Annual Meeting Reports

Seeking and Using Reader Feedback to Improve Your Journal

“We want to know who our readers are”, Arlene Weissman told attendees at the CSE 2011 annual meeting in Baltimore, MD. She said that knowing who reads the journal can be a boon to advertisers and the editorial staff and can promote reader engagement. It helps identify “unique strengths of our journals compared to our competitors”, she said. “Who are we trying to attain and attract to our journal? First, we have to narrow it down.”

A survey and reader feedback can help determine what readers value. “Who is our competition, and what are they doing well?” she asked, adding that those are also important questions to include in a reader survey. “Give feedback after the survey”, she continued. “Your readers want to know they’ve been heard.”

Some may struggle with what questions to ask, Weissman said, but “the reality is your editor is going to know what questions to ask”. And most—whether the editorial staff, the advertising department, or the marketing team—will know how to use the information once it’s gathered.

Weissman said that one of the first questions is, “What effect will the survey have on the direction of the journal?” She continued, “What type of changes are we prepared to make as the result of this survey?” And, “Don’t ask for feedback in an area where you know you can’t make a change”.

How the survey is presented may affect the results. Will it be mailed, done by telephone, or sent on Facebook or Twitter? The choice may reflect a bias, Weissman said. She suggested that a focus group can help you to decide what to ask on a survey.

She continued, “Now we get to the fun part, designing those surveys”. That’s not easy. “The bottom line is no one has time to do surveys”, she said. One of the challenges is to make a survey interesting. Surveys should take 10 minutes or less to complete; “the longer the survey, the harder it will be to get information from respondents”. And “the more open ends you have in a survey, the less likely you are to get results”.

Some organizations offer incentives for filling out surveys, for instance, an iPad or a raffle for a gift certificate to Harry & David. Some surveys work better when they are anonymous, whereas others should be confidential. It depends, she explained, on whether you need to go back to investigate the responses. But all respondents “want to know, when they offer advice, that they were listened to”, Weissman said.