15.3 How are Surveys Used?

Results of a poll

Wesley Fryer – CC BY-SA 2.0

Media professionals use information from surveys to meet many types of information needs.

  • Public opinion surveys may comprise the grist for news  stories, particularly around election season.

  • Surveys conducted by academics or research organizations  may become the topic of news stories when those specialists share their results with the public.

  • Market researchers and advertisers rely heavily on syndicated research services such as GfK MRI or Experian Simmons that do extensive polling to learn about consumers and their media and product purchase habits.

  • Public relations professionals monitor the attitudes and opinions of the stakeholders towards their client or company in order to influence how those stakeholders feel or behave.

  • Media company researchers use surveys they conduct themselves to understand more about the audiences for their product — news organizations want to understand who is reading/viewing/listening (and who isn’t) in order to grow their circulation or viewer/listenership; magazine publishers want to know whether they should invest in a new design or start a sister publication (e.g. Vogue and Teen Vogue).

As we’ve said, sometimes communicators rely on surveys done by “outside” companies, organizations or polling firms and sometimes they use surveys conducted by their own media organization.

The point here is not to turn you into survey researchers. There will be people in your media organization who are trained to conduct surveys, or your organization will hire firms that do so. But that doesn’t exactly let you off the hook. You still need to become good consumers of survey research in order to use that type of information as communicators. You need to be able to explain the results of a survey in ways that are clear, valid, and not misleading. And you need to be able to use those survey results as a way to learn more about your audience.