Research is a core component of improving marketing and communication
efforts for any organization. It helps evaluate current efforts, run A/B
tests, adjust for improvement and build audience personas.
Communication research doesn’t always have to be expensive. There are many
ways to gather insight, each with its own set of advantages. Here are six
If your organization is already on social media you have data and insights
available at your fingertips. Without doing a survey, you can easily learn
a lot about your online audience.
[RELATED: Overcome your biggest challenges in PR, social media and internal comms]
If you want to do more formal research, consider using social media polls.
Each channel tackles polls a bit differently, but Facebook,
all let you take the temperature of your followers on a particular question
Using social media for informal communication research is a no-brainer.
It’s low cost, takes minimal effort and can be deployed in an instant.
Looking for something more in-depth—but still in the digital realm? SurveyMonkey is a great
tool for communication research because it’s affordable, user-friendly and
makes data collection and analysis easy.
As you’re creating your questions, SurveyMonkey will tell you
approximately how long it will take people to complete the survey. Always
keep it short and to the point.
You can collect responses several ways, including a custom URL or an email
sent to your mailing list, but you can also pair an online survey with a
printed piece that drives recipients to the survey website. This can be
helpful if you’re trying to reach an audience segment that isn’t
particularly digitally savvy and can add a layer of legitimacy and
inclusion to your efforts.
If you’re after robust qualitative findings, individual interviews can be a
good way to go. This type of communication research should go in tandem
with a more quantitative approach. Individual interviews can be used to
inform branding, find unique stories for content marketing and media
relations, or simply gain a deeper understanding of a specific stakeholder
You’ll get rich insight with one-on-one interviews, but scheduling,
administration and analysis are very time-consuming. If you’re hiring a
third party to complete these on your behalf, prepare for it to be a bit
pricey—especially if you want them to interview a lot of people.
If you’re conducting interviews, don’t be afraid to go off-script a bit.
too intently on your list of questions
can cause you to miss an opportunity for a great follow-up question.
Conducting research with
is an intricate process that can be expensive, but it’s a good way to test
messaging and products on customers and prospects, or hear from your
In addition to developing the survey instrument and analyzing the results,
you’ll have to think about recruitment, incentives, facilities and
recording capabilities for focus groups. If you have the budget, it’s
usually easiest to hire a research partner who can help you manage all of
It’s often best to have someone who isn’t associated with your
organization facilitate the focus group. If you hire an outside partner, be
sure to discuss what you’re hoping to learn from the research with them in
Making phone calls is one of the most labor-intensive ways to conduct
communications research. It may not cost you any cash to pick up the phone
and call someone, but it is hugely time-consuming—and we all know that time
The barrage of unsolicited and spam phone
calls in recent years keeps many people from picking up the phone. In fact,
Americans regularly ignore phone calls—especially when they don’t recognize the number. Still, if you’re trying
to reach a more mature segment of the population, you may have better luck
reaching them by phone compared to millennials.
For any of these research methods, you should only contact people you
legally have permission to contact.
Mailed paper survey
Paper, printing and postage make a mailed paper survey a costly
undertaking. However, if you have a less digitally savvy but highly engaged
audience, like members of a professional organization, the expense may be
Data entry and analysis will be tedious on the back end, but designing the
survey with plenty of room for people to write freely can help.
A printed (non-mailed) survey can also complement an online survey, giving
those who don’t want to go online a low-tech option. This helps you include
the full spectrum of your audience and avoid excluding valuable information
from your research.
What tactics would you add to the list, PR Daily readers?
Ann Mulvany is an account director with Frazier Heiby, a
full-service communications firm. A version of this article originally
the firm’s blog.