Taking the pulse of your readers

June 5, 2012

By Ed Henninger

Want to create more reader interest in your website and your print edition?
Then consider doing a reader poll.
Reader polls are reader grabbers, if they 1) focus on an issue readers care about, and 2) are reported in a form that’s interesting and easy for readers to follow.
And the beauty of reader polls is that they’re a great tool to get your readers to go from your print edition to your website and then back to the print edition.

How it works
• Ask your question in the print edition.
• Have readers go to the website to get more information and to vote.
• Report the full results in your print edition.

Other tips
DON’T ASK just “yes” or “no” questions. Give your readers some options like: “Yes, but not this year,” or “No, I’d never vote for gay marriage,” or “The entire issue is too complex,” or “It’s a stupid question!”
SUGGEST at least four or five answers. Few polls are more boring than those with only two responses.
ALLOW other responses. Odds are that some readers will chime in with answers you just didn’t expect.
CHART IT. Don’t make your readers have to do mental gymnastics to make sense of the numbers. Place the results in front of them in the form of a simple, clean pie chart. Have the numbers—and the specific responses, if possible—near the areas of the chart to which they correspond. And, avoid the temptation to go color crazy. Tints of the same color serve well.
INCLUDE COMMENTS from readers with the poll report. Sure, a chart is a necessary part of the report but allowing readers to add comments—and then printing those comments—makes for more interesting reading.
CREATE A FORMAT with which readers can become comfortable. It’s OK to tweak the format now and then for special polls, but it’s a bit much to ask readers to make sense of a different format with each poll.
Readers react with high interest to polls—as long as those polls deal with an issue that’s important to them.
Take advantage of this to increase your Web and print readership.
Want a free evaluation of your newspaper’s design? Just contact me at edh@henningerconsulting.com or at 803-327-3322.
If this column has been helpful, you may be interested in my books: “Henninger on Design” and “101 Henninger Helpful Hints.” With their help you’ll have a better idea how to design for your readers. Find out more at www.henningerconsulting.com. © Ed Henninger 2012

Ed Henninger is an independent newspaper consultant and the director of Henninger Consulting, offering comprehensive newspaper design services including redesigns, workshops, staff training and evaluations. E-mail: edh@henningerconsulting.com. On the Web henningerconsulting.com. Phone 803-327-3322.

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