Audience Analysis: The Methodology Behind Online Eavesdropping

We’ve all overheard conversations in hallways and cafeterias. Some of us, perhaps more than others, are well acquainted with the thrill of overhearing conversations that aren’t quite meant for our ears—even if they are public. We can learn exciting and occasionally meaningful tidbits about people’s lives we would otherwise never know. Imagine multiplying this excitement by—let’s say 50 people—and gathering the last year of conversations of those 50 people. What if I told you that you could target a specific group, your alumni for example, and gather their thoughts and discussions from the last year? Not only that, but the data would be analyzed for trends, with insights parsed, all wrapped up in a pretty report ready for your execs! You could test out different data-driven messaging strategies, identify and leverage influencers, or even inform a giveback campaign strategy you’ve been developing. Helllloooo audience analysis!

At Campus Sonar, we like to think of our methodology of audience analysis as a sort of eavesdropping on an online focus group. This focus group doesn’t exactly talk to each other so much as they shout their thoughts and feelings out into the vast abyss that is the internet. To that end, the conversation can be more honest and genuine than one might find in a traditional focus group—no holds barred—if you will. The guiding facilitator in this case is me, the analyst, along with my super fancy social listening software. So how do we go about performing an audience analysis? First and foremost, we consider our client’s goals. Second, we assess the conversation volume from our data sources. Third, we define our sample and adjust for limitations as needed. We save the best for last and identify those good, strategic insights. After all, there’s no point in having information if you aren’t going to do something with it!

Laying the Foundation with Client Goals

Before the analyst begins, and frankly all through the process, she’s best served by intimately understanding our client’s goals. As is the case with all research, there’s a foundation upon which everything else rests. If the foundation is weak, everything built from there is necessarily compromised. In this case, the foundation is our client’s goals. The better defined our client’s goals, the better the research design, the better the outcome. Up front, the strategist needs to do her part to manage client expectations concerning what’s feasible and what’s not. An example of an impractical goal might be that a client would like to design their entire giveback campaign around our audience analysis. This is a herculean undertaking that would be centered on a single data point (our audience analysis, as awesome as it is). With such a lofty goal, the outcome would likely fall short of expectations. A similar, but more realistic goal is that our client, in the midst of developing a giveback campaign, wants to find out how their prior year’s messaging resonated with their alumni—or didn’t. This goal is more precise and attainable. Once we have clearly defined, achievable objectives in hand we can get the party started. And the party starts with the research design.

Assessing Conversation Volume from Data Sources

Client goals determine the target population. If we take the example above, we’d obviously want to target alumni. We’ll also consider the school size and what share of the larger conversation concerns athletics. A large, Division 1 school will necessarily have a larger data pool to pull from so we’ll adjust the sample size accordingly. Once we’ve determined an appropriate sample size, we’ll identify the best social media channels to examine. More often than not, it’ll be Twitter because that’s typically where the most prolific, public conversations are happening. It’s plausible, however, that we might focus on a specific forum to find guided, topic-driven conversations. A little more focus group, a little less shouting into the internet abyss.

Defining the Sample

I’ve mentioned our fancy social listening software, right? We’ll leverage our social listening software for the most efficient approach available. For example, if I want to analyze the conversation of alumni from the last ten years, I rely on individuals to make that explicit somewhere on the interwebs. For some schools, alumni self-identify quite readily: 

Johnny Squid

Graduate of Pratt Institute Class of 2018. 3D Animator—focus on concept/story development. Still can't figure out if Inklings are squids or kids.

Other schools’ alumni? ... not so much. This is where the process becomes challenging and as analysts we need to get crafty and creative. We might capture a self-identified alumnus but not know the year they graduated. We’ll manually look up each individual profile on LinkedIn to confirm the year they graduated. If we don’t have luck on LinkedIn, we might find an alumnus page or a bio on a blogpost or webpage. In other words, good old-fashioned Googling to the rescue! There are myriad ways our dedicated analysts can get around software limitations. The great news is that once our sample population is defined, we can use our software to filter out (if desired) those pesky conversation dominators. Given that it’s frowned upon to use a muzzle on humans, even the most skilled focus group facilitator can’t quiet the dominators the way our software filters can!

Identifying Strategic Insights

After we’ve identified the appropriate sample population along with a robust conversation to draw from, we analyze the data and dig in for actionable insights. Our analyst and strategist work closely together and once again, look back to determine how the research supports strategic goals. If the goal is to determine how prior years’ messaging campaigns resonate with their audience we’ll need to write a query to search and segment those unique conversations. We’ll validate the results and drill down into specific messaging components. We’ll want to know who was talking about it and when they were talking about it. Through this process we might discover women alumnae connected with Message A, while male alumnus connected with Message B. This insight can inform the content and delivery of future campaigns. By identifying these unique alumni interests, campuses can engage their alumni with more precision and more quickly build affinity. This is just one example of the kind of insights we can help you uncover. What we find is as unique as the campuses and the students who attend them.

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The post Audience Analysis: The Methodology Behind Online Eavesdropping originally appeared on the Campus Sonar Brain Waves blog