You’re trying to improve job recruiting and retention. You’re worried about local backlash over your expansion plans. You’re about to launch a new product or service. The next step is finding out what your audience is thinking. If you try to guess, you could waste a lot of time and money. Regardless of your company’s size or your available public relations resources, you don’t need to fly completely blind. Here are four four tips to improve your results when researching public opinion.
1. Network. Researching public opinion means more than just trusting your gut. Read the papers. See what’s talked about on TV or on the radio, especially if there is a talk radio station or two in town. Then write down the important issues, listing them in order of priority. You can then ask colleagues, your friends, your neighbors, and even your spouse for input.
2. Talk to community leaders. Call the Chamber of Commerce, the mayor, selected members of the city council or town board. If there is a neighborhood association near your facility, talk with the president or chairperson. Be candid about what you’re trying to do, and you’ll be amazed at how eager these folks are to help. If you do editorial board meetings with the local press, ask them what they think. They’ll be impressed that you asked, and reporters are usually in tune with the community.
3. Hold community focus groups. This is a more structured version of No. 2, and will put some meat on the bones of the key issues. For example, education may be the top issue for the community, but what about education makes it so important?
A focus group is an informal discussion; it involves roughly a dozen representative members of the community. You invite them in for an hour, maybe offer some light refreshments, and then explain that you are trying to get a better understanding of what’s important to them and the community.
You’ll have to facilitate the meeting, but in the end the people you invite will only refine your grasp of public opinion. And they’ll be impressed that you asked. Oh, by the way, don’t just invite your friends. Any effective public relations strategy needs a diversity of opinions and brutal honesty.
4. Conduct a community survey. This is the effective, established public relations method of determining community issues or gauging the temperature of your audience. It will give you a benchmark in the event that you want to repeat the survey to see how you are doing. It is not easy to do a reliable survey, so read up on it or hire a professional public relations firm.
You can do the survey over the phone. Keep in mind that phone surveys can be time consuming and many people are not keen on getting calls at home. You also can use free online survey tools, such as Zoomerang (http://www.zoomerang.com). You can print the survey or distribute it via e-mail.
If you are polling a group of people you can identify, you should be all set. If you want a more general look at the community at large, you’ll probably need some help. Or keep the survey very short and ask people at the local shopping mall.
Compiling data is a important step in researching public opinion, but you’ll then need to strategize how to craft your message, product, or program to reach your audience where they will be the most receptive. Repeating some or all of these four steps will allow you to gauge how much your research accomplished and allow you to adjust your public relations strategy accordingly.
This article, written by Neal Linkon, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.