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Best Practices

How our audience surveys inform membership

When a new news organization is accepted into the Hub, the first thing we do is conduct an audience survey. It’s intentionally comprehensive, designed to get us an empathetic understanding of reader affinities, brand knowledge, and demographics. We promote this survey to clients’ email subscribers, website visitors, and social media followers.

The survey helps us measure an audience’s emotional connection to a news outlet and therefore their propensity to give—and it also sheds light on areas of possible confusion. Questions like “Did you know we’re a nonprofit?” or “How do you think we’re funded?” sometimes yield unexpected results. For example, readers often don’t know if their contributions are tax-deductible; sometimes, readers assume news organizations are funded by advertising—even when there are no ads on the site.

How useful is Net Promoter Score?

Net Promoter Score asks “How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?” To be honest, we were skeptical that this question would provide meaningful insight. However, while somewhat simplistic, we’ve found NPS to be an accurate predictor of whether an audience is ready to give—or if we’ll need to do more to build understanding and loyalty.

In terms of the Net Promoter Score, anything above 0 is good—it means the audience is comprised of more Promoters than Detractors. A score above 50 is considered excellent.

Based on our research, newsrooms with scores above 40 make three times more money, on average, than those with scores below 40.

Here are the NPS score stats for the Hub cohort:

  • Minimum NPS: 1
  • Maximum NPS: 59
  • Average NPS: 39
  • Median NPS: 41

Is your org essential?

Cultivating loyalty and “essentialness” are table stakes for newsrooms that want to raise funds from their readers. Those that do this well seem to have high NPS scores. Their survey respondents also say they feel the organization is irreplaceable.

Equally valuable is the qualitative data culled from each audience survey. Open-ended questions help us determine how to introduce membership to each newsroom’s unique audience and optimize the ask.

Among the 72% of respondents who respond affirmatively when asked if they think consumers of the news should help fund it, a few themes emerge:

Democracy and the current political climate:

  • “It is in the interest of everyone who cares about democracy to support a free press.”
  • “Because I feel the earth shifting under my feet in terms of what world my grandchildren will grow up in…supporting journalism right now is my pleasure.”

Quality they can’t get elsewhere:

  • “Competent, really well-selected reporters. Deep knowledge base in their beats.”

Don’t want it to go away:

  • “Yes, if it is a source I depend on and it cannot continue without me.”

Want it to remain free:

  • “I do believe that news should be free…but also funded by readers and other donors who are able.”

Respondents who answer “No” also fit a rough pattern:

Misconceptions about membership versus a paywall

  • “No, because some information would not be available to those without funds.”

Concerns of bias

  • “In today’s age, journalism tends to be biased, I think donations from a certain group of people may make that worse.”
  • “Journalism has become biased, pushing their belief on the public. Usually editing out much of the truth.”

They don’t feel their dollar is really needed

  • “It depends on the business model of the provider. Typically advertisers help pay for it.”

They think can get it for free elsewhere

  • “There are so many free news sources that paying isn’t necessary.”

Both the “Yes” and “No” responses offer a trove of inspiration when developing a membership strategy. The “No’s” are equally, if not more, important to address, and they underscore the need for us, as an industry, to get better at talking about ourselves.

Hub newsrooms know we’re going to push them—during the initial membership program launch and beyond—to honestly explain their business model and readers’ critical role in supporting it; to think critically about ways to address bias; and to weave their nonprofit or reader-supported status into all of their products. And to run concerted membership marketing campaigns more often!

Concerns about audience makeup

Beyond loyalty and readers’ propensity to give, our survey also seeks information on audience demographics.

Across all clients, we find that survey respondents skew white, older, educated and affluent:

  • 64% are 55 or older
  • 89% are white
  • 80% have completed a Bachelor’s degree or higher
  • 64% make $75,000 or more annually

While these results may not surprise, they often give Hub newsrooms pause, and emphasize how much work must be done to reach new audiences.

Organizations with the most successful membership programs embrace the survey findings—the good and the bad—and incorporate these insights into their editorial and business decision-making processes.

As the Hub grows, so does our understanding of people who consume news from small-to medium sized organizations. We’re also working to measure how reader attitudes and affinities change over time, and we’ll be sure to keep sharing what we learn.


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