR measurement adoption is becoming more common and expected within organizations, but one valuable aspect of evaluation is still largely being neglected.
Primary research, a more targeted, in-depth type of measurement, is used by few organizations. Typically, only larger agencies, which have the means and manpower to implement this type of evaluation, employ research tactics.
It is not impossible, however, for agencies and organizations of various sizes to do some primary research.
Having an understanding of what primary research is and how your organization can use it is valuable knowledge for your communications program.
What is primary research
It’s important to begin by defining what we mean when we say primary research.
It includes a variety of activities, often carried out by an experienced researcher, including focus groups, surveys, and influencer interviews.
Focus groups typically involve a session comprised of eight to ten people and moderated by a researcher. The moderator conducts conversations with the participants about a specific topic with the intention of gaining data and opinions.
These sessions can also take place in smaller groups comprised of two and three people, referred to as diads and triads respectively. The smaller groups allow moderators to have more targeted conversations and avoid issues that may arise in larger sessions, such as a few voices dominating the conversations.
Influencer, or in-depth, interviews take place in a one-on-one environment between a researcher and an influencer in a specific field. These interviews permit exclusive access to the opinions and insight of experts who affect policy change.
Surveys ask participants a variety of questions to gain insight on their opinions. Online survey tools such as Survey Monkey have gained popularity in recent years. Although they can be controversial among researchers because the surveys often are moderated by professionals who may not be experts in the field of research, they allow communicators to collect responses from large populations of respondents who may be difficult to reach otherwise.
Why primary research is valuable
Similar to more commonly used methods of measurement and evaluation, primary research offers insight to shape communicators’ decision-making.
Larger, global agencies have dedicated departments to conduct research. Additionally, politicians, public policy professionals, and marketers have been more likely to employ research and base their decisions on the data gathered from research efforts.
Drafting research plans and working with researchers can reveal trends and insight from clients, audiences and prospective audiences, and stakeholders, among others.
Researchers can test communications materials to study how messages from your communication campaigns are resonating with audiences.
Research methods, such as interviews with key stakeholders, can reveal perception and corporate reputation, and assist with distinguishing brand position among competition in the marketplace.
Generally, research puts your brand in contact with important stakeholders and reveals their perception of your brand, its reputation, and its messaging, allowing communicators to better shape how they plan communications programs.
How can your organization employ it
Regardless of the size and budgetary constraints of an organization, online surveys provide an excellent outlet to begin with primary research. The best way to know what your audience has done or feels is to ask them with a survey. Professionals could start with something small, such as a quick poll of their clients.
Surveys should be short, to ensure you’ll maintain the interest and attention of your audience, with targeted questions that lack bias. It’s possible to begin these activities internally and then bring in professionals when you need more assistance or targeted data or methods.
Organizations can also get started by integrating research with their preexisting media analysis efforts. According to Jason Booms, Managing Director of Market and Influencer Research with CARMA North America, media analysis and primary research work together well to provide more insight than with media analysis alone.
“Through media analysis you can determine who’s being quoted in stories, who is perceived as an expert, and from that you can build a sample, which is a universe of potential survey respondents,” said Booms in a recent episode of Chats with Chip on primary research. “And from there we can go and we can conduct whatever the appropriate study design is and gather their opinions from them and then hopefully we’ll start seeing the messaging in the public conversations in the media change as the corporation organization knows what messages are working based on the feedback they got from these individuals.”
Medium to large size organizations in particular are in a good position to introduce more research. With additional team members and likely more available budget, these organizations have the opportunity to work with researchers to conduct focus groups and interviews that would reveal data to allow refining of messaging, improvement of thought leadership, and enhancement of reputation.
Although it can seem daunting to introduce a new type of measurement to evaluate your communications work, primary research is the next step many organizations can take to enhance their campaigns and produce messaging that resonates more strongly with audiences.
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